My mother worked from home, and always had a stack of records on the turntable. Most of the records were folk music from all over the world, and there were several LP's by the Weavers. By the time I was 6 or 7 years old, I had learned many, many songs from those records by osmosis, including most of the Weavers repertoire which included Lee Hays' version of Johnson Boys. Much of Lee's repertoire came from Arkansas.
I didn't learn about Frank Proffitt until I was in my late teens. Frank's version is similar musically, but the words are serious, and I believe it's from an older family of versions. Lee Hays' "union" version comes from the Civil War parodies of the older versions which are poking fun at the "unsophisticated southern mountain boys". Obviously the verse about "riding in a Chevrolet" is a much later accretion.
Mark, Thank you for giving this song a spotlight. I'm not sure of your source, but Frank Proffitt recorded this in 1959 for Frank and Anne Warner and again on his 1962 recording for Folkways Records. Was Proffitt by any chance your recorded source for this tune?