The Arkansas Traveler has been many things – including a tune, dialog, picture, certificate, baseball team, boat, and political campaigner – as well as a powerful influence on how people saw Arkansas, and how folks in the state saw themselves.
Beginning in 1840, one rendition of the Traveler was strictly Arkansas-made – an Arkansas Traveler in a humorous dialog with an Arkansas Squatter. They played a tune arranged, at least, by an Arkansas fiddler which became one of the most popular in the American tradition. An Arkansas artist then immortalized the scene in a painting which soon became a popular print. The first three sections of this exhibit talk about these Arkansas-based facets of the Traveler phenomenon.
An out-of-state version took hold at about the same time, an amusing presentation of an outsider’s unpleasant experience in Arkansas. This outsider’s version of the Traveler achieved broad notoriety, and Arkansas came to be seen at the butt of the joke. The state’s image suffered and the Traveler lost favor in Arkansas. Sections IV, V and VI show how the "outsider's" view of Arkansas took hold and the response to it by some in the state.
By the 20th century the stigma of the Traveler faded as the term found use in a wide variety of contexts, including the minor league baseball Travelers and the election campaigners for Bill Clinton. In some ways the old reputation became acceptable again, and the State of Arkansas started presenting Arkansas Traveler Certificates to distinguished visitors. The last two sections discuss these changes in the Traveler.
The history of the Arkansas Traveler is a story of the American frontier, regional stereotypes, and the power of music, a story stretching from our state's earliest days to the present.