Millie Carson Sparks (1899-1985)

THE MAY 24, 1935, Roanoke Times headline read: Woman Pilot of Whiskey Cars Is Placed On Stand. Millie Carson Sparks testified on May 23 for a half hour. “So great was the interest with which her appearance has been awaited that it served to overshadow a full day of varied testimony . . .” The experience was a disappointing one for most, including Anderson, who saw his hopes of a great mountain heroine die with her appearance on the witness stand. “Mrs. Carson, whose name became so widely known here in the palmy [sic] days of the bootleggers during Prohibition, appeared minus the diamond that once gleamed in her teeth. She was dressed in a white outfit with hat and shoes to match, the dress having brown ruffled sleeves and collar gathered in front with a large cameo pin.

Mildred “Millie” Sparks was a tall, thin and sophisticated young woman whose appearance and mien belied her Southwestern Virginia upbringing. Sparks had originally married a big-shot bootlegger and soon became the principal driver for the operation, driving pilot cars as the caravans of booze careened and smashed their way through the hills of rural towns and into the conduits of the major cities, becoming a celebrity in the process. They said Sparks had movie-star looks and diamonds set in her teeth.

The woman she presented to the world gave no indication of the kind of upbringing she experienced as a girl.

She would have been out of bed at dawn. Summers came on the mountain farm then winters. From the time she was six or seven, she went, for a few months each winter, to a mountain school.

From the time when she was tall enough to stand up to the stove she got up and got the breakfast. In the winter there were corn bread and hot hog meat, and in the summer there were greens. Then she had to clean up the dishes and sweep out the house. She said that the house had no floor. There was just the hard earth, clay she said, made hard and even shiny by much tramping of bare and unwashed feet. To sweep out the house with a homemade broom her father had made, to wash the dishes – mend and wash her father’s clothes.

To school for a few months each winter, for four or five years – to learn anyway to read and write. Spring, summer, fall, and winter. There were plenty of creeping crawling things. “We had lice and bedbugs,” she said. She thought, when she was a child, they were companions every one had.

When she was sixteen she decided she could take no more of the life of back-breaking work and ran off to Raleigh and found work in one of the textile mills. Eventually she met the men involved in the bootlegging and married one.

No one around called the thing “bootlegging.” That might as well have been a foreign word. “You mean blockadin’, sir? What blockades?” Nobody ever said “moonshine” either. White Lightning. White Mule. Moon. Stump Whiskey. Mountain Dew. Squirrel Whiskey. Fire Water.

She had a little girl, Bessie, and chose to retire from her husband’s business, which was becoming increasingly dangerous and unprofitable by the early ’30s.  It wasn’t long before the Feds shut down the entire enterprise, culminating with the longest trial in state history.  She died 50 years after giving testimony in that trial at the age of 86.

 

“Lucy’s Grandma On Her Momma’s Side”

Lucy’s Grandma On Her Momma’s Side
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Lucy’s grandma on her momma’s side
Was still around when Lucy died
Bessie Grant was born in the Depression
Had a hard life but was full of fun
Lucy was her favorite one
They never told her Lucy died in prison

Bessie’s momma was a blockader
Revenuers could never fade her
When she drove her fast pilot car
Millie Sparks had a diamond in her teeth
Ever’ thing she did was for keeps
Wore a camel coat; smoked a cigar

A long line of strong women
Tough as nails every one
They were here before this land was named
None of ’em was ever tamed
There ain’ ’nuff time to tell what all they done

Lucy’s momma Mae had a juke joint
Over by Friar’s Point
Where the all the old blues men played
Lucy’s daddy Frank burned it down
Bragged he was tired of her runnin’ around
‘Til he met the business end of a .38

A long line of strong women …

Maybe you heard about Lucy’s end
But six months after she went in
She had a baby, a little boy
They took the child and sent him off
Did it all without a second thought
Momma Mae found him, raised him up as McCoy

A long line of strong women …

© 2018 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP)

Ronnie Raney (1962-2004)

Ronnie Raney (1962-2004).  Middle son of Vernon and Margaret “Molly” Raney in Vicksburg, Mississippi.  Married to and murdered by Louanne Borden (Raney).  His brother Lonnie is sheriff of Warren County.  He has a younger sister, Ginny.

Ronnie works for his mother distributing drugs and in general running the business.  He started out dealing at University of Mississippi where he meets and seduces Louanne.  They begin living together in a shotgun house in Vicksburg and as Ronnie becomes more and more responsible for the operations of the Raney drug enterprise, Louanne also becomes involved in running a bar and trailer when her girls turn tricks.

Ronnie is a basically a “good ol’ boy” and means well, but has trouble controlling his temper. Because he feels intimidated by Louanne’s intelligence and background (she comes from a well-to-do Dallas family) he often resorts to threatening behavior, and even physical violence, when he is at a loss for any other way of controlling a situation.

After suffering from this kind of behavior for years, in 2004 Louanne kills Ronnie for continuing to get drunk and raise his hand to her. She was tried and convicted of second degree murder (unjustly) and was sentenced to twenty years at the Mississippi state penitentiary for women (see song, “One Time Too Many“).

“One Time Too Many”

One Time Too Many
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

She’d like to fix up her dinette
Yellow wallpaper with nosegays
A hard wood floor would do the trick
Those stains’ll take more than paint

A buzzer spoils this daydream
Lights out and the bars clang shut
It’ll have to wait twenty years
This cell is where she’ll stay put

She’d had enough
Taken too much
He treated her rough one time too many
She did the crime
She’ll do the time
Regrets? No, she don’t have any

She brought him his beer and a slice of pie
Then shot him with his deer gun
It was worth it just to see him surprised
Once he realized just what she’d done

She’d had enough …

His brother was sheriff of Warren County
There was no doubt the fix was in
A jury of his peers showed no mercy
But if she could she’d do it again

She’d had enough …

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

Lonnie Raney (1958-2006)

Lonnie Raney (1958-2006).  Oldest son of Vernon and Molly Raney; brother of Ronnie and Ginny Raney.  Elected sheriff of Warren County (Vicksburg, county seat) and is generally a well-liked but corrupted law enforcement officer.  One of his prime responsibilities was protecting his mother and brother in the pursuit of their marijuana growing and drug business.

Although sister-in-law Louanne Borden Raney murders his brother Ronnie, and is convicted of second degree murder (see song, “One Time Too Many“), she later refuses cut a deal in an DEA investigation into the Raney family criminal activities and instead warns Lonnie of the investigation.

In 2006 Lonnie is killed in a shootout while attempting to protect his mother and the drug business when the DEA comes to serve warrants for their arrest.

Warren County, Mississippi

(Information taken from Wikipedia)

Warren County is a county located in the U.S. state of Mississippi. As of the 2010 census, the population was 48,773.  Its county seat is Vicksburg.[2] Created by legislative act of 22 December 1809, Warren County is named for American Revolutionary War officer Joseph Warren.

Part of the Mississippi Delta and the historic cotton culture, Warren County is included in the Vicksburg, MS Micropolitan Statistical Area, which is also included in the Jackson-Vicksburg-Brookhaven, MS Combined Statistical Area.

“When Louanne Met Lucy in Prison”

When Louanne Met Lucy In Prison
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

When Louanne met Lucy in prison
Lou was halfway through her twenty
For killin’ Ronnie Raney
Who hit her once too many
Lucy would talk all about Levi
In words tender and soft
It was old friends and old sins
Got Lucy caught

Ain’t that how it is sometimes?
Ain’t that how it is sometimes?
You’re on the verge of change
Life sends you the same ol’ same

They gave Lucy eighteen months
Easy time for most but for Lucy hard
Day by day she faded away
Behind stone walls and steel bars
Louanne tried to keep an eye on Lucy
Easy in there to come to harm
August night when they found her
Needle was still in Lucy’s arm

Ain’t that how it is sometimes …

Louanne got word to Levi
Said it best she knew how
Lucy only had six weeks left
She ain’ never gettin’ out
Levi read that letter and then
Put it in his dresser drawer
Got drunk in Vicksburg went a little further
Did a little more

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