This song is about two true stories of vigilante justice in Ontario. Steve Earle
first sings about The Black Donnellys, who are a family that immigrated to Ontario around 1845. They settled in Biddulph Township where an old family rivalry started 200 years earlier was rekindled. The Donnellys were charged with accounts of assault, arson, trespassing, verbal assault, attempted murder, murder of Patrick Farrell, theft, robbery, and assaulting a police officer. They were found not guilty of everything they were charged with but became enemies with many of the town's residents in the process. Crimes committed in the area were immediately blamed on the Donnellys. Eventually, members of the town formed a mob, killed the Donnellys - including their two children - and set the house on fire. Prominent town members were involved in the massacre, and the judge threw the case out due to the implications of a guilty verdict.
Steve Earle relates this to modern times, singing that 100 years later you'd think things have changed, but he then he brings up the case of a Port Hope, Ontario man being shot and killed in a bar and the shooter never being brought to justice even though six other men were sent to prison.