The Arkansas Traveler

This is "The Arkansas Traveler", painted in 1858 by Edward Payson Washburn. This Painting, more than any other factor,is responsible for branding the inhabitants of the state of Arkansas as rural, backward hillbillies. The painting was executed to illustrate the lyrics to the song "The Arkansas Traveler" (usually attributed to Sanford Faulkner in the mid-1800s) and so was, itself, supposed to be humorous. But the painting was licensed by Currier and Ives, and once their version made its rounds with no connection to the music, it was taken seriously, and easterners, with no other frame of reference, supposed that this was the way all Arkansans lived.

Several sets of new lyrics exist for the music, but this is as I vaguely remember them from the sixth grade at Fair Park Elementary School. I didn't know that the word "air" means "tune", and I didn't understand how a person could play a fiddle with his ear, so those phrases were meaningless to me. It was also my first encounter with the word "consternate", and I used it obnoxiously for several weeks after.

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 little ditty that he played by ear.
Now, it was hard a' raining but the fiddler didn't care
He sawed away at the popular air,
Though his roof it was a'leaking like a waterfall
It didn't seem to consternate the man at all.

Now, a trav'ler was a'riding by that day,
And stopped to hear him a'practicing away
The cabin was afloat and his feet were wet,
But ne'er the less the fiddler he didn't fret.
The stranger said: "The way it seems to me,
You'd best be mending at your roof," said he.
But the old man said, as he played away,
"I couldn't mend it now, 'cause 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 that roof till it's good and tight."
But the man kept on a'playing at his reel,
And tapping on the ground with his leathery heel,
"You get along," he said, "'cause you give me a pain.
My cabin's never leaking when it doesn't rain."