Jones, Casey, 1864–1900, American locomotive engineer celebrated in ballad and song, probably b. Jordan, Fulton co., Ky. His real name was John Luther Jones, but at the age of 17 he went to Cayce, Ky., and there he was employed as a telegraph operator; from the name of the town he was given the nickname “Casey.” In 1888 he entered the service of the Illinois Central RR as a locomotive fireman and soon (1890) was promoted to engineer. He was famous among railroad men for his boast that he always brought his train in on schedule and for his peculiar skill with a locomotive whistle. Given the “crack” assignment of driving the Cannon Ball express from Memphis, Tenn., to Canton, Miss.—a particularly dangerous run on which several accidents had occurred—Casey Jones was determined to bring the overdue train in on time but met with disaster. On the morning of Apr. 30, 1900, confronted with a stationary freight train ahead of his speeding locomotive at Vaughan, Miss., he ordered his fireman to jump. He applied the brakes, and although the Cannon Ball crashed and Jones was killed, the passengers were saved. A fellow railroad worker, Wallace Saunders, soon composed a popular ballad about him; one version of it, Casey Jones, was published by T. Lawrence Siebert and Eddie Newton. Monuments commemorating Jones stand at Cayce, Ky., and Jackson, Tenn. He was buried at Jackson, Tenn.
See biography by F. J. Lee (1939).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
legendary railroad engineer; crashes in attempt to arrive in “Frisco” on time. [Am. Folklore: Hart, 431]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
Jones, Casey (legendary name of John Luther)(1863–1900) railroader, folk hero; born in southeastern Missouri. He grew up in Cayce, Ky., and became a railroad engineer. On April 30, 1900, he was driving the Cannonball Express southward when he saw a freight train on the track ahead (and there is some question as to whether he was at fault for going so fast at this point). Instead of jumping, he stayed in the cab and tried to brake the train, giving his coworker a chance to jump free and saving others aboard from serious injuries while he himself was killed in the crash. Wallace Saunders, an African-American railroad worker, celebrated Luther's heroism in a ballad that was eventually picked up by the commercial music world and performed in vaudeville. Casey Jones soon become a symbol to railroad men in particular and to the labor people in general.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.