One story is that it was a hit play in the mid 1850s in the taverns of Salem, Ohio, where travelers stayed. In the play a traveler finds a squatter at a cabin playing this tune. The squatter is trying to remember the end of the tune, which he learned in New Orleans but just can’t seem to figure it out leading to a colorful and funny exchange between the fiddler and the traveler..
Another story that is was written by a fellow named Edward Spencer of Baltimore, was first performed in Buffalo, NY in 1869.
It’s also said to be credited to a Colonel Sandford C. Faulkner, a "well-known Arkansas character." The story is that Faulkner was traveling on a political mission in Pope County, Arkansas in 1840 when he met an old fiddler who was playing the tune. Faulkner told the tale at banquets and in barrooms. He told the tale so often that Faulkner himself became known as the Arkansas Traveler. Pictures on some of the sheet music were said to have his likness on them.
The Music book “Arkansas Traveler's Songster” (1864) gives credit to Mose Case.
And then in 1896 Century Magazine credited the music to Jose Tasso, a famous fiddler of the time.
A traveler was riding by that day,
And stopped to hear him a-fiddlin away;
The cabin was a-float 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 to do;
Get busy on a day that is fair and bright,
Then patch 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."
You Tube Video of Arkansas Traveler