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.

Coleman Broussard (1842-1910)

Coleman Broussard was a first cousin to Levi Motts and both fought for the Confederacy.  They also shared a love for Ruby Robison, fragile young prostitute in Shreveport.

Coleman was older than Levi by three years, and almost the complete opposite in character.  Levi was a rake and rounder whereas Cole was sober and straight-forward.  However, they both fell in love with Ruby, and the love was reciprocated by her to both, although Levi excited her imagination while Cole represented husband material.

Cole and Levi both joined up with the Rebels in Shreveport as soon as the war commenced. But while Levi saw the war as a great adventure, Cole was more clear-eyed about it and joined the fight out of a sense of duty but really to keep an eye on Levi.

Sadly, Levi died on the field at Mansfield, leaving Cole to return, alone, to Ruby, whom he married (see song “Levi, Ruby & Cole“).  He knew she was pregnant with Levi’s baby, and took on the responsibility of raising this baby girl, Pearl.  He and Ruby enjoyed a long marriage, having four children of their own and celebrating their 56th anniversary shortly before Cole died in 1910.

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.

“Levi, Ruby & Cole”

Levi Motts and Coleman Broussard were cousins, and each one loved Ruby Robison and she loved them both, as well.  Levi and Cole were Confederates, and fought at Mansfield.  But Levi died that afternoon, leaving Ruby and Cole to carry on together.

Levi, Ruby & Cole
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Cole was strong and steady
Straight as a rail
Levi was born ready
Always raisin’ hell
Ruby loved Levi all the way
But Cole was who she chose
Levi might grow up some day
But, who knows

Ruby knew Cole loved her
But Levi charmed her heart
Cole was down to earth
Levi sparkled like a star

The War broke this trio up
Only one came back home
Ruby had two loves
Levi and Cole

Cole knew he and Ruby
Would never have
The kind of magic love
She and Levi had
Just taking care of her
For Cole, it was enough
He ain’ the apple of her youth
But theirs was also love

Ruby knew Cole loved her …

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

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)

Margaret “Molly” Motts (1937- )

Margaret “Molly” Motts Raney (1937- ).  Half-sister of Mildred Motts Hooper; aunt of Levi Hooper; wife of Vernon Raney; mother of Lonnie, Ronnie and Ginny Raney.

Delta_Farms_signMolly Motts was born in Delta, Louisiana, a tiny hamlet at the Louisiana-Mississippi border,  just across the river from Vicksburg.  Because of a difficult home life, she often dreamed of getting out of Delta.  Vicksburg just across the river looked like a dream garden to her and she thought she’d do anything to get there.  She did: marrying Vernon Raney, nearly twice her age, but a good husband to her (see song, “When Molly Motts Married Vernon Raney“) .

They had three children, Lonnie, Ronnie and Ginny.  Molly was an ambitious girl and decided early on to piggy-back a drug distribution business onto Vernon’s already prospering bootlegging enterprise (see song, “’57 Fleetwood to Memphis“).  After all, bootleg whiskey was going out of style since by the mid-‘60s, liquor by the drink was legal and there was little demand for bootleg whiskey except out of nostalgia.

Molly got her oldest son, Lonnie elected sheriff as a way to offer protection to her and her second son, Ronnie, as they operating the drug business with little interference from law enforcement. This they did and quickly established a distribution network of dealers from Natchez to Memphis (see song, “Louanne in Vicksburg“).

Molly lived to see both of her sons die violent deaths: Ronnie was murdered by his wife, Louanne Borden, and Lonnie was killed in a violent stand-off with DEA agents.  As the drug network wound down, Molly grew into her role as grandmother to Ginny’s children, living a quiet life in Vicksburg.

“When Molly Motts Married Vernon Raney”

When Molly Motts Married Vernon Raney
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

From her bedroom in Delta, Louisiana
Molly Motts could see the Vicksburg lights
She thought they looked like stars in the River
A just out of reach paradise

About two hundred people lived in Delta
Vicksburg had a hundred times more than that
Molly would close her eyes and dream her future
Leaving Delta and never lookin’ back

Home is a place that’s supposed to be safe
And not what you have to run from
But when home is the place that you must escape
Then it’s just where you come from

When Molly Motts married Vernon Raney
Vern was nearly fifty years old
He was Lonsom Raney‘s great-great-grandson
The first to age the Raney clear to gold

Molly was two months along with little Lonnie
Vern was glad to finally be a dad at last
Molly sure won’t miss that Delta bedroom
Or her step-dad and what her momma never asked

Home is a place that’s supposed to be safe …

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

Delta, Louisiana

Delta is a village in Madison Parish, Louisiana, United States. The population was 239 at the 2000 census. It is part of the Tallulah Micropolitan Statistical Area.

As the birthplace of Madam C.J. Walker, the first African-American woman to become a millionaire by her own business achievements, it has been included as one of 26 featured sites on the Louisiana African American Heritage Trail.

Vernon Raney (1911-1997)

Vernon was the first Raney to grow to adulthood in Mississippi, the rest of the Raney family settled in north Georgia as early as 1748 when Thomas Rainey, Lonsom’s grandfather was born (Lonsom would later change the spelling, dropping the “i” from the name).

The first Raney, Lonegan, a Scots-Irish immigrant, entered colonial America in 1743 at Virginia as an indentured servant. As soon as he was released from his labor, five years later, he traveled, with his pregnant wife, through the Appalachian mountains eventually settling in the north Georgia mountains.  His first son, Thomas, was born in a small log cabin in December 1748.  The Raney family always made whiskey and in fact the copper bowl still they used was brought to America by Lonegan (see song, “Lonsom Raney 1828“).

Vernon made one major change in the moonshine, he began to age it in oak barrels, producing a more refined product which he sold to Memphis big shots at a premium price.  Vernon remained a bachelor until the age of 49 when he married Molly Motts, just 23 years old, and pregnant with their first son, Lonsom, or Lonnie as he was known.

gettyimages-109913282Molly Raney was an ambitious young woman, seeing that the bootlegging business was doomed as liquor laws were repealed making it easy to purchase whiskey.  She also realized that the younger generation was interested in marijuana and other recreational drugs.  Her oldest, Lonnie, became the county sheriff, the other son, Ronnie became Maggie’s right hand man in their drug distribution business.  Molly oversaw the entire distribution network as Ronnie handled the day-to-day operations.  They moved large amounts of pot and meth all through Mississippi and Memphis, with Lonnie responsible for insulating the enterprise from law enforcement (see song, “Louanne in Vicksburg“).

Over the decades from 1957 through the ‘70s Vernon became more and more detached from day-to-day reality, turning a blind eye to Molly’s drug business while he continued to make small batches of his whiskey and selling a little but mainly giving it away to a group of his old friends who would gather at his old mountain cabin drinking, playing cards or dominoes; smoking cigars or spitting tobacco juice on pot-bellied stove and telling tall tales (see song, “’57 Fleetwood to Memphis“).

In the spring of 1997, at the age of 85 Vernon Raney died in his sleep after producing the last of his tobacco gold whiskey.