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American Ballads and Folk Songs
now and add words that suit Casey's railroad life just as well as the original does. I read your letter to Wallis and he said, 'Boss, is there anything in it?' I told him no money but lots of fame, and he said, 'What dat, Boss?' ... I was for forty years foreman of the railroad shops here."
Twenty-three years later we went to Canton to find Wallis Sanders. He was dead. Mayor Miller was dead. But his married daughter took us to see an old Negro whom she had known in the roundhouse ever since she was a little girl—Wallis Sanders' close friend, Cornelius Steen.
Cornelius Steen, seventy years old, retired after nearly forty years of coal-heaving in the old roundhouse at Canton, told us this story about the origin of "Casey Jones." While visiting in Kansas City many years ago, he had heard the song "Jimmie Jones" (of which the only verse he could remember is quoted below) sung by a strolling street guitarist. He brought the tune and some of the verses back with him to Canton and to the roundhouse where he worked. "Wash" Sanders, who also worked as a coal heaver, heard the song, liked it, and made it his own by adding verses that described the wreck in which poor old Jimmie Jones was killed. When sufficiently in his cups, he could sing on for a long time and never repeat a stanza. Some time after, Casey Jones, who had a regular run as an engineer between Memphis and Canton, and whom Steen said he knew well and saw often, was killed in the now famous wreck. Sanders then changed the words "Jimmie Jones" to "Casey Jones." Later it was picked up by some traveling vaudevillians and revamped to make the popularly known song, "Casey Jones."
The following is the only verse of "Jimmie Jones" that Cornelius Steen could remember:
On a Sunday mornin' it begins to rain, 'Round de curve spied a passenger train, . On the pilot lay po' Jimmie Jones,
He's a good ol' porter, but he's dead an' gone,