The poker hand Buster Scruggs refuses to play in the saloon is infamously known as "the dead man's hand" (a two-pair of black aces and eights) as legend has it that was the hand held by Wild Bill Hickock when he was shot in the back of the head and killed by the coward Jack McCall.
In the segment "Meal Ticket", Harrison begins the show with the poem Ozymandias, by Shelley; he then proceeds to quote from Genesis chapter 4 (the story of Cain and Abel), Sonnet 30 by William Shakespeare, Sonnet 29 also by Shakespeare, then ends with the Gettysburg Address, by Abraham Lincoln. When they are collecting contributions from the audience, Harrison is repeating Prospero's speech from "The Tempest", act 4 scene 1 which is also spoken at the end of a performance.
In the Buster segment, the last image quickly shows the last page of the book chapter on Buster, talking about his burial ceremony "We give him to you as he gave you so many. We give him to you, Lord, and humbly ask that you never send him back."
In the segment "Mortal Remains", Thigpen begins to tell the story of The Midnight Caller. In True Grit (2010), Mattie asks if LaBoeuf and Cogburn would like to hear a story with the same name, but the story itself is not heard.
In the "Meal Ticket" segment, a chicken with "no formal education" performs amazing mathematical calculations. Later, in the "All Gold Canyon" segment, the prospector returns all but one egg to a nest and asks "How high can a bird count anyway?"
Buster Scruggs' six-shooter, belted at his side, has a name. The gun is called: "Later." The page in the book in the opening scene also reads, "For Buster was a man of whimsy, given to naming his accessories."
In the segment "Meal Ticket" a sign can be seen in the background for an establishment called "Greaser Bob's." This seems to be a reference to the Coens' True Grit (2010), in which the establishment is mentioned by a passing trader but not shown.
When the title was announced, its episodic nature led many people to erroneously believe that the Coen brothers had been developing a TV (mini) series, despite always maintaining that they aren't interested in doing a television show due to its open-ended format. Later speculation that the episodes were re-cut and reorganized into an anthology movie have been denied by the brothers, who indicated that their screenplay remained the same throughout production, and the movie was released the way they had always intended.
After the altercation with Curly (Surly) Joe, Scruggs comments that he is not by nature a devious man, but when unarmed your tactics might be Archimedean. He's referring to Archimedes who was known in ancient Greece for, among other things, applying the principles of mathematics to the lever. Buster used the tabletop plank as a lever against Joe.
Book dedication: To Gaylord Gilpin, Who shared with us these stories, and many more alike, one night in camp above the Roaring Fork, 'til approach of morn stained the sky and our esteem of him stained our trousers, This Book Is Dedicated
The second song sung by Liam Neeson is The Sash. This is also known as The Sash My Father Wore. A ballad from the Irish province of Ulster commemorating the victory of King William III in the Williamite War in Ireland in 1690 to 1691.
The song playing over the intro of the film is an instrumental version of "The Street of Laredo", aka the "Cowboy's Lament", The song, derived from an old Irish ballad and first made famous by Marty Robbins in the 1950s, is about a cowboy who has been fatally shot and, in his last dying moments, asks a passing cowboy to see to his funeral procession.
The guitar that Buster plays is a modern reissue of a 1930's Recording King single 0 RPS-7. Relaunched in 2007 and featuring new and classic designs, the Recording King brand started out as an exclusive brand of the mail-order giant Montgomery Ward and, as it could be ordered out of a catalog, it became very popular during the thirties and forties. The best-known player of Recording Kings was the highly influential "American primitive" musician, the late John Fahey.
The song "Cool Water" Buster Scruggs sings in the opening of the film was written in 1936 by Bob Nolan of "the Sons of the Pioneers" and was recorded by them in 1941. It has been sung in various westerns, notably in 1945 by Roy Rogers and The Sons of the Pioneers in the western movie "Along the Navajo Trail." The song contains the lyrics "Keep on moving Dan, don't you listen to em' Dan, he's a devil not a man, and he spreads the burnings sands with water." And "Dan can't you see that big green tree, where the waters runnin' free and it's waitin' there for you and me." These lyrics can also be found in the song "Water" by California punk rock band Falling Idols. The song was recorded in 1982 and released on their self titled 1984 album.
Buster Scruggs introduces himself by his "sobriquet of preference", the "San Saba Songbird", and also states that he hails from west Texas. Tommy Lee Jones, star of the Coen brothers' movie . No Country for Old Men (2007), was born in the small west Texas town of San Saba.
In "Meal Ticket", one of the passages the artist (Harry Melling) recites is Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Liam Neeson, who plays the impresario, was going to play Lincoln in Lincoln (2012) before Daniel Day-Lewis came on board.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
There are some symmetries between the stories: for instance, in the first story the main character refuses to play with another man's cards, and in the last one another character explains how this would be impossible; the same twist where a person apparently dead manages to surprise the purported "killer" also happens twice.