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.