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Unpublished Paper
Harvesting Hoboes: The 800-Mile Picket Line
  • Theodore H. Grossardt, University of Kentucky
The goal of this dissertation is to understanding how people produce their physical and representative landscape, through both language and action. As such, it combines the work of cultural geographers, literary criticism, and cultural theorists concerned with spatial performance to explore how places and actions associated with those places acquire a particular set of meanings. The empirical material for this work is drawn from the wheat harvest process in central Kansas during the period between 1914 and 1919. Immigrant farmers across the plains drew on a large migrant labor force that supplied the labor for a wide range of extractive industries across the United States. The Industrial Workers of the World aspired to create an broadbased industrial union of these workers that would unite them across industries. The I.W.W. succeeded in organizing the harvest labor across the plains from 1915 through 1917. Their perceived success, and thus threat, coming in conjunction with the successful Russian Revolution, resulted in severe government repression of the I.W.W. in the fall of 1917, crippling the union and drastically reducing its effectiveness in the coming years. At the same time, local newspapers supplied stories, analysis, and especially editorial cartoons that helped frame and construct both a conceptual map of this dangerous new world and the roles of the reader in that map. Vigilantism, begun in the pre-war years partly in response to the Wobblies, then turned on those residents of the plains who failed to adequately demonstrate their patriotism. Union members and farmers alike were imprisoned, tortured, and in some cases died for their beliefs and activities. Even political party organizers were attacked and threatened with lynching by newly-constructed right-wing associations of soldiers and farmers. Ultimately, the activities of the Wobblies acted as a catalyst that accelerated the pace and level of violence in Kansas. Violence against one's neighbors could be justified on the basis of what one did not do, as much as what one did do. The creation of the cultural landscape emerged from its bipolar properties: what people do in that landscape, and how meaning gets ascribed to that performance.
  • Migrant labor,
  • Industrial workers,
  • United States,
  • Labor movement,
  • Kansas
Publication Date
Citation Information
Theodore H. Grossardt. "Harvesting Hoboes: The 800-Mile Picket Line" (1999)
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