“They say don’t go, on Wolverton Mountain
If you’re looking, for a wife.
‘Cause Clifton Clowers, has a pretty young daughter
And he’s mighty handy, with a gun and a knife.”
Most of you folks that were around in the 1960s, and maybe some of you folks that listen to country music from that period, will recognize those lyrics from a number one song called Wolverton Mountain. I bet you didn’t know that this song was written about a real person that lived on a real mountain.
That’s right. Clifton Clowers was a real man that lived on Wolverton Mountain overlooking a small town called Center Ridge, Arkansas. The song was written by Merle Kilgore for his uncle Clifton as a birthday present. Kilgore was Hank Williams Jr’s long time friend and manager. He also cowrote the song Ring of Fire with June Carter Cash.
How do I know this? Clifton Clowers is my Grandfather, and Merle my second cousin. What does this have to do with bluegrass music? Not much, except that Clifton Clowers played the fiddle and loved the music.
Clifton lived on Wolverton Mountain most of his adult life. He raised 6 children; 4 are still living, and 2 still live in Arkansas. He raised those children by farming the land, growing their food and raising a pig and cow to butcher every year. Clifton would walk down the mountain every Saturday morning to spend the day cutting hair for 10 cents a head. He would then buy flour, sugar, and coffee with his earnings and walk back up the mountain to do the evening chores. He farmed the land with an old mule pulling the implements.
I remember visiting Grandpa Clowers as a young boy when our family would make the long journey to Arkansas from West Virginia. Some of my fondest memories are after the morning chores, when Grandpa would say “let’s go fishing.” We would then hike down off the mountain to the lake, or hook up the mule to the wagon and go to a neighbor’s pond. Afterwards we would take our fish home, and then Grandma would fry up our catch for dinner. After dinner, Grandpa would get out the old fiddle and play a few tunes under the big shade tree.
I remember that the dogs, the pets he loved, would come and lay down under the tree and listen to the fiddle too. They seemed to enjoy it as much as I did. Grandpa would always look over at me and say, “sing me a song, boy.” I would sing and he would always fall in there with a fiddle back up.
Clifton Clowers lived to be 102 years old. He fought in World War I, but I do not ever remember him ever talking about the war. As the song says he whittled with his knife and hunted with his gun. When the song was at its peak popularity, people would flock to the mountain just to meet him and shake his hand. They would always want some kind of souvenir so Grandpa started making turkey calls and different whittled trinkets for them. I think he even started selling them and making extra money, but knowing him, he probably gave away more than he sold.
He was asked many times what his secret was to his longevity in life. His answer was always the same, “A firm belief in God. No alcohol or tobacco.” He lived by these beliefs and even at the age of 100 years was still plowing his garden behind the mule pulling the plow.
There was no running water in the house. There was a well right beside the front porch, and this was the most refreshing water I ever drank. The house was heated by an open fireplace, and as kids we would pop popcorn over the flames. Grandpa planted and raised the popcorn too.
Clifton actually had two daughters, but the song was changed by Claude King when he recorded it because he thought it sounded better as a pretty young daughter. My cousins and I often use to argue over which one was the pretty young daughter, my aunt Burlene or my mother Virginia. Fact is, they were both pretty young daughters. My Mom just turned 89 last September and her philosophy is the same as Clifton’s when it comes to the longevity of life.
My Dad always jokingly told people that he climbed Wolverton Mountain and stole Mom from Clifton, but in reality they met in Memphis, TN while both were attending school. I don’t think that Dad would have gone up against the legendary gun and knife.
The song Wolverton Mountain has been recorded by country, pop, and bluegrass artists over the past 40 some years, and has become a classic in American music. With all of its success, Clifton Clowers never changed. He kept farming and working on his land until the day he passed. He never let this fame go to his head. He actually used to say that he wished that Merle had not written the part about the gun and knife, because in his words, “I never used those tools for that purpose, I just used them to hunt and whittle.”