[The following excerpt is published courtesy of DLRC Press and its author, Joyce Ann Romines. This information was originally published in 1996 in The Hobo Nickel]
Notes from the Only Conversation by the Researcher with George Washington “Bo” Hughes
Numerous notes from the one meeting (about October 1981) between “BO” and the researcher were recorded on small note paper. Many records, notes and photographs were destroyed by water in the author’s office just a few years after meeting with “Bo.” When the work began on this book, it was believed that all of the notes had been destroyed, and that the accurate information would never be printed.
Many photographs were thought to have been lost and later turned up through a quirk of fate, so it was with the following notes. Numerous notes which were taken at the one meeting were attached to several different post 1957 nickels done by “Bo,” and the coins and notes were shipped to Bill Fivaz. The notes were recently uncovered by Bill, and will be presented here. So many years have passed since the notes were taken, that no attempts will be made to reconstruct the author’s conversation with “Bo.” The only comments by the author in the material presented are from the written notes. The comments made by “Bo” will be shown, but not necessarily in the order which they were originally made. Most of the comments pertained to different coins which he handed to the author, and the comments normally went with the coin being observed. All of the discussed coins were purchased by the author, as well as a large box full. Most of these coins were distributed throughout Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.
At the time of the only conversation with “Bo,” each sentence and word was used and spelled much the way in which “Bo” used the language.
“Christmas probably means more to me than to most folks. Not many of us Boes left, but we make camp in Florida every Christmas and tell our tales to each other, and then just fade away when it gets warm. Used to be 40-50 of us, but each year, just a few less. Last year only nine of us showed up. Been nearly 30 years since “Bert” was there. Guess all of us’ll be gone someday.”
“One time a railroad detective caught me. I was little and he was big. When he got through puttin’ knots on my head, I was nearly as tall as him. Back in the 30’s they wuz mean.”
*“Some folks I knowed told me once that one of my brothers was in the army and was killed in Europe. They didn’t even know which brother. I had 9-10 brothers and sisters when I ran away from home, didn’t know none of ‘em much. I just knowed I was hungry and cold, and I hit the road. You know- I don’t even know which war he was killed in.”
*NOTE: It is interesting to note that “Bo” always depicts his brother as dying in 1919, and either carved his brother on a coin dated 1919, or dated the coin 1919. Willard “WC” Chisolm stated that “Bo” told him his brother had died in WW-I. WW-I officially ended on November 11, 1918. It is possible that his brother died as a result of WW-I, but he could not have been killed in WW-I. Over 5,000,000 allied troops did die from injuries, wounds, infections, and disease. Many of those were after the war was over and were considered as WW-I fatalities.
“Some Amish folks in Indiana gave us a handout one time, but we had to earn our keep.Lord, they nearly worked our butts off. They was some mighty fine folks.”
“‘Bout 40 years ago a feller in Arkansas offeredme $10.00 to put his picture on a nickel.He wouldn’t pay, but we got the nickel back, and a few bumps with it.”
I met some jockeys once. They drunk and gambled a lot, but they treated me good.”
“Monique was a fine lady. She always was glad when I come to New Orleans. She’s been dead about 30-40 years now.”
“I was “Monique’s” “Bo,” but he was her fancy beau. “Fancy Cat,” wore big diamonds, always had a big feather in his hat, and a lie in his mouth. I had more’n him, I was free.” (Bo was referring to “Marcy,” Monique’s” sugar daddy.)
“I always liked to slip into circuses. I guess I liked the clowns best cause they made me laugh.”
“Bert taught me ‘bout all I know. He found a turtle shell one time and wore it for a hat.”
People used to think me and “Ralph” (another hobo) wuz brothers – don’t reckon we wuz no kin – he wuz sneaky and had fast fingers. He didn’t have to panhandle to live, his fingers were real gifted.” A long pause, and he resumed talking. “He don’t come to Florida no more neither”
“I saw this man a long time ago. They say he was a big movie star (believed to have been Spencer Tracy [?]), still don’t know who he was.”
“I was young and handsome one time. Women loved my hair, but look at me now. Not much hair left, or much of me either.” At this point “Bo” sat down, looked so tired, and just quit talking. I sat and just looked at this tiny old man and realized that he was of a unique breed, and was a walking history book.
All of a sudden I knew that I no longer had distaste for the many carved coins which I had seen, but instead, I had gained a form of respect for this fast dying (if not already dead) “American Folk Art.” This tiny but extremely proud old gentleman had gained all my respect and admiration. This tiny man, though not known by many, had left his mark in history, and even though people may not know who the artist was, some will surely have some of “Bo’s” art work in their collection. I asked “Bo” if I could take him any place or do anything for him, but with no response, I left the money on the table for the coins I had purchased, excused myself, and left. Even though there was additional conversation, the above are the only notes which can be located.
APPROXIMATELY SIX MONTHS AFTER THE MEETING WITH “BO,” WILLARD “WC” CHISOLM TOLD THE AUTHOR THAT “BO” HAD VANISHED FROM A HOBO JUNGLE ON THE OKEECHOBEE LAKE IN FLORIDA. NUMEROUS ATTEMPTS WERE MADE BY “WC” TO LOCATE HIM WITH NO SUCCESS. THIS AUTHOR SENT LETTERS AND PHOTOGRAPHS OF “BO” SELF PORTRAITS WITH A DESCRIPTION OF HIM TO MEDICAL EXAMINERS AROUND THE LAKE. LATER, TELEPHONE CALLS WERE MADE TO THE MOST LIKELY MEDICAL EXAMINER, AND NO INFORMATION WAS EVER RECEIVED. IT IS STRONGLY BELIEVED THAT “BO” PERISHED IN FLORIDA IN DECEMBER 1981, AND ENDED OVER 65 YEARS OF FABULOUS ART WORK AND HIS PERSONAL IMPACT ON HISTORY. HE MAY BE GONE, BUT HIS WORKS WILL NOT LET HIM BE FORGOTTEN.