A well-trodden road: Travelers pass test of time
With so much focus year after year on the newest and wildest rebranding projects in Minor League Baseball, MiLB.com takes a look at the flip side. This spring and summer, we will be profiling teams with some of the longest continually used nicknames in each league. Next up: the Texas
With so much focus year after year on the newest and wildest rebranding projects in Minor League Baseball, MiLB.com takes a look at the flip side. This spring and summer, we will be profiling teams with some of the longest continually used nicknames in each league. Next up: the Texas League's Arkansas Travelers. (Previous installments: Rochester Red Wings | Nashville Sounds | Harrisburg Senators | Chattanooga Lookouts | Asheville Tourists | Peoria Chiefs)
For longer than there’s been baseball, there have been Arkansas travelers. And for as long as there’s been baseball in Little Rock, there have been Travelers.
The ballclub in the Natural State’s capital city has called the Texas League home since 1966 and boasts that circuit’s longest-lasting team name by virtue of the fact that its moniker goes back more than 65 years, prior to its current league. But a “traveler” means much more to Arkansas lore than a baseball team.
While specificity on which came first is lost to history, it was some time in the middle of the 19th century that two songs about Arkansas travelers became popular in the United States. One story attributes the jaunty tune to a Colonel Sandford Faulkner, a man the Central Arkansas Library System describes as “an iconic individual from Arkansas’ early statehood.”
Though never an elected official, Faulkner was politically active in the South, and while traversing Arkansas in the 1840s, he purportedly came upon a hut inhabited by a caustic and witty setttler. Faulkner later crafted the encounter into a tale that became part of the state’s heritage. Met with evasive and derisive replies from the settler when asking for directions, Faulkner finally broke through when he busted out his fiddle and finished a tune the settler had been playing.
Faulkner became the Traveler and took his story and song -- “Arkansas Traveler” -- far and wide, delighting crowds and placing it in the annals of state history.
Around the same time, a similar tune and story gained popularity outside Arkansas' boundaries, reaching as far away as Ohio by the 1850s.
Whatever its origins, the “Traveler” tale portrayed various depictions of Arkansas. According to the baseball team’s history of its nickname, the locally rendered version of the song related differences in intrastate groups economically and geographically. Those from outside Arkansas saw it as an indictment on the state with a disagreeable local making things unpleasant for an outsider.
The latter depiction took root far afield -- especially through a version of the tale told by Mose Case, an African-American entertainer from Buffalo whose rendition ended with the declaration that the Traveler "has never had the courage to visit Arkansas since!" -- and established a stereotype of Arkansans as backwoods hillbillies. According to the team, “in 1896, William H. Edmunds, in a pamphlet titled ‘The Truth About Arkansas,’ calculated that the Traveler image had cost the state ‘millions of dollars’” in the “presumed economic progress that would have taken place in Arkansas without the burden of a negative reputation.”
At the dawn of the 20th century, the city of Little Rock’s baseball team was unbowed and tried to change the narrative. As charter members of the Southern Association, the then-Little Rock Travelers adopted the name in 1901 and have sported it in all but seven years since, through their time at Kavanaugh Field (1896-1931), Ray Winder Field (1932-2006) and Dickey-Stephens Park, which opened in 2007.
Following the Southern Association’s collapse in 1961, the Travs took turns in the International (1963) and Pacific Coast leagues (1964-65) as a Triple-A club before settling into the Texas League, a circuit they’ve called home ever since. Behind only the IL’s Buffalo Bisons, the Travelers -- who have never taken on another moniker -- claim the second-longest running continually used name in professional sports.
As discussed in previous editions of this series, the concept of “logos” was a much looser one for Minor League teams prior to the 1980s, but the Travelers did put their stamp on sports identities. The team renamed itself the Arkansas Travelers in 1957, thus -- according to its official history -- “becoming the first professional sports franchise named after a state.”
Through the years, the club developed various visual brands largely centered around many iterations (really: many, many, many iterations, including this one from the team's lengthy history as a Cardinals affiliate from 1966-2000) of a stylized “A” on their caps and a “Travelers” script or “Travs” lettering on their home jerseys. Then came a shift.
In the ‘80s, the club rolled out one of the most beloved or most maligned logo sets in Minor League history, declaring itself -- as part of its primary mark -- a proud part of “The Greatest Game on Dirt” (though their 1988 team scorebook declared it the “Greatest Show,” a nickname many other teams have employed).
The team’s look evolved and incorporated elements of its own and its region’s history, some good and some regrettable. A primary home cap logo paid homage to the franchise’s Little Rock roots with an interlocking “LR” fronted by “North” to denote its home setting. An alternate depicted Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee atop his horse (named “Traveller”) galloping through the letter “A” and wielding a baseball bat.
After nearly three decades, the look was many things: a bit listless, potentially problematic and certainly outdated. Enter Brandiose.
Following the 2013 season, the famed Minor League design firm took on Arkansas and its considerable history. Normally ones to push the envelope with redesigns or total rebrands, Brandiose took a more muted and stoic approach with the Travs. The club’s new primary logo was a regal horse head behind a restyled “A” and above a fresh team wordmark. Alternate marks included the horse flanked by a diamond featuring nine stars – both a tribute to the state flag and, as MiLB.com’s Benjamin Hill pointed out in 2013, a nod to the nine positions on a baseball diamond. The horse’s composure itself even was an homage to one of the state’s foremost natural resources.
“There’s a visual language that’s very Confederate, and so you have a horse, you have this flag,” Brandiose’s Jason Klein told SportsLogos.net in 2015. “There was a question of how do we reimagine this idea and celebrate everything?
“We had this idea of, we like the horse -- there weren’t a whole lot of horse mascots in Minor League Baseball that were dominant -- the Robert E. Lee thing’s probably not a great thing to hang our hat on, but maybe we can take this horse concept and evolve it. What if the horse is chiseled out of limestone?”
The Travelers’ latest look would’ve entered its seventh year before the 2020 season was shelved. While Dickey-Stephens Park won’t see Texas League spikes on its surface this year, the Travs’ visual set will endure until baseball’s return and well beyond.
Tyler Maun is a reporter for MiLB.com and co-host of “The Show Before The Show” podcast. You can find him on Twitter @tylermaun.