Jed, move away from there!

The second verse of “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” has never quite made sense to me. It describes the events that follow Jed’s discovery of oil on his property.

Well the first thing you know, old Jed’s a millionaire.
The kinfolk said “Jed, move away from there!”
They said “Californy is the place you oughta be,”
So they loaded up the truck and they moved to Beverly.
Hills, that is. Swimming pools, movie stars.

Jed is now a millionaire, and the first thing his kinfolk say to him is, “You have to move. To California. Now.” I don’t think I follow the logic. One of the advantages of being wealthy is that you can live pretty much wherever you want. As far as I know, there is no law requiring millionaires to congregate in Beverly Hills. Why does Jed have to go there?
To answer this question we have to consider who, exactly, is urging Jed to move. Who are these “kinfolk”? They’re not Jethro, Elly Mae, and Granny. If those people were suggesting the move, they would say: “Jed, move away from here. Californy is the place we oughta be.” The wording of the song establishes that the kinfolk are not members of Jed’s household, and they don’t expect to go with him to Beverly Hills.
Why are they so keen to convince him to move? This isn’t the reaction you would expect from people related to a man who just became rich. Shouldn’t they be sucking up to Jed in the hope that he’ll share his wealth with them? Urging him to move across the country doesn’t fit that pattern. I can only think of one thing that explains this odd behavior: Jed and his kinfolk are not on good terms. They know that they don’t stand a chance of getting their hands on any of his money — and therefore, they see his newfound wealth only as an opportunity to get rid of him. And Jethro and Elly Mae and Granny as well.
So we know that Jed’s kinfolk are not close relatives (or they’d be living with him) and don’t like him much. What kind of kinfolk does that suggest? In-laws, of course. Notice that Jed’s wife — Jethro and Elly Mae’s mother — is nowhere to be seen in the series. Presumably, she is dead. Her family may never have been fond of Jed in the first place, but tolerated him while she was alive. Now that she’s gone, that tolerance is at an end.
This is pure conjecture, but here’s what I think happened: Jed and his wife were members of families on opposite sides of a feud. When they married, their families declared a truce. After his wife’s death, the old grudges reasserted themselves. Jed’s transformation into a millionaire inspired only envy and resentment among his kinfolk, who were only too happy to goad him into moving away and taking his blood relatives with him. And he was quite willing to oblige them.
So he loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly.

5 thoughts on “Jed, move away from there!

  1. You’re definitely exploring some groundbreaking ideas here, and I’m surprised that more work hasn’t been done in this area. I have always found many elements of Jed’s story suspicious, and it goes beyond just the social context that must have surrounded his exile from Appalachia.
    I am not a geologist, but I don’t think the Appalachian mountains are a particularly likely spot to find a petroleum deposit; nor do I find it easy to believe that one could strike oil by firing a shotgun. And yet these elements of Jed’s story (presumably the story as he tells it, since there were no witnesses) do not seem to have attracted much scrutiny.
    Clearly, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered, but historically, researchers have lacked the courage even to ask them. Maybe that is beginning to change.

  2. How do you know Jed is from Appalachia? He could be from the Ozarks, or some other mountainous region.
    Also, I suspect that Jed was hunting with a rifle rather than a shotgun. I’ll have Ben look at the title sequence and see if he can identify the weapon.

  3. Well, he is from the Ozarks – at least according to http://www.pcperspectives.com/hillbillies/.

    And I quote:

    “The Clampetts, an Ozark hillbilly family, accidentally struck it rich when patriarch Jed, while hunting, shot the ground and struck oil.”

    However, I also seem to remember that they are somehow connected to the folks at Petticoat Junction and those at Green Acres, so there may be more to it than just what the song states. See http://www.poobala.com/hooterville.html for another peer-reviewed articles on this sorted story.

  4. That’s a good point, Virgil. I looked at some Beverly Hillbillies websites and learned that the Clampetts did go back to visit their old stomping grounds and, presumably, their relatives. So I guess the estrangement between Jed and his kinfolk can’t have been as final as I suggested. (That’s what I get for speculating about a TV show that I’ve only seen a few episodes of. But I see that I’m not alone in concluding that the title song doesn’t make sense.)
    I haven’t been able to find a picture clear enough to allow identification of the weapon Jed used when he was shootin’ at some food. So that question may have to remain unanswered.

  5. I believe Elly Mae was Jed’s daughter, but Jethro was just his nephew. Thus you may remember Elly Mae’s plaintive pleas to her “Paw” and Jethro’s many schemes being followed by “But Uncle Jed!”
    I personally like to think that the relatives of this family of sorts were good people. People who sang bluegrass hymns in the twilight on their front porches. They were simple people who lived by a simpler form of logic than perhaps we do. If you’re rich you move to where all the other rich people live. In this case, you move to Beverly Hills.
    I don’t even think that they could imagine anything much better than the shacks they were living in. Look at the Clampett’s reaction to their new home. They didn’t even know what half the stuff was once they moved in. They had a cee-ment pond and pot passers and double-barrelled sling-shots. And, it seemed, most all of their relatives came to visit at one point or another and were eager to go home.

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