The lyrics of this song are mostly biographical, providing a number of details from the life of Jesse James, depicting him as Robin Hood's American version. Although there is no evidence to suggest that he personally "stole from the wealthy and gave to the needy." The album is the starting point of Thomas Hart Benton's Jesse James row of a mosaic on American folk songs. Robert Ford, Jesse's killer, was a member of the James gang. At the end of the 1939 film, Jesse James, part of the song, is heard. The song was used in a 1958 episode of Lawman's TV Western series, where the marshal is trying to get Robert Ford out of the city safely. The version of the track by Ry Cooder appears over the end credits of Walter Hill's 1980 film The Long Riders and a part of the album is performed on-screen by Nick Cave, who plays a strolling ballader in a bar patronized by Robert Ford in the 2007 movie The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. The song's author remains uncertain, but it is credited to a "Billy Gashade" or "Billy LaShade" in the lyrics of some variants, although there is no historical record under either title for anyone.