“The Arkansas Traveler” a librarian’s interpretation

A lone rider was making his way through the Ozark Mountain country, heading for Little Rock.  While admiring the amazing scenery that surrounded him the stranger didn’t notice that it was growing dark.  Suddenly he realized that he was lost in the wilderness of trees and hills with darkness only making the situation worse.

Then clear in the night sky came a familiar sound – a tune being played on a fiddle.  The rider headed toward the sound, and it lead him to a cabin.  On the porch was a man playing the sweet tune that lead the stranger out of the woods.  The man on the porch was the first Ozark mountaineer the rider had ever seen, and he was curious that the man was playing the beginning of a jig over and over again.

The Ozark man was cautious of the stranger at first as the pair shot questions and answers back and forth.  Neither was satisfied with the little information that was the result.  Then the stranger asked the settler why he kept repeating the same broken tune.  When he discovered the man was trying to remember the tune, he offered to help because he played the fiddle also.  The stranger played the jig from beginning to end.

When the last note died down, the settler called to his wife and children to prepare food and lodging for his new friend.  The lone rider was now a welcome guest in the Arkansas home. 

So, not only does this story tell about Arkansas’s first tourist, it also details the first reference interview to take place in Arkansas.  We have a direct connection to those who settled and visited Arkansas in the pioneer days.  They were strangers seeking and exchanging information to enrich their every day lives, just as Arkansans are today...




Arkansas Traveler


Oh once upon a time in Arkansas
An old man sat in his little cabin door,
And fiddled at a tune that he liked to hear,
A jolly old tune that he played by ear.

It was raining hard but the fiddler didn't care
He sawed away at the popular air,
Though his roof tree leaked like a water fall
That didn't seem to bother that man at all

A traveler was riding by that day,
And stopped to hear him a-practicing away
The cabin was afloat and his feet were wet,
But still the old man didn't seem to fret.

So the stranger said: "Now the way it seems to me,
You'd better mend your roof," said he.
But the old man said, as he played away:
"I couldn't mend it now, it's a rainy day."

The traveler replied: "That's all quite true,
But this, I think, is the thing for you to do;
Get busy on a day that is fair and bright,
Then pitch the old roof till it's good and tight."

But the old man kept on a-playing at his reel,
And tapped the ground with his leathery heel:
"Get along," said he, "for you give me a pain;
My cabin never leaks when it doesn't rain."

The play "The Arkansas Traveler" was a favorite attraction in Salem, Ohio, in the 1850's. It tells of a traveler's experience with an Arkansas squatter whom he finds sitting in his cabin playing away at a tune which he has heard for the first time on a trip to New Orleans. The entire play revolves around this tune and the squatter's effort to remember the ending of it. (DT)



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