Porter Wagoner + The Carroll County Accident

by

Riley Johnson

Updated

February 15, 2024

Updated

February 15, 2024

Updated

February 15, 2024

Country singer Porter Wagoner’s “The Carroll County Accident,” written by Bob Ferguson, earned the singer a string of achievements: a runner-up position on the Hot Country Singles chart, an entry in the Billboard Hot 100, and a CMA Song of the Year Award in 1969. And so, it wasn’t surprising that the track became one of the signature Porter Wagoner songs.

Meaning Behind the Song

In under three minutes, Porter Wagoner told a small-town soap opera: an intriguing love affair between a man named Walter Browning and a woman named Mary Ellen Jones. 

The song opens with a painting of Carroll County, how boring it is, and that the only thing that really happens is the county fair. But then, an accident, a wreck on the highway, turned things around. As the song went, “Walter Browning lost his life and for a time / It seemed that Mary Ellen Jones would surely die.” And what piqued the interest of many was the fact that Walter, a married man, didn’t have his golden wedding ring on.  

According to Mary Ellen, he flagged her down. He told her he was sick and asked if she could drive him to town. No one doubted her story because she was well-respected in the county, just like Walter. 

And then came the twist: The narrator found out that Walter Browning and Mary Ellen Jones didn’t just happen to meet. They were actually meeting because they were having an affair. And his ring sat in a little matchbox circled by a rubber band. It wasn’t gone because of the accident. 

RELATED: 15 Country Songs for a Cathartic Cry About Cheating

And then came another twist: The narrator was Walter Browning’s son. And he vowed never to let the truth about the Carroll County accident be revealed so as not to ruin his father’s reputation, especially since the county ordered a monument for him. So, he dropped the ring into a well. 

Aside from the genius storytelling, the melody was also catchy, featuring a traditional country arrangement with twangy guitars, plaintive steel guitar fills, and a steady rhythm that underscores the storytelling aspect. 

Listen to Porter Wagoner’s “The Carroll County Accident” below. 


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