steamboat bill - THE song
While Seibert and Newton made unsuccessful performance attempts to capitalize on the success of “Casey Jones” it was the vaudeville team of the Leighton Brothers who did succeed and soon even harvested the credit for having composed it, erasing its "real" composers.
The ink was still wet on the Casey Jones sheets when the Leighton Brothers and Ren Shields rushed out "Steamboat Bill" about a lethal attempt to beat a speed record set on the Mississippi River by the Robert E. Lee in 1870.
In the December 16, 1910 issue of their hometown paper the Decatur Herald Frank Leighton said “Steamboat Bill” is only five weeks old….my brother and I worked all last season on it.” (Below)
The team wisely kept the same narrative arc as “Casey Jones” (including the destruction of the craft and the concluding stanza about the endowed widow, etc.) merely moving the action from land to water.
The song was so popular that an article in the New York Times noted that after its publication, job applications for the last of the Mississippi steamboats skyrocketed.
The Leighton Brothers and Ren Shield collaborated three times after "Steamboat Bill" but none ever struck popular acclaim lightning again.
The Decatur (OH) Herald Friday December 16, 1910
The Decatur (OH) Herald Friday December 11, 1910
Morning Tulsa Daily World
Saturday December 17, 1910
The New York Times
Monday, July 10, 1911
Portsmouth (New Hampshire) Daily Times
Saturday February 11, 1911
Though comedian Buster Keaton riffed on the name for his 1927 feature "Steamboat Bill, Jr." that was the only part of the song he referenced as opposed to Walt Disney whose breakout 1928 "Steamboat Willie" showcased the melody for the first minute of its run time, including having it whistled by animator Ub Iwerks' nascent rodent star.