On April 30, 1900, railroad engineer John Luther "Casey" Jones died when his Illinois Central train, the "Cannonball," collided with a stalled freight train in Vaughan, Mississippi. Jones, who once lived and worked in the railroad town of Water Valley, was credited with saving the lives of his passengers and crew, and was immortalized in song by many artists, including Mississippi-born bluesman Furry Lewis and Mississippi John Hurt.
The railway engineer occupied a celebrated role in the American cultural imagination during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the peak era of the steam locomotive. None achieved more acclaim than "Casey" Jones, although his exploits, true and otherwise, only became popularly celebrated years after his death. A native of Cayce, Kentucky-the source of his nickname-Jones (1863 - 1900) began working for the Illinois Central as a fireman in 1888. Two years later he joined the Water Valley Lodge of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Fireman, and at some point moved to the city, which housed a major roundhouse and shop for servicing locomotives.
In 1891 Jones was promoted to engineer, and in 1900 began working on the Memphis to Canton, Mississippi, run of the New Orleans special or "Cannonball," which carried passengers and mail between Chicago and
After the wreck Wallace Saunders, an African American worker at the Canton roundhouse who knew Jones, composed a ballad (with some verses reportedly added by fellow employee Ike Wentworth) that spread widely among railroad laborers. These included Cornelius Steen (or Stein), whose version was recorded by folklorist John Lomax in Canton in 1933. Saunders' ballad was first published in a railroad magazine in 1908, and the following year the first sheet music version appeared, credited to T. Lawrence Seibert and Eddie Newton. In 1910 a recording by vaudeville singer Billy Murray reputedly sold over a million copies, and the first country music version was
Erected 2012 by Mississippi Blues Commission. (Marker Number 151.)
Marker series. This marker is included in the Mississippi Blues Trail marker series.
Location. 34° 9.021′ N, 89° 37.923′ W. Marker is in Water Valley, Mississippi, in Yalobusha County. Marker is on Blackmur Street (State Highway 315) 0.1 miles from Main Street (State Highway 315), on the right when traveling east. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 105 Railroad Avenue, Water Valley MS 38965, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 2 other markers are within 14 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies Cradle of North Mississippi Methodism (about 800 feet away, measured in a direct line); Buckner-Craig-Isom Cemetery (approx. 13.7 miles away).
Categories. • African Americans • Arts, Letters, Music • Entertainment • Railroads & Streetcars •
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on May 23, 2012, by Ken Smith of Milan, Tennessee. This page has been viewed 651 times since then and 17 times this year. Last updated on May 25, 2012, by Ken Smith of Milan, Tennessee. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. submitted on May 23, 2012, by Ken Smith of Milan, Tennessee. • Craig Swain was the editor who published this page.