Margaret “Maggie” Motts Raney (1937- ). Half-sister of Mildred Motts Hooper; aunt of Levi Hooper; wife of Vernon Raney; mother of Lonnie, Ronnie and Ginny Raney.
Maggie 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.
They had three children, Lonnie, Ronnie and Ginny. Maggie was an ambitious girl and decided early on to piggy-back a drug distribution business onto Vernon’s already prospering bootlegging enterprise. 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.
Maggie got her oldest son, Lonnie elected sheriff as a way to offer protection for her and her second son, Ronnie, to operate the drug business with little interference from law enforcement. This they did and quickly established a distribution network of dealers from Natchez to Memphis.
Maggie lived to see both of her sons die violent deaths: Ronnie was murdered by his wife, Louanne Borden, and Lonnie was killed in a gun stand-off with rival drug dealers. As the drug network wound down, Maggie grew into her role as grandmother to Ginny’s children, living a quiet life in Vicksburg.
Vernon Raney (1911-1993). Bootlegger; married to Maggie Motts Raney; father of Lonnie Raney, Ronnie Raney and Ginny Raney Tate.
Vernon was the first Raney to grow to adulthood in Mississippi, the rest of the Raney family settled in 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 Rainey, 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.
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 finally married Maggie Motts, just 23 years old, and pregnant with their first son, Lonsom, or Lonnie as he was known.
Maggie 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. Maggie oversaw the entire distribution network as Ronnie handled the day-to-day operations. They moved large amounts of pot and pills all through Mississippi and Memphis, with Lonnie responsible for insulating the enterprise from law and order.
Over the decades from 1957 through the ‘70s Vernon became more and more detached from day-to-day reality, turning a blind eye to Maggie’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.
In the spring of 1993, at the age of 82 Vernon Raney died in his sleep after producing the last of his tobacco gold whiskey.
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.
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 Maggie Motts, who would later transition their bootlegging business into a drug enterprise.
Louanne Murphy Borden (1967- ) comes from an old Texas family, descendants of Thomas Borden (1802-1836), one of The Old Three Hundred and the first Borden to live in Texas. The Bordens became quite wealthy during the first decade of the 20th century when Louanne’s great-great-grandfather, Jonus Caldwell Borden (1860-1914), struck oil on his ranch, before dying of a stroke. The ranch and oil wells went to his son, James Neal Borden (1889-1961), who proved himself more than a competent steward of the family’s burgeoning wealth.
By the time Louanne was born the family had been living for decades in Dallas, the “old-money” part of town, Highland Park. As was true for many kids who grew up during the Seventies, of privilege, Louanne’s idea of rebellion centered upon hanging out with kids from “the wrong side of the tracks”, and in general, frustrating her parents ideas about whom she ought to date, i.e. a nice boy from the club. When it came time for Louanne to go off to college, she chose the University of Mississippi in Oxford because she had heard from some friends in Baton Rouge that it was an even bigger party school than LSU.
In her first semester at Ol’ Miss, Louanne met a good-looking fellow, Ronnie Raney, who definitely was not a boy from the club, and not even enrolled at the university. His main preoccupation appeared to be selling quality weed to fraternity boys. One thing led to another and soon Louanne and Ronnie began dating, ending up with Louanne unofficially dropping out of school and moving to Vicksburg with him.
Louanne did not fully appreciate what she was getting into, since unbeknownst to her, Ronnie’s little pot business was only the tip of the criminal iceberg run by Ronnie’s mother, Maggie Raney. The Raney family, i.e. Maggie, had a strong hold on the political and judicial levers of power in Warren County, and in fact, exerted influence and received protection from prosecution from Natchez to Memphis.
For a while Louanne partnered with Ronnie in the marijuana distribution enterprise, even turning out a few girls using a trailer behind the topless bar owned by the Raney family. However, after living a few years, even getting married to Ronnie, she got tired of Ronnie’s habit of hitting her when angered. She found the nerve to shoot him while he ate the fried chicken and gravy she made for him.
She did not even attempt to flee the jurisdiction nor avoid prosecution for this crime. She was well aware that Ronnie’s older brother, Lonnie, sheriff of the county, would make sure that her justifiable homicide defense at trial was not convince the jury. In short order Louanne was found guilty and sentenced to twenty years to be served at the Central Mississippi Correctional Facility.
While at CMCF, Louanne developed an exemplary record of good behavior including mentoring several other young female prisoners. For example, about half way through her sentence, a young woman, Lucy Cooper, was sent to CMCF on a drug charge, given eighteen months. Lucy was a funny, bright, and street smart but fragile woman who simply could not do the time for her crime. Despite being taken under Louanne’s wing, Lucy became increasingly more and more despondent, eventually suiciding from an overdose – within six weeks of her release.
Not long after this tragedy Louanne’s case was reviewed by a judge who ruled that hers was a case of justified homicide and her sentence was commuted to time served. These events coincided with the death of her grandmother in 2015, when she was released after serving almost 70% of her original sentence. She returned to Texas for her grandmother’s funeral and remained there with her mother, to live once again in Highland Park, however, now in somewhat reduced grandeur.