The song "I'm a Lonesome Fugitive" brought Haggard country stardom. Although it sounds autobiographical (Haggard had done time at San Quentin), David Cantwell states in his book The Running Kind that it was actually written by Liz Anderson and her husband Casey while driving cross country and was inspired by the popular television show The Fugitive starring David Jansen and Richard Kimble. Haggard felt a connection to the song immediately and when it was released it became his first number one country hit. When Anderson played the song for Haggard, she was unaware about his prison stretch. "I guess I didn't realize how much the experience at San Quentin did to him, 'cause he never talked about it all that much," Bonnie Owens, Haggard's backup singer and then-wife, is quoted in the liner notes to the 1994 retrospective Down Every Road. "I could tell he was in a dark mood...and I said, 'Is everything okay?' And he said, 'I'm really scared.' And I said, 'Why?' And he said, 'Cause I'm afraid someday I'm gonna be out there...and there's gonna be some convict...some prisoner that was in there the same time I was in, stand up—and they're gonna be about the third row down—and say, 'What do you think you're doing, 45200?'" Haggard would address the issue on his next album, Branded Man.
In 1996, I'm a Lonesome Fugitive was reissued by BGO Records along with Mama Tried.
I'm a Lonesome Fugitive was released on March 4, 1967 and rose to number 3 on the Billboard country albums chart and made it to number 165 on the pop charts. As with his previous album Swinging Doors, Haggard wrote nearly all the songs himself. As David Cantwell observed in 2013, most of the songs find Haggard in some sort of trap, citing the prison song "Life in Prison" and "House of Memories" ("My house is a prison...") and describes the album as "hurtling and out of control even when standing still. Merle can do nothing but sit and wait for phone calls that never come...It's a fantastic album, start to end..." George Bedard of AllMusic praises Haggard's cover of the Jimmie Rodgers classic "Rough and Rowdy Ways," insisting that Haggard "could evoke the Ghosts of Country Past in an absolutely convincing way without nostalgia or imitation."