The men apparently got into an argument over politics and Lyons removed the Stetson hat off Shelton's head. Shelton retaliated by fatally shooting Lyons in the stomach. The story has changed over the years and the song has been recorded by many artists.
I first became familiar with the song back in the late 1950s when Lloyd Price took it to the top of the charts. It is reportedly the first censored song to reach No. 1.
In Price's version, the tension begins while the men are gambling:
"It was Stagger Lee and Billy
Two who gambled late
Stagger Lee threw seven,
Billy swore he threw eight"
Stagger Lee got angry and left to get his .44 to settle matters. When he returned, Billy pleaded: