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
John Luther Jones was brought up in Cayce, Kentucky (hence his nickname).
Joe Hill (pseud. for Joseph Hilstrom) 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) notes that Lewis recorded the song ten times, with none of the texts being entirely the same. - RBW