“Ransom Raney”

Ransom Raney (1848-1905) was the oldest son born to Lonsom Raney (1828-1923) and was the first child born to the Raney family on their new mountain home in North Georgia after moving from southwestern North Carolina. Originally from Scotland the Raneys were one of many families who were encouraged to move from southern Scotland to northern Ireland, the Ulster region.

These people have been called Scots-Irish and made up a significant number of the immigrants to America in the 17th and 18th centuries. They brought with them much of their way of life, including distilling whiskey in copper stills, with the idea that this was their right, one for which they would not tolerate any infringement from government.

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.

This trait did not evaporate once they were in America and often they would keep moving west, keeping just ahead of civilization and legal constraints on their way of life.

This song is about three things: 1) the resilient nature of the Scots-Irish of the Appalachian mountains, 2) making whiskey and in general living off the land, and 3) fighting to preserve their independence, but being loyal to their way of life instead of any abstract sense of patriotism.

Ransom Raney
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

This is the tale of a mountain man
Lot of grit, lot of sand
Ransom Raney his name
From Scotland his people came

He was Lonsom Raney’s oldest son
1848 he was born
Stood at his daddy’s right hand
Taught to be a mountain man

Keep your mouth shut, your head down
Live off what comes from the ground
Make your shine, dig ginseng root
Live your own truth

When he was fifteen he went to war
Butternut was what he wore
Fought for what he could understand
Get the blue basterds off his land

Chickamauga; Second Vicksburg
Mansfield was the call he heard
But Ransom slipped away
From the fighting of the blue and grey

His year was up so he went back home
Grateful to get through it whole
In the winter of ’64
Ransom Raney was done with war

Back at the farm what he found
It had been burned to the ground
His daddy rebuilt the barn
While the ground was still warm

Lonsom had buried his copper still
Set it back up on same hill
The first batch after the war
Was his best he swore

The Raneys are a real hard bunch
Won’t be stopped, not by much
A war ain’t nearly enough
The Raneys are a hard bunch

Ransom Raney loved one wife
She gave his seven children life
He taught his two eldest sons
To do what their grandpa done

He lived long enough to see
A brand new century
He was satisfied
In 1905 he died

Ransom Raney stood alone
But he could be counted on
When you needed a friend
Against flatlanders or gov’mint men

© 2019 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.

Celsie Crawford Monroe (1844-1936)

Celsie Crawford Monroe (1844-1936) was born into slavery but was freed by Will Monroe, a wealthy white planter and her father, in 1863 as a result of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

Celsie’s mother, Jessie Crawford (1828-1905), was a slave from a neighboring plantation of whom Will Monroe had grown quite fond. Monroe made sure Jessie was provided for and also insisted that she be freed in 1863 by paying off her owner Carson Crawford.

Celsie was what was called a “yellow gal”, and quite beautiful.  Once she was freed at age 19, Celsie began seeing a white man, Joshua Tate (1828-1867), and their relationship developed into a common law marriage, although the possibility of such a union was denied at the time.

The Tates were a wealthy Alabama family held in high regard and Joshua’s indiscretion was of course never openly acknowledged by the family and surrounding community, although everyone knew of it and the child it eventually produced.

Joshua was nominally a lawyer handling cotton trades and other mercantile business for the planters. But as was the custom for sons of his class, his hours were at his own instigation. Although he made a daily trip to town, he might only spend an hour or two in the afternoon in his office, often asleep on the leather couch sitting against the wall, next to the large hearth fire.

After the War, Republican “carpetbaggers” entered the former Confederacy and worked to overturn every vestige of slavery and the old ways at every turn; Alabama was no exception.  These men were hated since they were seen as enemy outsiders, and interlopers and exploiters who added insult to the injury of losing the war.  It was during this turbulent period that Joshua Tate was murdered in 1867 in his second floor office by a man with a three barreled derringer pistol, while Joshua was relaxing on the couch with a volume of Homer.

Some said the motivation behind the killing was Tate’s relationship with Celsie Monroe; others said he was killed because of his covert support of the Republicans.  Still a few others said he was killed by a carpetbagger.  However, no one was ever accused much less arrested and convicted of Josh Tate’s murder.

Tate lingered for two days before dying, leaving Celsie with a son, Tullison Monroe Tate (1866-1948). Tully Tate was one-quarter African-American, light-skinned and who would marry a white woman and whose descendants would all be considered white, Tully’s blood becoming less and less present with each successive generation.

In 1872 Celsie’s first official marriage was to a African-American man, Jesse Harper (1850-1922), and Celsie and Jesse enjoyed a long and happy union, raising four children, seven grandchildren, and many great-grandchildren. However, Celsie’s oldest child, Tully, was raised by his spinster Aunt Ruth, his father’s sister.

One of Celsie’s great-grandchildren, William Crawford Harper (1942-2001), marched from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 (see song “Crossin’ the Edmund Pettus Bridge“). Willie Harper lived to see most of the Jim Crow laws reversed even as the stubborn stain of racism remained.

© 2018 Frank David Leone. 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.

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, always one for adventure and not a timid young man, headed west and settled in North Louisiana.  There he found a land ideal for growing cotton and created his own large plantation.  Lucas was Levi’s grandfather.

Lucas’s son, Luther Motts, Levi’s father, took over the day-today operations of his father’s cotton farm and managed it extremely well.  Levi grew up in a house of plenty, and took it completely for granted.  Happy to live off his father’s largess and not one to get his hands dirty, much less calloused, Levi spent his time playing cards, drinking and visiting the growing number of brothels in the new town of Shreveport.

Levi was not like like his father who balanced his somewhat reckless ambition with disciplined hard work.  Levi saw the South’s secession and march towards war as an adventure that he would not miss. Levi as was true for most of the young men of his generation, never thought of war as anything but a short term, almost harmless, righteous fight filled with excitement.  Having grown up reading the novels of Walter Scott, Levi imagined himself as one of those Scottish heroes embarking upon the opportunity of a lifetime to prove his mettle as a man standing up against oppression.  So it came as no surprise to his father and grandfather that as soon as the canons fired upon Fort Sumter, Levi volunteered in 1862 to fight in the Rebel cause.

Mustering out of Monroe, Louisiana Levi and his cousin Coleman Broussard  joined up with in Colonel Henry Gray’s brigade, the Louisiana Gray’s.  It did not take them long to find their way to the burgeoning red light district of Shreveport. There Levi met and took up with one of the young sporting girls there, Ruby Robison.  Cole was also smitten and Ruby seeing Levi for what he was, a rake and leaky vessel for her to place her future, encouraged Cole in his romantic dreams.  They were a inseparable trio, the two kinsmen and the beautiful and fragile young whore hedging her bets, so to speak.

Despite Coleman’s obvious romantic aspirations, Ruby couldn’t deny her stronger feelings for Levi.  Defying the conventions of the time she and Levi made plans for marriage as soon as the war was over.  However, the Louisiana Grays were called up to confront the Union troops already marching towards Louisiana after conquering Vicksburg.  Gray’s brigade is one of the units in Gen. Robert Taylor’s army tasked with stopping the Trans-Mississippi Campaign of Nathaniel Bank’s invading force at Mansfield.

While the Battle of Mansfield was a Confederate victory, Levi Motts was one of only about a hundred Southern men who died there on April 8, 1864.  When he went into battle, Levi knew that Ruby was 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“).

Coleman returned to Shreveport and Ruby alone.  She and Cole both loved Levi, and bonded over their shared loss and their prior closeness matured into kind of a love of their own.  Coleman would raise Levi’s daughter and he and Ruby would have more kids of their own.  But Cole never forgot he was her second choice and would never excite her heart the way Levi had.

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
The only one 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)