Eagles’ “Doolin-Dalton” Lyrics Meaning

This song is actually based on the story of the Doolin-Dalton Gang. The gang in question was a group of real-life outlaws who roamed the American Old West back in the late 19thcentury. And it is featured on the Eagles’ “Desperado” album, a project in which the band often portray or sing about cowboys, i.e. the likes of the Doolin-Dalton Gang.

What the Eagles are saying in “Doolin-Dalton”

In this track, the Eagles are relaying the lyrics from a third-person perspective, basically giving a terse rundown of the history of the Doolin-Dalton Gang. Near the beginning there is a reference to “Coffeyville”, which is actually the location where two of the four Dalton brothers died while carrying out a raid in 1892 (and another being shot over 20 times). However, this did not prevent the one who escaped unscathed (Bill) from later hooking up with one Bill Doolin to form the outfit which this song is named after.

And what the Eagles are saying is that in all wisdom, the Doolin-Dalton Gang had to remain perpetually one the move to evade law enforcement. And FYI, back in those days, law enforcement were swift to execute the likes of these individuals upon chancing upon them. But of course such a threat did not prevent the gang from pursuing quick, big money as opposed to “working cheap”, i.e. having a legit job that pays little. And once again going back to the beginning of this song, this “easy money” was used for the outlaws to enjoy a fast life. And in enjoying this fast life, the gang immersed themselves in the company of “faithless women” and “red-eye whiskey”.

All in All…

So perhaps the best way of describing this song is as it being a memorial to the Doolin-Dalton Gang (who were also known as the Wild Bunch). And the Eagles take an objective approach in the matter. In other words, even though at this particular era in the group’s history they were focused on a cowboy-idealizing gimmick, they present both the good and the bad in the lives of the outlaws. The good, if you will, is that they were able to live life under their own terms like true cowboys, albeit outlawed ones. But the bad is that such a lifestyle had them constantly on the run in fear of instant, final justice. And for the record, all of the members of the gang did ultimately met a premature demise.

Lyrics of "Doolin-Dalton"

Facts about “Doolin-Dalton”

“Doolin Dalton” is the opening track on the Eagles’ second album, “Desperado”, which was brought to us by Asylum Records. 

This track was released as part of the album on 17 April 1973. And interesting to note is that the back cover of “Desperado” features the Eagles in a photograph which is meant to replicate the actual picture taken when the Dalton Gang (before Bill Dalton hooked up with Bill Doolin) suffered their biggest defeat in Coffeyville, Kansas.

“Desperado” also features instrumental and reprised versions of “Doolin-Dalton”.

The writers of this song are two members of the Eagles – Don Henley and Glenn Frey. The pair teamed up with a couple of other songwriters to pen this classic. These writers are Jackson Browne and J. D. Souther. 

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