The film's screenplay was inspired by tales told to writer William D. Wittliff by his grandfather during his childhood living on a Texan ranch in the Blanco Hill country. Wittliff came up with an outline of the story whilst driving in Texas from Austin to Dallas. Wittliff had previously written Willie Nelson's Honeysuckle Rose (1980) and had adapted Nelson's 1975 concept album Red Headed Stranger (1986) when it was in development for Robert Redford, his script later being filmed with Nelson in it.
Location scouting for the production was conducted in all eleven south-western states of the USA. Due to the cinematography union that DOP Ian Baker belonged to, the movie had to be completely shot in Texas as this was the only place that the union would allow Baker to lens.
In an August 1990 interview with Australian film magazine 'Cinema Papers', director Fred Schepisi said of this film, "...you could do wide shots at both ends of the day, because of the way that the mountains were structured. And as you moved into to do closer work, there was always a direction you could point where you would get great light and good texture on the backgrounds".
This independently financed movie was picked up by Universal Pictures when they acquired Lord Lew Grade's ITC/Associated Film Distributors (AFD) which got sold when they went bust after the box-office failure of Raise the Titanic (1980). Reportedly, the pictured got pulled from theaters in some territories when AFD was sold. The film was one of two westerns that Universal inherited from ITC/AFD, the other was The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981). Both flopped at the box-office.
The production camp was in a little known western Texan backwater township of Latijas which had a population of around only twelve people. The Texas town was a former desert trading post stop and was General "Black Jack" Pershing's headquarters during military campaign fighting against the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. The production shoot in Latijas went for four weeks.
High temperatures in Texas had a scorching effect on the production with the heat staying hot right into the evening. Shooting in such a remote location there also meant there was no television, air-conditioning and telephones whilst crew had to cram into rooms for their lodgings.
The word "Barbarosa" could come either from Spanish or Italian and with the same meaning "Pink Beard". Despite what some think, red in Spanish is "rojo" and in Italian "rosso/a" (with a double "s", and "rosso" for a male substantive "rossa" for a female substantive - in Italian there is not "it", every substantive is either a male one or a female one.)
Despite this western film's financial failure, the Hollywood films industry within a few years bizarrely revived the oater movie genre during the mid-80s producing a mini-cycle of Western movies. In 1985, the dream factory churned out such Western oaters as Silverado (1985), Rustlers' Rhapsody (1985), Pale Rider (1985) and Lust in the Dust (1985).