“My Brother Ransom”

Ransom Raney (1847-1929) and Isaac “Ike” Raney (1848-1874) were the oldest sons of Lonsom Raney (1828-1923), the patriarch of the Raney family and moonshine dynasty. As Ike used to say, ‘me and Ransom are like Abel and Cain.’

Where Ransom loved to outdoors hunting and fishing, Ike was a farmer and was dedicated to raising a fine crop of corn and beans. But Ransom was somewhat of a bully and looked down on farming, seeing it as less manly than hunting. He would show this disrespect by harming Ike’s field by dragging one of his dead deers through the crop.

As this went on Ike knew he had to put some distance between himself and Ransom, so he built a little cabin and staked off a nice sized field on the river side of the Raney land, which covered a sizable acreage. After getting his farm going, and a couple of years, in 1869, Ike married Martha “Mattie” McLemore (1848-1874) a beautiful and innocently shy young woman.

Initially things went well, Mattie enjoyed life at the farm despite the seclusion and did not feel lonely. And when they had their forst two children, Charles (1871) and Charlotte (1873), even the solitude was improved. But eventually she began to want more.

Although she did love Ike, his personality was quiet, soft, and even passive. As a farmer he long ago accepted the vicissitudes of weather with an equanimity that she did not quite understand. It was almost like he accepted failure too easily. Ransom on the other hand was strong, and in control of the forces in his life. She found his roughness very attractive. Soon she was fantasizing about a closer relationship with her brother-in-law.

Mattie’s desire did not go unnoticed by Ransom, who saw how easily he could destroy Ike simply by letting nature take its course.

Over those first four years, Mattie and Ike grew further and further apart. Mattie continued to do her chores, cooking, cleaning, and bearing children. She always had a meal waiting for Ike when he came in from the field, but often would not sit at the table with him, excusing herself with the excuse she wanted to walk around the property. Ike knew she had come from a large family and no doubt missed the companionship of her siblings. He indulged her in these walks, but when they began to happen more frequently he became suspicious.

One day he decided to follow her to satisfy his curiosity about where she went. To his horror, he followed her to the river where Ransom had set up one of his deer blinds. Ike, hiding some brush, watched as they embraced, and then entered the small shack. Ike was devastated and trudged home despondent not knowing how to respond.

He wanted to give it time in order to see if Mattie would come to her senses, or if Ransom would grow tired of her. Ransom was not known to sustain long involvements with women. Usually he sought the company of prostitutes, those who could make no claim on him. And maybe he thought that as a married woman, neither would Mattie.

However, they continued to see each other, even as Mattie was pregnant with Ike’s third child.

This was too much for Ike. He waited until after she gave birth, and wanted to give her one last chance to come back to him, completely, before he did or said something he could not take back. However, she went back to Ransom and Ike made his decision.

My Brother Ransom
(F.D. Leone, Jr.)

My brother Ransom was older than me
He’d inherit Grandpa’s recipe
We both helped Pap make our shine
Ransom was ten, I was nine
Handed down, father to son
Our copper pot came all the way from Scotland
Family is everything to us
Blood is only thing you can trust
Ransom liked to hunt and fish
Chewed ginseng like licorice
He was rough and pretty wild
My brother Ransom was a mountain child

Each year I’d plow a patch of land
Squash and beans the work of my hands
Ransom might come back with a buck he’d killed
Drag that carcass through my plowed field
Ransom looked at my farmin’ with disdain
He and I were Abel and Cain
If I stayed I knew we’d come to fight
I had to move and did one night
For a few years I did fine
Worked the land and made it mine
I married Mattie and brought her home
But Ransom wouldn’t leave her alone

Mattie was a sweet, innocent child
Melt your heart with her mysterious smile
I was never sure what she saw in me
I guess for her I was security
But Ransom was always there
Like a shadow everywhere
Her softness was drawn to his strength
Her eyes followed wherever he went
Mattie changed bit by bit
She became remote and distant
I gave her time hoping it would pass
I didn’t know how or what to ask

Side by side in bed we lay like logs
I couldn’t name it but something was wrong
She told me it was all in my head
But I didn’t believe a word she said
It got so we would hardly talk
She spent time taking long walks
One day I thought I’d spy out where she went
And discover her devilment
There’s a river that borders my land
Where Ransom built a deer stand
Could that really be her destination
Why that place in all of creation?

The answer was soon to be known
Ransom drank her in like she was all his own
She ran and leapt into his arms
And offered him every one of her charms
I stood there rooted like a tree
Afraid of what I might see
I watched her walk into his shack
And with a bitter heart I turned back
Best place for thinking is behind a plow
I sure had things to think about now
How would I act, what could I ask?
Too late to stop her from slippin’ from my grasp

She came home to the same routine
Living the lie as if I’d never seen
What I saw was seared on my brain
When I close my eyes the images remain
Ransom needed me for a whiskey run
I wouldn’t let on I knew what they’d done
Knowing Ransom he’d not feel any guilt
He wasn’t one to cry over spilt milk
Back home I got my rat gun
I shot Mattie, that’s what I done
Sent for the sheriff and waited there
Never denied what I did to her

I was hanged in 1874
I killed my wife for acting a whore
Not Ransom; it was her I shot
Ransom was blood, and she was not

.© 2022 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). The songs and stories on the Highway 80 Stories website are works of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

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f. d. leone