In the annuls of American folklore there are many characters who’ve had songs written about their lives and deeds. John Henry – “the steel driving man” is perhaps one of the most famous, Paul Bunyan and Babe his blue ox is another. Blackbeard’s ghost is a tale from North Carolina. From the Southwest region the story of Pecos Bill and Slue-foot Sue is quite a tall tale, and Johnny Appleseed is another very famous name from this lexicon.
Another legendary figure was a man known as Casey Jones. He was born in 1864, his full name was John Luther Jones. Casey was a nickname drawn from the town to which his family moved while their son was quite young, Cayce, Kentucky. Casey was known for driving the trains on time and the unique manner in which he blew the whistle on the old steam engine. In the year of 1900 he met his final end when one night he was driving hard and trying to make up time on a late running train. As his train rounded the bend near the end of the run he encountered a train stalled on the same line of tracks ahead. Realizing he was driving a train that was about to crash into another he directed his fireman to jump off. Casey remained with one hand on the brake and the other hand on the whistle. He is heralded as a great hero for attempting to avert disaster, yet failing to do so he died. Here is a link that gives a little more detail about Casey’s wife who lived another 58 years past her husbands tragic death. You may also enjoy this link to the Casey Jones Railroad Museum.
This version is attributed to Mississippi John Hurt.
The Ballad of Casey Jones
Casey Jones was an old engineer
Called for his fireman, tonight he will fear
All I need is my water and coal
Look out the window, see my driving wheel roll
One Sunday morning, in the driving rain
Around the bend came a passenger train
In the cabin stood Casey Jones
Noble engineer but he’s dead and gone
Mrs Casey when she heard the news
Sitting on her bedside, she was lacing up her shoes
Children, children now catch your breath
You will draw a pension at your Papa’s death
Children, children now get your hat
Tell me Mama what do you mean by that?
Get your hat, put it on your head
Go down town, see your daddy is dead
Casey said before he died
Fix the blinds so that the bums can’t ride
If they ride, let them ride the rods
Put their trust in the hand of God
Casey said just before he died
Two more roads that I want to ride
People said, what roads can they be?
Old Colorado and the Santa Fe.