Hobo's Lullaby

Goebel Reeves, c. 1930

Who were "hoboes" and where did they live? Traveled from place to place, hopping freight trains. How did hoboes make a living? Pick up day work, worked for food. What other names were they called? Tramps, bums, freeloaders. How did someone end up as a hobo?

What is the mood of this song? What picture does it give you of the life of the hobo? Lonely, alienated, risky. What words might describe a hobo's feelings about himself? Unwanted, unloved, worthless. Why would the police cause trouble for hoboes (third verse)?

Is this a life most people would choose willingly? Why or why not? What factors forced many (mostly) men into homelessness in the 1930s?

How does the song try to boost the morale of hoboes? Mother loves you. What hope does it offer? Death as freedom.

Compare the life of hoboes in the Great Depression with the life of the homeless today. How are they the same and different? What feelings might today's homeless share with Depression-era hoboes? What short-term relief was available to hoboes in the Great Depression? What were some New Deal programs created specifically to help the problems of joblessness and homelessness? C.C.C., W.P.A., P.W.A. What are some of the causes of homelessness today? What kinds of programs do we have to help homeless people today? What more could be done?

A lot of romance has grown up around the "King of the Road" lifestyle. What are some of the appealing parts of the hobo life that might have led to this other view of life on the rails?

"Hobo's Lullaby" performed by Woody Guthrie on This Land is Your Land: The Asch Recordings Vol. 1, Washington DC: Smithsonian Folkways [SF40100], © 1997. Available on iTunes, Spotify, and YouTube.


Woody Guthrie (1912–67) recorded this song between 1944 and 1947. Moses Asch, the founder of Folkways Records (recently acquired by Smithsonian), made the most comprehensive set of Guthrie recordings.

Guthrie, a noted folk singer and songwriter, travelled the country in the 1930s and 40s with his friends, singing to help labor unions recruit new members.

Guthrie performed at protest meetings, marches, and picket lines. He also learned songs from the people he met and passed them on to others. He learned this song from the hoboes, the homeless people who rode the railroads during the Great Depression.

You can learn more about Woody Guthrie on his website.

Rights have not been secured to reprint the words for this song. Please consult this online source:


Goebel Reeves

Goebel Reeves (1899–1959), a genuine hobo, was known as the "Texas Drifter." He performed hobo and cowboy songs, accompanying himself on the guitar, with a yodel and a trill that were to become the hallmark of his style. When Reeves's father was elected to the state legislature, the family moved to Austin. There Reeves became a legislative page and first encountered hoboes and their songs. Wounded during World War I, Reeves was discharged from the service and adopted an itinerant lifestyle. In the early 1920s he teamed up with Jimmie Rodgers to tour the eastern United States. He assimilated much of Rodgers’s country music style. After spending time in Europe as a merchant seaman, Reeves returned in the late 1920s to continue his vagabond lifestyle, supporting himself by occasionally stopping into radio stations and convincing the manager to put him on the air.

Compare this song to:

"Chattanooga Choo-Choo" (this unit)

"Crossing the Grand Sierras" (Unit 5)




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