The song Ghost Riders in The Sky was written in 1948 by Stan Jones (1914-1963) while he was working in Death Valley for the National Park Service. During that summer he was assigned to the movie crew that was filming The Walking Hills as a technical adviser. He would play his songs for them while on breaks and they encouraged him to sell the songs and went to music publishers to try to sell the songs.
Shortly after the beginning of 1949, Burl Ives heard the song and decided to record it on February 16, 1949 reaching the charts on April 22 peaking at number 21. Also in 1949 the song was recorded by Bing Crosby on March 22, 1949 reaching the charts on May 6 with it peaking at number 16.
But it was Vaughn Monroe’s version recorded on March 14 reaching the charts on April 15 that reached the number 1 position. In fact it was the biggest record of 1949. When it was recorded in 1949 it was called Riders in the Sky (A Cowboy Legend)
Gene Autry thought so much of the song that he crafted a movie based on it. He also recorded the version that was used in the movie.
In 1949 alone at least six performers recorded the song and since that time it has been recorded numerous times in each of the succeeding decades. Johnny Cash recorded a version in 1979. On 1988 he performed a duet of the song with Willie Nelson on VH1 Storytellers. On that version Willie Nelson did the 4th verse instead of the third.
The song appeared in the movie Ghost Rider with Nicholas Cage. The song was incorporated into the soundtrack. A few times during the movie you could hear the guitar riff and it featured perfectly when the ‘Ghost Riders’ made their 500 mile journey through the desert. A nearly 5 minute version of the song done by the group Spiderbait ran during the closing credits.