The song and first cousin have several commonalities discovered during the research of my Atlanta, Georgia, ancestors. Let's begin with a bit of era history that connects the two.
Cousin Richard A. Pittman was a railroad man with The Western & Atlantic Railroad whose employment there would become the focus of his work history in more ways than is officially documented.
The W&A RR became a key link to the chain of Southern railroads connecting the Atlantic Ocean and the Mississippi River. It was the foundation for Atlanta's emergence as a rail center.
By the time of the Civil War, the W&A had 46 locomotives, two of which were to become participants in the 'Great Locomotive Chase' of April 1862. It played a major role in the Atlanta Campaign. It's loss to the South in 1864 was devastating to the Confederacy's hopes of victory, but at the same time played a major role in the rest of Richard Pittman's life. It is likely he was there as a part of his military assignments when Sherman marched through Atlanta. It is possible that he began his railroad career with the W&A and was instrumental in getting it back on the tracks during the Reconstruction Era. We know from the 1870 US Census that he was a Conductor when the W&A's stock was leased for 20 years to a corporation made up of officers of the W&A's connecting roads headed by former Governor J.E. Brown.
By 1880, Richard had been in W&A employment for more than ten years and had changed positions a number of times, most likely due to opportunities for better wages. The fact that he was the son of a well known city official did not seem to have an impact on his railroad career of moving up the ranks in an administrative capacity. On the contrary, he remained a part of the day to day work force which is indicated in the 1880 Census where he declares his occupation as 'Watchman'.
Richards railroad career and life ended tragically two years later on December 4, 1882.
To date, no information has been found or researched from the Atlanta Constitution which would have, in all likelihood, reported a more accurate account of the accident and possibly an Obituary for Richard A. Pittman, for the owner of the Atlanta Constitution was a relative of the Pittman Family. Then there was Richard being the son and brother of Judges Daniel N. and Daniel J. Pittman. His death would have been front page news and probably the beginning of an investigation into the circumstances of a trained watchman with years of experience in and around the workings of the railroad. Hardly one to disregard safety rules or be less than cautious of passing trains, as is insinuated in the Augusta Chronicles report of December 24, 1882.
The songs publication twelve years after Richards death must have been the final reminder of his working on the railroad. For six of those twelve years Richards widow Nancy E. Pittman's name appeared in the Macon Telegraph newspaper.
The Pittman-Elder Case presented in City Court in October of 1885 was reported to have ended in a mistrial. The case was settled the next year in November 1886 with Mrs. Dick Pittman receiving a settlement of $700 on a note of $4,000.
No details to the nature of the suit were reported, but it was stated that Nancy was the widow of Mr. Richard Pittman. Another report from Ordinary Court was published May 8, 1888 granting letters of dis-mission to Nancy E. Pittman.
Six years after her husbands death, it seems Nancy was relieved of her duty as the executor of his estate with the settlements in all cases.
Unlike Richard's widow's meager court settlement funds, the Levee Song has become an American Classic translated world wide, has been the subject for children's books, cartoons, and nursery rhymes. The verses and chorus lyrics have been adapted to fit numerous other songs, movies and school spirit songs...for example:
The Eyes of Texas" is the spirit song of the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Texas at El Paso. It is set to the tune of "I've Been Working on the Railroad" with alternate lyrics written in 1904. Students, faculty, staff, and alumni of the University sing the song at Longhorn sports games and other events. (Wikipedia)