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.
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