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The Arkansas-based version of the Traveler is said to have begun in 1840. Colonel Sanford Faulkner got lost in rural Arkansas and asked for directions at a humble log home. Faulkner, a natural performer, turned the experience into an entertaining presentation for friends and acquaintances in which the Traveler was greeted by the Squatter at the log cabin with humorously evasive responses to his questions. Finally, the Traveler offered to play the second half, or "turn," of the tune the Squatter was playing on his fiddle. The tune was the "Arkansas Traveler." In his happiness at hearing the turn of the tune, the Squatter mustered all of the hospitality of his household for the benefit of the Traveler. When the Traveler again asked directions, the Squatter offered them but suggested that the Traveler would be lucky to make it back to the cottage "whar you kin cum and play on thara'r tune as long as you please." At approximately the same time Faulkner began performing the "Traveler," a similar performance of the "Arkansas Traveler" tune and a related dialogue emerged outside the state. One cannot tell with certainty which version came first. According to Thomas Wilson, writing in Ohio History in 1900, customers were attracted to the Golden Fleece Tavern in Salem, Ohio, by performances of the "Traveller" before 1852. While the Arkansas-based version of the dialogue portrayed tensions based upon differences among people from Arkansas—such as urban versus rural or wealthy versus poor—most versions told the story from the Traveler-as-outsider perspective, taking an uncomplimentary view of the state. Mose Case, an albino African-American entertainer from Buffalo, New York, performed the Traveler and his version ended by declaring that the Traveler "has never had the courage to visit Arkansas since!" The Case version was published in 1863 and distributed widely.
The sheet music to the tune was first published in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1847 as "The Arkansas Traveller and Rackinsac Waltz," arranged by William Cumming. No one was credited with the composition. If not from the folk tradition, the tune was most likely written by Jose Tosso, a classical violinist and composer who lived in Cincinnati and was locally famous for his version of the "Arkansaw Traveler." Several others, including Faulkner and Case, have also been credited with its composition. Over the years, the "Arkansas Traveler" has become one of the most recorded tunes in American history.
Len Spencer (Feb 12, 1867 -- Dec 15, 1914) was an elocutionist and recording artist whose performed speeches, skits, and songs. His most successful recording was the Arkansas Traveler, the most popular recording in America in 1902. Charles D'Almaine played the fiddle on the recording.Dialogue of the Arkansas Traveler by Len Spencer, Edison Records .
Traveler -- Why how do you do, boss? What might your name be?
Squatter (playing the verse of the Arkansas Traveler throughout the performance) -- Hey, what made you think I was boss here?
T -- Well, I just guessed it.
S -- Well, guess what my name is. Haw, haw.
T -- Well, how far is it to the next crossroads?
S -- Well, you just follow your nose and you'll come to it. Haw, haw.
T -- Where does this road go to?
S -- Why it don't go anywhere. It says right where it is. Haw, haw.
T -- Down the road I saw a horse with a broken leg. Now why don't you kill it. People generally kill a horse with a broken leg.
S -- Round here we generally kill a horse with a shotgun. Haw, haw.
T -- you're a pretty smart fellow, ain't ya?
S -- I ain't half as smart as my brother Bill.
T -- Who is your brother Bill?
S -- Why my mother's son, of course. Haw, haw.
T -- Say, I noticed a hole I the roof of your house. Why don't you get it fixed?
S -- Because it's been raining lately.
T -- Why don't you get it fixed when it's not raining?
S -- When it don't rain, it don't leak. Haw, haw.
T -- For pity's sake, play the rest of that tune, will you?
S -- Now look here. I just reckon there's no man living smart enough to do that.
T -- Yes there is. I think I can if you let me...Ah, thank you. (Plays the chorus of the Arkansas Traveler.)
S -- Well, by chowder stranger, you're the smartest man alive, you be. Come right in. Come right in. You can have anything in my place. Come on in. Haw, haw.