Kenny Wagner kills a sheriff in Mississippi and heads for Tennessee, where he is captured. He escapes, but is again taken (this time by a female sheriff). He is imprisoned for life, and is offered as an example to potential lawbreakers
Evidently [this song] entered oral tradition quickly -- only a few years after Jenkins's recording, the name of the song has changed and so has the locale. The female sheriff, however, remains constant. - PJS
Hudson, who is the primary source for printed texts of both Kenny Wagner ballads, gives some details about his career but no dates. The notes in Brown (presumably from Hudson) calls Wagner simply a bad man of the 1920s. He notes that both songs were in circulation c. 1928; Wagner was apparently still alive at the time Hudson published in 1936.
Hudson was not aware that Andrew Jenkins composed these ballads; that information comes from D. K. Wilgus. - RBW