By Wayne Erbsen
The Arkansas Traveler is one of most recognizable and popular old-time fiddle tunes played today. The tune was first printed on February 23, 1847. The skit that goes with the tune is said to go back to the 1820s, and some have credited it to Colonel Sandford C. Faulkner, who became known as The Arkansas Traveler. The setting of the skit is a farmer playing the fiddle on the front porch of his ramshackle cabin in rural Arkansas. Up rides a city slicker on a horse who is beyond lost. Their conversation is captured in the dialog.
This version of The Arkansas Traveler is from The Arkansas Traveler Songster, 1864.
Stranger: How do you do?
Old Man: I do as I please.
Stranger: How long have you been living here?
Old Man: Do you see that mountain thar? Well, that was thar when I come here.
Stranger: Can I stay here tonight?
Old Man: No, ye can’t stay here.
Stranger: How long will it take me to get to the next tavern?
Old Man: Well you’ll not get thar at all, if you stand that foolin’ with me all night!
Stranger: Well, how far do you call it to the next tavern?
Old Man: I reckon it’s upwards of some distance!
Stranger: I am very dry – do you keep any spirits in your house?
Old Man: Do you think my house is haunted? They say there’s plenty down in the graveyard.
Stranger: How do they cross the river ahead?
Old Man: The ducks swim across.
Stranger: How far is it to the forks in the road?
Old Man: I’ve been livin’ here nigh on 20 years and no road ain’t forked yit.
Stranger: Give me some satisfaction, if you please, sir. Where does this road go to?
Old Man: Well, it hain’t moved a step since I’ve been here.
Stranger: Why don’t you cover you house? It’s raining.
Old Man: When it’s rainin’ I can’t and it’s not rainin,’ it don’t leak.
Stranger: Why don’t you play the second part of that tune?
Old Man: If you are a better player than I am, you can play it yourself. I’ll bring the fiddle out to you. I don’t want you in here.
(Stranger plays the second part of the tune).
Old Man: Git over the fence, and come in here and sit down. I didn’t know you could play. You can board here, if you want to. Kick that dog off that stool, and sit down and play it over – I want to hear it again.
(Stranger plays the second part again).
Old Man: Our supper is ready now. Won’t you have some with us.
Stranger: If you please.
Old Man: What you take, tea or coffee?
Stranger: A cup of tea, if you please.
Old Man: Sall, git the grubbin-hoe, and go dig some sassafras, quick!
Stranger: (to little boy) Bub, give me a knife and fork, if you please.
Boy: We hain’t got no knives and forks, sir.
Stranger: then give me a spoon.
Boy: We hain’t got no spoons neither.
Stranger: Well, how do you do?
Boy: Tolerable, thank you; how do you do, sir?
The stranger, finding such poor accommodations, and thinking his condition could be bettered by leaving, soon departed, and at last succeeded in finding a tavern, with better fare. He has never had the courage to visit Arkansas since!
Editor’s Note: For more information about this and other old-time songs, check out my book, Front Porch Songs, Jokes & Stories (available from Native Ground Books & Music). Another of my books with tons of information about old-time and traditional bluegrass songs is my Rural Roots of Bluegrass.
Wayne Erbsen has been teaching banjo, fiddle, guitar, and mandolin since dinosaurs roamed the earth (really, about 50 years). Originally from California, he now makes his home in Asheville, North Carolina. He has written more than 30 songbooks and instruction books for banjo, fiddle, guitar, and mandolin.