Casey Jones (I) [Laws G1]

DESCRIPTION: Casey Jones's train is late with the mail. He is pushing the train as fast as he can when he sees another train ahead. There is no time to stop. Casey tells his fireman to jump; he himself dies in the wreck
AUTHOR: Original text by Wallis/Wallace/Wash Saunders/Sanders (?); "Official" text copyrighted 1909 by Newton & Siebert
EARLIEST DATE: 1909 (copyright)
KEYWORDS: death train wreck
Apr 30, 1900 - Death of John Luther "Casey" Jones, of the Illinois Central Railroad, near Vaughan, Mississippi
REFERENCES (29 citations):
Laws G1, "Casey Jones"
Cohen-LongSteelRail, pp. 132-157, "Casey Jones" (4 fairly complete texts plus many tunes an the cover from the 1909 sheet music, 1 tune)
Neely/Spargo-TalesAndSongsOfSouthernIllinois, pp. 167-171, "Casey Jones" (2 texts)
Morris-FolksongsOfFlorida, #53, "Casey Jones" (1 text, tune referenced)
Brown/Belden/Hudson-FrankCBrownCollectionNCFolklore2 216, "Casey Jones" (1 text plus mention of 1 more)
Hudson-FolksongsOfMississippi 87, pp. 214-215, "Casey Jones" (1 text, quite dissimilar to the popular version, focusing on the bad conditions and Casey's heroism)
Hubbard-BalladsAndSongsFromUtah, #190, "Casey Jones" (1 text)
Friedman-Viking/PenguinBookOfFolkBallads, p. 309, "Casey Jones" (7 texts, mostly fragmentary)
Sandburg-TheAmericanSongbag, pp. 366-368, "Casey Jones" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax/Lomax-FolkSongUSA 75, "Casey Jones" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax-FolkSongsOfNorthAmerica 301, "Casey Jones" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Lomax/Lomax-AmericanBalladsAndFolkSongs, pp. 34-36, "Nachul-Born Easman" (1 text, 1 tune)
Scarborough-OnTheTrailOfNegroFolkSongs, pp. 249-250, "Casey Jones" (1 text, 1 tune)
Burton/Manning-EastTennesseeStateCollectionVol2, pp. 57-58, "Casey Jones" (1 text, 1 tune)
Spaeth-ReadEmAndWeep, pp. 106-109, "Casey Jones" (1 text, 1 tune)
Johnson-BawdyBalladsAndLustyLyrics, pp. 90-92, "Casey Jones" (1 text)
Courlander-NegroFolkMusic, pp. 185-186, "(Casey Jones)" (1 text, 1 tune)
Pound-AmericanBalladsAndSongs, 59, pp. 133, "Casey Jones" (1 text)
Cox-FolkSongsSouth 48, "Mack McDonald" (1 text, clearly "Casey Jones" even though the engineer's name has been changed)
Cohen-AmericanFolkSongsARegionalEncyclopedia1, pp. 335-336, "Casey Jones" (1 text plus a 1911 sheet music cover)
Shay-BarroomBallads/PiousFriendsDrunkenCompanions, pp. 13-16, "Casey Jones"; "Casey Jones II" (2 texts, 1 tune)
Darling-NewAmericanSongster, pp. 209-213, "Casey Jones"; "Casey Jones"; "Kassie Jones" (3 text, with the first two being here"Joseph Mica" and the third being the full "Kassie Jones" text of Furry Lewis)
Geller-FamousSongsAndTheirStories, pp. 231-234, "Casey Jones" (1 text, 1 tune)
Fireside-Book-of-Folk-Songs, p. 142, "Casey Jones" (1 text, 1 tune)
Fuld-BookOfWorldFamousMusic, p. 165+, "Casey Jones"
ADDITIONAL:Fred J. Lee, _Casey Jones: _Epic of the American Railroad_, 1940, 286-287, "(Casey Jones)" (1 text, said to be the originale Wallace Saunders version)
Richard M. Dorson, _Buying the Wind: Regional Folklore in the United States_, University of Chicago Press, 1964, pp. 403-405, "Casey Jones" (1 text)
Harold Courlander, _A Treasury of Afro-American Folklore_, Crown Publishers, 1976, pp. 396-397, "Casey Jones" (1 text)

Roud #3247
Arthur "Brother-in-Law" Armstrong, "Casey Jones" (AFS 3987 B4, 1940)
DeFord Bailey, "Casey Jones" (Victor 23336, 1932/Victor 23831, 1933; rec. 1928)
Al Bernard, "Casey Jones" (Brunswick 178, 1927/Supertone S-2044, 1930)
Fiddlin' John Carson, "Casey Jones" (OKeh 40038, 1924; rec. 1923)
Arthur Collins & chorus, "Casey Jones" (CYL: Indestructible 3163, 1910)
[Arthur] Collins & [Byron] Harlan "Casey Jones" (Columbia A907, 1910)
Elizabeth Cotten, "Casey Jones" (on Cotten03)
County Harmonizers, "Casey Jones" (Pathe Actuelle 020670, 1921) (Pathe 20670, 1921) [these are separate issues; the Actuelle is a lateral-cut record, while the other is vertical-cut]
Vernon Dalhart, "Casey Jones" (Oriole 454 [as Dick Morse], 1925) (Victor 20502, 1927; rec. 1925)
Dixie Demons "Casey Jones" (Decca 5140, 1935)
K. C. Douglas, "Casey Jones" (on ClassAfrAm)
Jesse James, "Southern Casey Jones" (Decca 7213, 1936; on Protobilly)
Fred Kirby & the WTB Briarhoppers "Casey Jones" (Sonora 3040, n.d. but post-World War II)
Wingy Manone & his orchestra, "Casey Jones (The Brave Engineer)" (Bluebird B-10266, 1939/Mongomery Ward M-8354, 1940)
John D. Mounce et al, "Casey Jones" (on MusOzarks01, ClassRR)
Billy Murray w. the American Quartet, "Casey Jones" (Victor 16843, 1910) (CYL: Edison 10499, 1911) (CYL: Edison [BA] 1550, 1912) (CYL: Edison [BA] 450, 1910; on Protobilly)
Riley Puckett, "Casey Jones" (Columbia 113-D [as George Riley Puckett], 1924)
George Reneau, "Casey Jones" (Vocalion 14813, 1924)
Bob Skiles Four Old Timers, "Casey Jones" (OKeh 45225, 1928)
Pete Seeger , "Casey Jones" (on PeteSeeger13)
Gid Tanner & his Skillet Lickers, "Casey Jones" (Columbia 15237-D, 1928; rec. 1927)
Wilmer Watts & the Lonely Eagles, "Knocking Down Casey Jones" (Paramount 3210, 1930; on TimesAint02)
Fred Wilson, "Casey Jones" (Harmony 5118-H, 1930)
Jack & Tom Wilson, "Casey Jones" (Diva 2480-G, 1927)

cf. "Joseph Mica (Mikel) (The Wreck of the Six-Wheel Driver) (Been on the Choly So Long)" [Laws I16]
cf. "Casey Jones (II)" (bawdy parody)
cf. "Casey Jones (IV) (Casey Jones the Union Scab)"
cf. "Casey Jones (VI) (World War I version)
cf. "Casey Jones the Miner"
cf. "Ben Dewberry's Final Run" (lyrics, theme)
cf. "J. C. Holmes Blue" (form, lyrics)
cf. "Steamboat Bill" (tune)
cf. "Duncan and Brady" [Laws I9] (lyrics)
cf. "Peggy Howatt" (tune)
cf. "The Big Combine" (tune)
cf. "E. P. Walker" (tune)
Casey Jones (IV) (Casey Jones the Union Scab) (File: FSWB102)
Hunting Deer (File: RDL065)
Come On You Scabs If You Want to Hear (by Odell Corley, then 11 years old) (Greenway-AmericanFolksongsOfProtest, p. 138; Kristina Horton, _Martyr of Loray Mill: Ella May and the 1929 Textile Workers' Strike in Gastonia, North Carolina_, McFarland & Company, 2015, p. 199. For background, see the notes on "Chief Aderholt")
Casey Jones the Rooster (Pankake/Pankake-PrairieHomeCompanionFolkSongBook, pp. 109-110)
The Big Combine (on Thieme03)
Tenor solo, "Casey Jones" [Ku Klux Klan lyrics] (Special K-1, rec. c. 1924)
W. R. Rhinehart, "The Klansman's Friend' (100% K-5, rec. 1924)
NOTES [1758 words]: John Luther Jones was brought up in Cayce, Kentucky (hence his nickname).
Joe Hill (pseud. for Joseph Hillstrom, born Joel Hagglund) wrote a parody of this song, entitled "Casey Jones the Union Scab," based on the Southern Pacific strike of 1911. -PJS
This piece shows the power of song: Mrs. Jones, who died in 1958 at the age of 92, spent half a century disclaiming the accusations of infidelity in the song. Fireman Simeon Webb lasted almost as long, dying in 1957 at age 83.
In reading Laws's notes to "Casey Jones" and "Joseph Mica" [Laws I16], it seems clear to me that there is no true distinction between the ballads. Laws files the more complete forms here, and the fragments and related pieces under "Joseph Mica." How does one decide which pieces to put where? I'm really not sure.
To make matters worse, Laws has garbled the entry and the information about Lomax and Sandburg. I did the best I could, but one should check "Joseph Mica" for additional versions.
Cohen offers a reasonable explanation for this: There was an existing train song, possibly "Jay Gould's Daughter," which Saunders adapted to apply to Casey Jones -- but it was a blues ballad, without a strong plot. The 1909 version converted this to a true ballad -- but, fragments being what they are, it's not really possible to distinguish the two.
Cohen also lists several alternate nominees for the title of the "original" Casey Jones.
Laws distinguishes "Jay Gould's Daughter" as a separate song (dI25); I think this distinction hopeless; it is just another worn down version, and should be filed with "Joseph Mica." - RBW
It should be noted that Furry Lewis' "Kassie Jones" is a fragmentary stream-of-consciousness incorporating a single verse from "Casey Jones" and many floating verses, including a couple from "On the Road Again". - PJS
Cohen (whose main text is the Lewis version) says that Lewis recorded the song ten times, with none of the texts being entirely the same.
According to Davey/Seal, p. 231, there is an Australian parody, "Billy Sheehan," which so far I have not seen, but in which "Sheehan tried to outrun the Spirit of Progress express in a steam train but the steam train's boiler explodes, killing him and the fireman." Sort of Casey Jones meets John Henry.
There is a "biography" of Casey Jones, Lee's. Unfortunately, although author Lee worked with Casey's brother Philip for several years, it has been hideously fictionalized, so I don't know what parts of it can be trusted. Plus Lee is a patent racist. The book frankly made me extremely uncomfortable. I'll mention only a few of the more important parts.
"John Luther Jones was born on March 14, 1863 in a backwoods region of Southeastern Missouri that cannot be definitely located. His father, Frank Jones, was a poor country school teacher. His mother, Ann Nolen Jones, was a woman of considerable strength of character..... in September, 1876, the family turned their backs upon their primitive home and emigrated to the western part of Kentucky, settling near the town of Hickman. John Luther -- or simply Luther as he was more generally known in this early period of his life -- was the oldest of five children, four boys and one girl. In order, following Luther, the boys were Eugene, Frank, and Philip. Their sister's name was Emma. The four Jones brothers all became in time engineers on the Illinois Central Railroad" (Lee, pp. 2-3). In fact, only one of the Jones brothers, Frank, died a natural death, in 1919 (Lee, p. 216). The whole Jones family seems to have been jinxed. Casey's sister Emma died in a steamboat wreck in 1896 (Lee, pp. 244-245).
When John Luther Jones left home in his teens, it was to seek a railroad job -- but his family's original idea was that he take the more prestigious job of telegrapher (Lee, p. 29). Supposedly he got the job in part because he was a good baseball player (Lee, p. 47). And because there were so many Jones on the payroll, he needed a nickname (Lee, p. 46). They called him "Cayce" after the Cayce water tower near his family's home.
Lee, p. 98, claims that Casey picked up telegraphy unusually quickly, and describes him quickly being employed -- but says that he was quickly redeployed as a brakeman (p. 111; this makes little sense, since telegraphers were harder to train). Some of it may have been his physical abilities; Lee, p. 137, says he was six feet four inches tall and strong in proportion. Soon after, he became a fireman and engineer-in-training (Lee, pp. 142-143). He also converted to Roman Catholicism to please Jane Brady, the girl he hoped to marry (Lee, p. 148), being baptized on November 11, 1886 (Lee, p. 160). Two weeks later, on November 25, they were married. A son, Charles, was born July 15, 1888; a daughter Helen followed on October 10, 1890; their last child, John Lloyd Jones, was born March 27, 1896 (Lee, p. 215).
Despite changing rail lines in 1888, which cost him seniority, Jones made it to engineer early in 1890 (Lee, p. 173) -- and quickly developed a reputation for driving at extremely high speeds (Lee, pp. 180-184 and elsewhere). Polenberg, p. 166, says that he had been suspended nine times for recklessness. He even raced other engineers on mail runs, which were usually relatively slow (Lee, pp. 181-182; note that the song mentions Casey carrying the mail). He was such an obsessive about power that on at least one run he over-pressured his boiler by more than 10% to climb a hill (Lee, pp. 221-223), which was not only against the rules but extremely dangerous; the great danger of steam engines was boiler explosions!
Lee, p. 188, says that Jones had already had one minor train crash in his career, at Toone (22 miles south of Jackson, Tennessee), although he doesn't give a date; there were no injuries although there was minor property damage to the train and its baggage. It was after this that he supposedly took over Engine #638, the high-power engine apparently specially associated with him. Lee has a photo of Jones and engine 638 facing p. 212; similarly Polenberg, p. 168.
Jones later transferred to a different route and was given Engine #382; there is a photo of this engine facing p. 256.
"On the night of April 29th, 1800, Casey pulled into Memphis with [mail] train #4, on time, and was informed that engineer Sam Tate had been taken suddenly ill and would be unable to take out train No. 1. Although Casey was jut in from the long run from Canton, he was asked to double out [that is, make a second run without resting] with train No. 1. He agreed at once" (Lee, p. 260) -- although he insisted on using his regular engine rather than an unfamiliar one, meaning that he needed extra time to check her over.
The train was an hour and a quarter late (Lee, p. 262), and the track wasn't particularly good. Yet Lee, pp. 262-263, and Polenberg, pp. 164-165, report that Jones drove so fast that he almost made it on time. Lee calculates that he must have covered parts of the route at a hundred miles an hour -- twice the usual speed. Jones actually was in position to finish on time -- until a scheduling goof on another train set him back again (Lee, p. 268). It was only a few minutes, but it meant that Casey again insisted on speeding. After an extremely long tour of duty. And the time was a little before 4:00 in the morning. And then -- a train in the wrong place (Lee, p. 270). There was no time to stop -- no room to stop! Jones ordered fireman Sim Webb, "Jump, Sim! Unload!" (Lee, p. 271). Jones stayed with the train, to slow her as much as possible. He couldn't do much.
"Casey Jones lay dead among the wreckage, an iron bolt through his neck, a bale of hay resting across his body" (Lee, p. 271).
Jones was the only one killed. Webb was badly injured but survived. Only one other person was seriously hurt (Lee, p. 272). The railroad promptly and correctly placed all the blame on Jones (Polenberg, p. 166).
Lee, in his typically racist way, says that "Sim Webb was a colored boy distinctly above the average of his race in intelligence, character and general ability. He had studied to become a doctor. But the lure of the railroad caused him to give up the medical profession" (p. 257). I read this to mean, "Sim Webb studied to be a physician, but bigotry forced him to take a railroad job rather than using his real talents." There is a photo of Webb facing p. 265 of Lee.
After Casey's death, despite what the song says, Mrs. Jones ran a boarding house and "lived a long, blameless life" (Polenberg, p. 170).
Lee gives the name of the author of this song as Wallace Saunders (so spelled), but his picture of Saunders is hardly flattering: "Wallace Saunders was just such a Negro as the text portrays: ignorant, unlettered, extremely simple-minded" (Lee, p.284) But Lee is a patent racist, referring repeatedly to "darkys." He seems to describe Saunders as an odd-jobs-man hanging around the whorehouses of Columbus, Ohio (where he knew Casey Jones) -- but also on p. 78 described him as a Primitive Baptist deacon. I have no idea how much of this to believe, except that I am sure that Saunders was not the servile imbecile as Lee describes.
Lee, pp. 139-141, describes Saunders as having written another song, "Boomer Bill," about Jones and about a bully Jones out-fought; the chorus ran "Lift 'em up, lay 'em down." Lee makes it sound as if it went into tradition, but I can't find any collections of it.
Lee, p. 285, explains how the song came to be widely known. The Saunders version was sung by railroaders, and "[t]here was an engineer on the Illionis Central in the year 1900 and for several years thereafter whose two brothers constituted a team of vaudeville performers.... The engineer's name was William Leighton. The brothers were Bert and Frank Leighton, and their attention was directed to the possibilities contained in Wallace's crude ballad. The Leighton Brothers sang a version of Casey Jones in various theatres of the country, adding a chorus.
"In 1909 a song Casey Jones was published by T. Lawrence Siebert and Eddie Newton, the former being credited with the lyric and the latter with the music. The lyric wandered far afield, but the melody corresponded to the one sung by the Leighton Brothers and was a close approximation of the original melody."
Jones, facing p. 14, has a photo of the railroad station at Cayce, Kentucky from which Casey took his nickname. There is a picture of Mrs. Casey, taken long after Casey died, facing p. 253. A photo of Sim Webb faces p. 288. Polenberg has a photo of Casey on p. 165. - RBW
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