Introduction

Highway 80 is a stretch of road that ran at one time from California all through Georgia and was once part of the early auto trail known as the Dixie Overland Highway.

However, the entire segment west of Dallas, Texas, has been decommissioned in favor of various Interstate Highways and state highways. Currently, the highway’s western terminus is on the Dallas–Mesquite, Texas city line. The highway’s eastern terminus is in Tybee Island, Georgia, just past Savannah.

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My focus will be the stretch from Dallas to the other side of Macon, Georgia.  I will tell the narrative of nine families going back to when they first came to America and more specifically when and how they got to Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama or Georgia.

These stories will be told in song.

Levi Motts (1845-1864)

Levi Motts (1845-1864).  Young confederate soldier in love with Ruby Robison.  He fights and dies in Battle of Mansfield, April 8, 1964.

Ancestors:  Randall Motts (1752- 1821); Lucas Motts (1797-1875 ); Luther Motts (1820-1871).

Randall Motts was an Englishman who came to the Colonies in 1782, entering first at Pennsylvania and then making his way across the mountains into Alabama.  He amassed twelve sections of land planted for cotton and became quite wealthy.  His son Lucas headed west and settled in North Louisiana where he found land ideal for growing cotton and created his own large plantation.  Lucas was Levi’s grandfather.

Lucas’s son, Luther Motts, Levi’s father, was something of a ne’er-do-well.  Happy to live off his father’s largesse and not one to get his hands dirty, much less calloused, Luther spent his time playing cards, drinking and visiting the growing number of brothels in the new town of Shreveport.

Levi was nothing like his father and spent most of his time growing up at the knee of his grandfather who made sure Levi was wise in ways of the world and how to conduct himself in business.  However, when the canons fired upon Fort Sumter, Levi volunteered in 1862 to fight in the Rebel cause.

Mustering out of Monroe, Louisiana in Colonel Henry Gray’s brigade, the Louisiana Gray’s, Levi eventually found his way, ironically, like his father, to the now quite busy red light district of Shreveport. There he met and took up with one of the young sporting girls there, Ruby Robison.

Ruby and Levi defied the conventions of the time and begin a serious relationship with plans of marrying.  However, Levi’s company was called up to fight in the Trans-Mississippi campaign waged by the Union troops who are marching into Louisiana.  Gray’s brigade is one of the units in Gen. Robert Taylor’s army confronting Nathaniel Bank’s invading force at Mansfield.

While the Battle of Mansfield is a Confederate victory, Levi Motts is one of only about a hundred men who died there on April 8, 1864.  As he goes into battle, Levi knows that Ruby is pregnant with their child. This child, a girl Ruby named Pearl, is born in late December of 1864. Because of her illegitimate status Pearl chose to use the name Robison for most of her life (see songs “Levi Motts is My Name” and “Fannin Street“).

Lucas Motts lived to bury both his son and grandson and watching as the Mott family fortunes are destroyed by the war and Reconstruction.

“Levi Motts Is My Name”

Levi Motts is My Name
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Levi Motts is my name
Come from Northwest Louisiana
I joined up with Colonel Gray
He said be ready to march today
Don’t know when I’ll be back again
If this war will ever end

Ruby Robison is my gal
Keeps a room down in the bottoms
We talked of gettin’ out of there
Make a new life anywhere
Don’t know when I’ll be back again
If this war will ever end

Ruby wrote me a letter
We were waitin’ outside Mansfield
Wrote there’s a baby on the way
We fought the Yankees April Eighth
Don’t know when I’ll be back again
If this war will ever end

Levi Motts is my name
Come from Northwest Louisiana
Lead ball went through my neck
That afternoon I bled to death
Don’t know when I’ll be back again
If this war will ever end

Continue reading “Levi Motts Is My Name”

The Battle of Mansfield

The Red River campaign of Union General Nathaniel Banks grinds to a halt when Confederate General Richard Taylor routs Banks’ army at Mansfield, Louisiana.

Gray and Taylor

The Red River campaign, which had begun a month earlier, was an attempt by the Union to invade Confederate Texas from Shreveport, Louisiana. Banks, accompanied by a flotilla on the Red River, would move northwest across the state and rendezvous at Shreveport with a force under General Frederick Steele moving from Little Rock, Arkansas.

The slow-moving Banks approached Mansfield and opted to take a shorter road to Shreveport than one that ran along the Red River. Not only was the road narrow, it was far away from the gun support offered by the Union flotilla on the river. Banks’ troops ran into Taylor’s force and a skirmish erupted. At 4 p.m., Taylor ordered an all-out assault on the Yankees. The Rebels eventually broke the Union lines, sending the Federals in a disorganized retreat. The Yankees fell back three miles before reinforcements stopped the Confederate advance.

Banks suffered 113 men killed, 581 wounded, and 1,541 missing, while Taylor had about 1,500 total casualties. But Banks was now in retreat, and the Red River campaign was failing. Taylor attacked again the next day, but this time Banks’ men held the Confederates at bay. Banks was unnerved, though, and he began to retreat back down the Red River without penetrating into Texas.

Ruby Robison (1845-1933)

Ruby Robison (1845-1933).  Young prostitute on Fannin Street; has daughter, Pearl, with Confederate soldier Levi Motts.  After learning that Levi is killed at the Battle of Mansfield in April, 1864, Ruby marries his cousin Coleman Broussard and has four other children.

Ruby came to Shreveport during the Civil War, perhaps with Union troops up the Red River from New Orleans following the occupation of that city. Born in Ireland in 1845, her family may have been among the large numbers of Irish immigrants who sought refuge in America during the potato famines of the mid-nineteenth century.  She most likely resorted to prostitution as a means of survival.

Ruby had a room in one of the dozens of brothels in downtown Shreveport area around Fannin Street, but her life took an unexpected turn when she met Levi Motts.  Ruby and Levi began to have serious feelings for each other and Levi swore that he would find a way to get her out of the life she’d known as a prostitute.  But the war got in the way, sending Levi off to fight and die in the Battle of Mansfield (see songs, “Fannin Street” and “Levi Motts is My Name“).

Ruby had let Levi know of her pregnancy and she gave birth to a daughter in 1865, whom she named Pearl.  Levi’s cousin, Coleman Broussard chose to marry Ruby and they had four children together.  Their first son, Lucas was the great-grandfather of Mike “Sarge” Broussard.

Ruby lived to the ripe old age of 88, living to see not only her daughter grow up, get married and have children of her own, but well into the lives of her great-grandchildren.

“Fannin Street”

Fannin Street
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

On Fannin Street, Fannin Street
There’s a room upstairs for the men she meets
She’s not theirs and never was,
Just what she does
On Fannin Street

There was one boy, fine and sweet
Not like the rest of Fannin Street
He was all she ever loved
In the room above
Fannin Street

On Fannin Street, Fannin Street …

The boy he said he’d take her away
From the life she led one day
He left for Mansfield to the restless beat
Of Marching feet
In columns of grey

On Fannin Street, Fannin Street …

In her room alone Ruby Robison
Heard that the Rebels had won
She went to Mansfield but there she cried
For the baby inside
And the boy who was gone

On Fannin Street, Fannin Street …

© 2017 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP)

Fannin Street, Shreveport

Fannin Street in downtown Shreveport, Louisiana, was the center of activity in the tenderloin district known as St. Paul’s Bottoms.

A Shreveport city ordinance of December 1871 addressed the issue of prostitution in an attempt to keep it away from the public sphere. In “An Ordinance Relating to and to Regulate Lewd Women,” the council stated clearly that it “shall not be lawful for any woman or girl who is known to be a lewd person to stand upon the sidewalk in front of the premises occupied by her.” The ordinance also stated that “no woman or girl who is notoriously known to be a lewd person shall be found to be strolling in any street, sidewalk, market house or alley, or drinking in any coffey [sic] house or saloon after 8: 00 p.m. at night.”

Before the creation of a segregated red-light district, prostitution thrived on the riverfront of Shreveport in an area known as “the Batture” (or riverbank) located near the docks. Large brothels operated in the riverfront area from the earliest days of the city’s growth in the 1830s. By the time the Shreveport City Council established a legal district for prostitution in an area of the city known as St. Paul’s Bottoms, named for nearby St. Paul’s Methodist Church, the world’s second oldest profession had prospered for decades.

Fannin red-light Shreveport,_1920

This was a low-lying area bordered by selectively chosen streets, as well as the Texas & Pacific Railway tracks.  The location did not represent the city’s best real estate, and the low-lying “bottoms” were far enough removed from the river to lack the benefit of breezes in the summer. Furthermore, the land was muddy and collected water, providing a prime breeding spot for mosquitoes. However, in response to the city ordinance, prostitutes, madams and pimps all began the process of relocating their businesses.

At its peak, Shreveport’s red-light district had over one hundred registered brothels.  The region primarily attracted white clientele for white prostitutes, although there were areas in the district that featured black or “mulatto” girls, including the Octoroon Club on Fannin Street that advertised such girls from the New Orleans area.

The typical rate for a “trick” was three dollars, a price that seems to have been fixed among those brothels attracting more prominent white clientele.  However, there were many small-scale operators in shotgun houses who charged less than the going rate.  Probably first used as low-cost housing for the rapid influx of workers into the city following the Civil War, the “shotgun house” was another important staple characteristic of the St. Paul’s Bottoms area.

Shreveport, Louisiana

Shreveport is the third-largest city in the state of Louisiana and is the seat of Caddo Parish. It extends along the Red River into neighboring Bossier Parish; Shreveport and Bossier City are separated by the Red River. The Shreveport-Bossier City metropolitan area had a population exceeding 441,000 in 2010, and has remained the third most populous metropolitan area in Louisiana.

Jake McLemore spent a good portion of his childhood in Shreveport since his father moved the family there upon starting to work for the United Gas Corporation. Levi Motts and Ruby Robison met in Shreveport, in one of the brothels in the St. Paul’s Bottoms. Vivian, Louisiana is not far from Shreveport and Mike Broussard and D.W. Washington often went there, D.W. more than Mike. After Tully Tate moved to Hosston and started working the job at the pulp paper mill, Shreveport-Bossier was the place to go to let off steam and party.

Shreveport was founded in 1836 by the Shreve Town Company, a corporation established to develop a town at the juncture of the newly navigable Red River and the Texas Trail, an overland route into the newly independent Republic of Texas and, prior to that time, into Mexico. The city grew throughout the 20th century and became a center for the oil industry throughout the United States. Standard Oil of Louisiana (absorbed by Standard Oil of New Jersey and now part of ExxonMobil) and United Gas Corporation (now part of Pennzoil) were headquartered in the city.

During the American Civil War, Shreveport was the capital of Louisiana from 1863 to 1865, having succeeded Baton Rouge and Opelousas after each fell under Union control. The city was a Confederate stronghold throughout the war and was the site of the headquarters of the Trans-Mississippi Department of the Confederate Army. Fort Albert Sidney Johnston was built on a ridge northwest of the city. Because of limited development in that area, the site is relatively undisturbed.

Isolated from events in the east, the Civil War continued in the Trans-Mississippi theater for several weeks after Robert E. Lee’s surrender in April 1865, and the Trans-Mississippi was the last Confederate command to surrender, on May 26, 1865. Confederate President Jefferson Davis tried to flee to Shreveport, intending to go down the Mississippi, when he left Richmond but was captured en route in Irwinville, Georgia.

The Red River, which had been opened by Shreve in the 1830s, remained navigable throughout the Civil War. Water levels got so low at one point that Union Admiral David Dixon Porter was trapped with his gunboats north of Alexandria. His engineers quickly constructed a temporary dam to raise the water level and free his fleet.

By 1914, neglect and lack of use due to diversion of freight traffic to railroad lines resulted in the Red River becoming unnavigable. In 1994, the United States Army Corps of Engineers restored navigability by completion of a series of lock-and-dam structures and a navigation channel.

Confederate Colonel Henry Gray (1816-1892)

Henry Gray, Jr. (January 19, 1816 – December 11, 1892) was an American lawyer and politician who served in the state legislatures of Mississippi and then Louisiana. During the American Civil War, he was a general in the Confederate Army and subsequently served in the Confederate States Congress.

Gray was born to a military family in the Laurens District of South Carolina. He was a son of Henry Gray (a captain in the United States Army during the War of 1812) and Elvira Flanagan Gray. His grandfather Fredrick Gray had been a captain in the American Revolutionary War.

At the beginning of the Civil War, Gray enlisted as a private in a Mississippi infantry regiment in January 1861,until his friend Jefferson Davis called him to go back to Louisiana to raise a regiment. In April and early May 1862, Gray organized the 28th Louisiana Infantry at Camp Taylor and was elected as its colonel. He and his men were mustered into the Confederate Army on May 2.

On April 14, 1863 Gray was wounded in the fighting near Bayou Teche, Louisiana. Department commander Edmund Kirby Smith ordered his promotion to brigadier general on April 8, however the Confederate Congress disallowed it. Gray was given brigade command in Polignac’s Division in April.

Gray saw action around Vicksburg and in various battles within Louisiana while leading his brigade. He assumed the command of a division during the Battle of Mansfield on April 8, 1864, following the mortal wounding of Alfred Mouton.

Gray was elected to represent his northwestern Louisiana congressional district to the Second Confederate Congress, a position he had not sought nor had any knowledge of until notified of his election. He subsequently left the army in camp at Camden, Arkansas, and traveled to Richmond, Virginia. He was promoted to brigadier general on March 17, 1865, backdated to the Mansfield fight, and Gray rejoined his brigade in Polignac’s Division until the end of the war. There is no record of his being paroled from the U.S. Government.

Lonsom Raney (1828-1923)

Lonsom Raney is the son of Scots-Irish immigrants to this country in the early 18th century.  Originally the family spelled their name “Rainey” but Lonsom chose to drop the “i” and spell his name “Raney”.

The Scots-Irish were transplanted (literally the “Plantation” by King James I in 1608-1609) Scots in Ulster, then Ulster Scots in colonial America, they became known as the Scots-Irish, settling in and often moving on through Pennsylvania, and later Virginia and all through the Appalachian mountains.  The Raineys moved into the North Georgia mountains.

Scots-Irish tended to be impetuous and hotheaded, having been marginalized back in Ulster, they defied any easy definition. In fact, they bristled at others’ labels for them—”Irish,” “Irish Presbyterians,” “Northern Irish,” or even “Wild Irish.”  Already twice transplanted, they had acquired a migratory habit. Once acquired, such habits are liable to persist; when the constraints of government caught up with them, these wayfarers often chose to move on.

In Colonial America, a whiskey-making tradition came ready-made with the arrival of Scots-Irish settlers from Northern Ireland’s Ulster region, beginning in the 1700s. They brought with them their taste for the drink and an understanding of how to make it.  Lonsom Raney’s grandfather had always made his own whisky back in Scotland, and brought his still with him wherever he moved: first to Ireland then across the ocean to Virginia.

When Lonsom was a child, moonshine doubled as a cough suppressant and sore-throat treatment. To get little ones to tolerate whiskey, adults added something special to the cup: “It was pretty common with everybody in the mountains to put the old-fashioned peppermint-stick candy in it,” says Vernon Raney, Lonsom’s great-great-grandson (see song, “Lonsom Raney 1828“).

Lonsom claimed to drink corn whiskey nearly every day of his life, often telling anyone in his vicinity, that moonshine was the only thing that kept him alive. He started making it while still a child. “I went to helpin’ my daddy make likker when I wuddn’t but nine years old,” he told Vernon. “My daddy just let me go to the still with him and I watched him and learnt it myself.”

Over the years, the law mostly left the Raneys alone.  But Lonsom wasn’t always lucky.  On at least four occasions, he served time in jail and in prison for violating liquor laws and evading taxes.  But as it turned out, being locked up wasn’t bad for business. “That’s a good place to get customers,” Vernon said of his great-great-granddad’s time behind bars. “He would just take orders and fill them when he got out.”

Lonsom Raney died in 1923 at the age of 95.   He had four descendants who carried on the Raney whisky tradition: Ransom (son), Royal (grandson), Virgil (great-grandson) and Vernon (great-great-grandson).  Vernon would marry Molly Motts, who would later transition their bootlegging business into a drug enterprise.

“Lonsom Raney 1828”

Lonsom Raney 1828
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

1828 Lonsom Raney was born
Had a copper still and made clear corn
His great-granddad brought it from Scotland
Hid it in the hills on this Georgia mountain

Help’d his daddy make likker, Lonsom told
When he wuddn’t but nine years old
They’d load the wagon right at the still
Run that shine all through those hills

Let me be, my sons and me
I’m just doing what I can
Let me be, the boys ‘n’ me
I’m just livin’ off the land

He made it himself when his daddy died
Drank corn whiskey every day of his life
Claimed moonshine was what kept him alive
Lonsom Raney lived to ninety five

Let me be, my sons and me …

Five generations have used that still
From Ransom to Royal, then Virgil
Lonsom died in nineteen twenty-three
Now it’s Vernon’s time with the recipe

Let me be, my sons and me
I’m just doing what I can
Let me be, the boys ‘n’ me
I’m just livin’ off the land
I’m just doing what I can
Lemme be free Mr. Gov’mint man

© 2017 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP)