Song: Wolverton Mountain by Claude King and Merle Kilgore

 Place: Woolverton Mountain, Arkansas

Clifton Clowers grave site
Lyrics passage They say don't go on Wolverton Mountain if you're looking for a wife
'Cause Clifton Clowers has a pretty young daughter
He's mighty handy with a gun and a knife
Her tender lips are sweeter than honey and Wolverton Mountain protects her there
The bears and the birds tell Clifton Clowers if a stranger should enter there.
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Clifton Clowers grave siteClifton Clowers grave site Wolverton MountainWolverton 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.

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
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COMMENTS: 8pages [ 01 ] 02 03 >

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
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 Video: Wolverton Mountain

 Place: Woolverton Mountain, Arkansas

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