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I'm bringin' home a baby bumblebee
Won't my mommy be so proud of me?
I'm bringin' home a baby bumblebee...
Ouch! It stung me!

I'm squishing up my baby bumblebee
Won't my mommy be so proud of me?
I'm squishing up my baby bumblebee...
Ewww... it's yucky.

I'm wiping off my baby bumble bee
Won't my mommy be so proud of me?
I'm wiping off my baby bumblebee
Now my mommy won't be mad at me!

—traditional silly song.

If you're like me, you first learned the classic American folktune "Arkansas Traveler" as a silly kids' song. The version cited above has hand motions accompanying each verse: two hands cupped together as if carrying something, thumb of one hand pressing into the palm of the other, and wiping hands on shirt, respectively—the punch line of the last verse is, of course, that the singer's mom probably won't be thrilled to discover she squished bumblebee guts staining her offspring's shirt. Alternative verses to the above lyrics include:

I'm licking off my baby bumblebee/.../Ow, my tummy.

I'm barfing up my baby bumblebee/.../I'm all messy.

because really, what would a kids' song be without at least one reference to gross bodily functions?

More recently, I learned that "Arkansas Traveler" was originally a skit performed in minstrel shows. According to the liner notes of Not for Kids Only, Jerry Garcia and David Grisman's album of mostly traditional, old-time, and folk songs, the premise of the "Arkansas Traveler" routine is that a traveler, lost in Arkansas, first asks directions of, then keeps passing by and making snide comments to a local, who pretends to be stupid and hard of hearing, while always getting the last word. Between each of their exchanges, the famous tune is played, preferably on the fiddle. Here are the lyrics to the version performed by Garcia and Grisman on guitar and mandolin (track 6 of Not for Kids Only). The traveler's lines are in regular font, the Arkansan's replies are italicized:

Hello stranger.
Hello there stranger.
Does this road go all the way to Little Rock?
I've been standing here all day, and it hasn't gone nowhere yet.

Hello stranger
Hello again stranger
Your corn looks awful little and yeller.
I planted the little yeller kind.

Hello stranger.
Well, hi there stranger.
I don't believe that you're too far from a fool, are you?
Believe what?
I said I don't believe you're very far from a fool.
No, that's right, son, just this guitar and mandolin here between us.

Hello stranger.
Well, hiya stranger.
How'd your potatoes turn out?
They didn't turn out at all. I had to dig them out.

Hello stranger.
Well, hello stranger.
Can't you see that your roof is leaking? Why don't you fix it?
Well, right now it's rainin' too hard, and when the sun's a-shinin', why, it don't leak!

Hello stranger.
Well, hello there stranger.
Have you lived here all your life?
Not yet!

Hello stranger.
Hello again there, stranger.
You're not very smart, are you?
No... but I ain't lost!

Traveler: Where does this road go to?
Squatter: It don't go anywhere, it stays here.

Arkansas Traveler is also a painting by Edward Payson Washburn based on the dialogue cited by fuzzy and blue above. That dialogue has appeared in a number of forms over the years, in the form of skits, poems, stories, and songs.

Traveler: Can you give me a night's lodging?
Squatter: No room, stranger.
Traveler: Can't you make room?
Squatter: No, sir; it might rain.
Traveler: What if it does rain?
Squatter: There's only one dry spot in this house, and me and Sal sleeps on that.

In 1850 or so, Washburn created two paintings, one called The Arkansas Traveler and a second called The Turn of the Tune.

Traveler: What are you playing that tune over so often for?
Squatter: Only heard it yisterday. 'Fraid I'll for get it.
Traveler: Why don't you play the second part of it?
Squatter: I've knowed that tune ten years, and it ain't got no second part.
Traveler: Give me the fiddle.

In 1870, Currier and Ives released prints of these two paintings. Today, the originals reside in the Arkansas capitol building in Little Rock.

The stranger strikes up, turning away into the unknown second part with the heel-tingling skill of a true jig-player.
Squatter: Walk in, stranger, Tie up your horse 'side of ol' Ball. Give him ten ears of corn. Pull out the demijohn and drink it all. Stay as long as you please. If it rains, sleep on the dry spot.

Images of the two paintings can be seen here: http://www.mcny.org/currierives/west6.htm


Sources:
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/ndlpedu/educators/workshop/discover/arkansas.html
http://stellar-one.com/arkansas_history/on_the_track_of_the_arkansas_traveler.htm

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