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A geologist working in the field needs a container for rocks specimens:

The collecting-bag may be in the form of a pouch to carry at the side, a knapsack, or a rucksack. If one is working afoot the former, when loaded with specimens, soon tires one's shoulder. A knapsack may be so arranged with straps and buckles that it may be readily converted into a bag to carry at the side - if one objects walking through town with a bag on his back.1

The United States Geological Survey was established on March 3, 1879, some twenty years before the above statement, so I assume that the geologist was a known and not unusual profession.

Maybe carrying a knapsack would have been associated to illegal behaviors like the ones of burglar or tramp?

1JOHANNSEN, Albert. Manual of petrographic methods. McGraw-Hill Book Company, Incorporated, 1918. Available at archives.org

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    the image is that of a hobo – MCW Jul 20 at 17:57
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    Most likely belonging to a lower classes, that had to support themselves with manual labor, therefore sometimes going around with heavy load on the back. Gentleman would not need to carry such heavy load, therefore hand held bag would suffice, perhaps with walking stick in other hand. – rs.29 Jul 20 at 18:40
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    Rambo had similar trouble much later than 1900... :-) – Luiz Jul 20 at 22:42

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