America’s Classic Folk Song, The Ballad of Casey Jones Was Written By A Black Railroad Laborer


On April 30, 1900, one of America’s classic folk songs, The Ballad of Casey Jones, was written.

Wallace Saunders a black railroad laborer wrote it. It was one of three songs written by him. Very little is known about Wallace Saunders. He performed odd jobs for the railroad all his life.

At the time of Jones’ accident, Saunders was an engine wiper for the railroad shop in Canton, Mississippi. Saunders wrote The Ballad of Casey Jones the day after Jones’ fatal accident.

Wallace Saunders, an African-American friend of Casey’s who worked in the roundhouse, soon made up a song about the incident. Casey was neither the first nor the last locomotive engineer to go to “glory” pulling on the brakes, but Saunders’ song put him on the path to another kind of glory.

Saunders’ song got around and was apparently sung in several vaudeville shows. Eventually the vaudeville team of T. Lawrence Seibert and Eddie Newton published their version, which they billed as a comedy song. They “juiced up” the comedy aspect by adding a verse about Casey’s widow telling her children not to mind Casey’s death, because they have “another papa on the Salt Lake Line.” Mrs. Jones refuted that rumor to her death, and most children’s albums leave that verse off, but there you have it. In case you wondered, Saunders never received a penny for his efforts.

Wallace Saunder’s portrait, is displayed in the Casey Jones Museum in Jackson, TN.

Check out the lyrics of this classic songs:

The Ballad of Casey Jones

Come, all you rounders, if you want to hear
The story told of a brave engineer;
Casey Jones was the rounder’s name,
A high right-wheeler of mighty fame.”
Of mighty fame, of mighty fame,
A high right-wheeler of mighty fame.
Casey pulled into the Memphis yard
Fed up, beat down and dog tired,
Another driver had called in sick,
Asking Casey to do a double trick.
Casey smiled, said, “I’m feelin’ fine,
Gonna ride that train to the end of the line.
There’s ridges and bridges, and hills to climb,
Got a head of steam and ahead of time.”
Ahead of time, ahead of time.
Got a head of steam and ahead of time.

Caller called Casey, half-past four;
He kissed his wife, the station door,
Climbed into the cab, orders in his hand,
“Could be my trip to (the) Promised Land.”
Through South Memphis on the fly,
The fireman say, “You got a white eye.”
The switchmen knew the engine’s moan
The man at the throttle was Casey Jones.
Was Casey Jones, was Casey Jones.
The man at the throttle was Casey Jones.
The engine rocked, the drivers rolled,
Fireman hollered, “Save my soul!”
“I’m gonna roll her ‘til she leaves the rails,
I’m behind time with the Southern mail.

Been raining hard for weeks and weeks;
Railroad track like the bed of a creek.
Rated down to a thirty-mile gait —
The Southern mail two hours late.
Two hours late, two hours late.
The Southern mail was two hours late.
Fireman say, “You running (too) fast.
You ran the last three lights we passed.
Casey say, “We’ll make it through,
She’s steamin’ better than I ever knew.”
Casey say, “Don’t you fret.
Keep feedin’ the fire; don’t give up yet.
Run her ‘til she leaves the rail.
To be on time with the Southern mail.

The Southern Mail, the Southern mail.
To be on time with the Southern mail.
Checked his water, his water was low,
Looked at his watch, his watch was slow.
Put on more water, put on more coal,
Put your head out the window see my drivers roll.
See my drivers roll, see my drivers roll,
Put your head out the window see my drivers roll.
People said Casey couldn’t run
But I can tell you what Casey done;
Left Memphis, quarter ‘til nine
Vaughn, Mississippi, right on time.
Got within a mile of the place,

A big headlight stared him in the face;
Shout to the fireman, “Jump for your life.”
Give my love to my children, say goodbye to my wife.
Casey said, just before he died,
“There’s a lot more railroads that I’d like to ride;”
He said the good Lord whispered, “It’ll never be,”
The Illinois Central be the death of me.
Headaches and heartaches and all kinds of pain
Ain’t no different from a railroad train.
You can take your stories, noble and grand,
All just a part of a railroad man…..

Black First:
2,000 years of extraordinary achievement
by Jessie Carney Smith
Copyright 1994 Visible Ink Press, Detroit, MI
ISBN 0-8103-9490-1

1 Comment

  • eset nod32 keys 2019 April 1, 2019 - 9:39 am

    I’ve learned some new things by your weblog. One other thing I’d prefer to say is always that newer computer system os’s tend to allow much more memory to be utilized, but they additionally demand more memory simply to perform. If your computer is not able to handle far more memory as well as the newest software program requires that storage increase, it might be the time to shop for a new Laptop or computer. Thanks