Songplaces

Woolverton Mountain, Arkansas

Wolverton Mountain by Claude King

Share this post

Clifton Clowers has a pretty young daughter
He's mighty handy with a gun and a knife
Wolverton Mountain
The lyrics of a song can tell us a lot. But if the song is about a real person, do the lyrics tell us the truth? Wolverton Mountain is all about what seems like an angry mountain man who is over-protective of his attractive daughter. The lyric writer not only couldn't spell "Woolverton," it seems he got a lot wrong about the main character, Clifton Clowers. And this is doubly confusing because one of the songwriters was the nephew of the elderly gent in question.

What the lyrics don't tell you is that Clifton Clowers, who according to the song was "mighty handy with a gun and a knife," never actually carried a gun. In fact, he was a highly educated man who could read and write both Latin and Greek, as well as play several musical instruments, not to mention play a fine game of chess. He lived to a ripe old age, played dominoes and the mandolin until his dying days, and drove a well-matched team of mules. According to folk who knew Clifton Clowers, he was friendly, sociable and just a darn good citizen. In fact, he was happily married, a deacon in the Baptist church, and lived until he was 102. He's buried in the Woolverton Mountain Cemetery.

So why did nephew Merle Kilgore, one of the creators of the song about his "dangerous" uncle, write about Clifton in such a way? One theory goes that Merle was joking. And perhaps part of the problem about truth and reality being miles apart is that Kilgore's song was changed a fair bit by the other songwriter, Claude King, who clearly had no idea about the real Mr. Clowers.

Clifton Clowers' grave site
Kilgore started at the bottom in the music business when, as a kid, he used to carry the guitar of Hank Williams. Many years later Kilgore went from gofer to head honcho when he became the manager of Hank's son, Hank Williams Junior. Kilgore wrote several hits, including "Ring of Fire," for Johnny Cash. Most folks agree that Kilgore's version of "Wolverton Mountain" needed a fair bit of re-writing and that King did most of it.

Whatever the real story, the song did very well, selling over a million records. It certainly gave Claude King more than his 15 minutes of fame. Growing up, King was more interested in sports than music, but eventually he picked up a guitar and a country music career began. He was born in 1923 and appeared on shows with various "unknowns" like Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, and Johnny Cash. And while those artists all went on to international stardom, King really only made it internationally with just the one song.

So successful did "Wolverton Mountain" become that 20 years later the then-governor of Arkansas declared August 7 to be Wolverton Mountain Day. Bing Crosby recorded a cover version, as did Nat King Cole, and there was a duet with Connie Francis and Hank Williams Junior – the latter managed by Uncle Clifton's nephew. And there was a sequel, too, when Jo Ann Campbell recorded "The Girl from Wolverton Mountain," taking on the role of the well-protected daughter.

The real Woolverton Mountain is in Conway County, Arkansas. It's located a few miles north of Morrilton in the north of the state, which is some 50 miles from Little Rock.

So the place was real, the old man on the mountain was real, he had, in fact, two daughters, was a really nice guy, and the songwriters certainly had a problem with their spelling.
~ Cenarth Fox

Comments: 19

  • Stephen Price from Seattle, WaLoved this song in my youth. Interestingly, I found that there is a long line of "Wolvertons" in my family tree going back to 1500's. Looks like it is generally accepted that the Wolvertons and the Woolvertons are the same family, just a different take on the spelling.
  • Brian from Manchester, Nh, UsaJesus, lighten up, bud. Kilgore said himself he wrote the song as a joke just for his uncle as a gift for teaching him country music, and didn't intend to have it recorded. Uncle Clifton is the one who told him, "You got a hit there," and that's why Kilgore started to show it to various singers and producers. It's a funny and entertaining song and made ol' Clowers famous. It makes practical sense that they spelled the name more conventionally for the song. There is a great video of an amateur singer playing Wolverton Mountain for Clifton Clowers at his home -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NfPb88rweEo
  • Phil Gibson from United KingdomI love the song, bought the 45 when it came out in 1962. I also love the sequel by the petulant sounding Jo Ann Campbell - "I hate the bears and the birds", makes me smile everytime.
  • Waco The women I'm song is my mom's cousin
  • Anonymous from Jacksonville, ArkansasI went to school in Morrilton with the great, great, great grand daughter of Clifton Clowers. Her family owns the Wolverton Mountain land of Mr. Clowers to this day.
  • Chris Spears from AustraliaGood bloke Clifton.
  • AnonymousI'm in nursing home with a woman who's husband is from morel ton and knew the daughters as well as mr clowers! He went to school with the daughters.
  • Calvert Hunt from Albany, NhOften wondered about that song. Wish I coulda met the old gent!
  • Dean Pennington from Jayhawker, Shawnee CountyIt may have been "Hillbilly but it struck a chord with me, and couldn't stand Bob Wills, Hank Williams, Sr, Porter Wagoner, etc. but I was to become a country music fan, because 70's country music is where 50 & 60's rock and roll (not all of it) went. Some split into folk, some went to Britain's sounds, some metallic, some to acid. This and songs from Johnny Horton, Harold Jenkins and others crossed-over largely because of and un-credited to the skill of no-name "studio musicians" that had a lot of talent, the "wrecking crew," as they were known, even helped Frank Sinatra sing his one and only HIT with daughter Nancy. The "Wrecking Crew" is responsible for more than people will ever know. Most of them are gone now, but from Ricky Nelson to John Denver they knew and appreciated.
  • Ben from CanadaI thought June Carter wrote ring of fire.
  • Cami Hunter from Clinton,arkansasYou are right Jumbo James. The song was written as a joke. Uncle Clifton was actually a kind and hardworking man.
  • James M. "jim" Skipper from Pearland, TexasThis is a great article! My step dad, Lyonell Halbrook, (postmaster at Cleveland a few miles through the hills SW of Woolverton Mountain) knew Clifton. My step dad's family had settled near Woolverton Mountain (and Center Ridge) in the 1800s and some were buried on the Mountain and others at the Halbrook Cemetery near the east side. I agree with some of the thoughts expressed by some of the commenters here; "Wolverton" has the thought of wolves rather than wool. The alliteration of "Clifton Clowers" also adds interest. The story, though, needed to have some challenging plot such as the warning not to try to date the daughter to create the overall story. It's a nice little song, but when it came out I thought it had too much of a 'hillbilly' sound.
  • Marc J. Cohen from New Bedford, Massachusetts/fort Lauderdale, FloridaGreat song! Always loved it! It's like the C&W version of a fairy tale, where knights try and rescue a beautiful maiden from a castle and are all killed by a dragon. Does the narrator make it, or does he become just another one of the rotting skeletons strewn about Wolverton Mountain? Why is Clifton Clowers so over-protective of his daughter? Did his wife die? So many more questions to ponder.
  • Jimbo James from FlordaEspecially because Clowers was Kilgore's uncle, it's a near certainty that Kilgore & King knew the correct spelling of the mountain's name. The probably felt that "Wolverton" would look better in the song's title.

    Likewise, Kilgore probably knew his uncle better than to believe that he was a gunfighter and knife-fighter. As some have pointed out, the song was probably written jokingly, a good-natured joke for Kilgore's uncle.

    It certainly brought to Clowers a lot of fame, of a positive nature.

    Jimbo James
  • Cami Hunter from Bee Branch ArkansasI love this song. Uncle Clifton was one of the sweetest men that I have ever known.
  • Gary Chidester from Buckhannon Upshur Co. West VirginiaListened to this song back in the mid 60s loved it then love it now
  • Larry W Jones from Kingwood TexasTribute song for Claude King and Clifton Clowers:

    Wolverton Mountain Man (Larry W Jones 03/20/2013) (song#6679)

    Well, I was just a young lad going with the flow
    When I first heard Claude King sing on the radio
    I was at a soda fountain in Louisian
    Listnin' 'bout a big bad Wolverton Mountain man

    Now, old man Clowers made good hard liquor brandy
    With a gun and a knife he was mighty handy
    He had a pretty young daughter with raven hair
    But Wolverton bears and birds protected her there

    (instrumental)

    Now I'm an older man and time goes marching on
    And it was in March when I heard Claude King was gone
    I wonder if he ever kissed Clifton's daughter's sweet lips
    Or if he married that girl on one of his trips

    I know Claude King climbed up on Wolverton Mountain
    Cause all of his dreams were with that young girl he loved
    He took his chances up on Wolverton Mountain
    It was too lonesome down below than up above

    Well, I was just a young lad going with the flow
    When I first heard Claude King sing on the radio
    Up on that Wolverton Mountain he loved her so

    http://kingwoodkowboy.com/WolvertonMountainMan.html
  • Alan.rohr from Portland OregonHad to live this song when I was 16...got shot in the back with rock salt
    but I came back for more and would up married to his daughter..Funny how life goes round and round...
  • Jessie from Texasjust because you know how to use a gun and a knife doesn't mean that your an uneducated person.
see more comments