December 8, 2005 by

Maggie Bailey


Categories: Criminals

Maggie Bailey, the “Queen of the Mountain Bootleggers,” died on Dec. 3 of complications from pneumonia. She was 101.

The Kentucky distiller and local legend began selling moonshine when she was just 17 years old. Wearing a uniform that said “National Distillery” on the breast pocket, Bailey continued working well into her 90s.

Bailey was so well regarded in Harlan County, Ky., that juries often refused to find her guilty of illegally selling alcoholic beverages. Law enforcement officers also admired the canny bootlegger; U.S. District Judge Karl Forester even described her as an expert on search and seizure laws.

“She was very adroit. She had a million different places to hide it. She had a labyrinth of buildings all around her dwelling,” said Eugene Goss, an attorney who represented Bailey.

Bailey did serve two years at a federal reformatory for women in West Virginia from 1941 to 1943 for selling moonshine. The federal indictment against her said she had 150 half-gallons of illegal alcohol on hand when she was charged.

Bailey was a self-educated woman and a voracious newspaper reader. Despite her less-than-legal occupation, friends said she lived simply and often gave coal and food to poor families in the area.

Listen to a Tribute From NPR

8 Responses to Maggie Bailey

  1. Carter Hendrickson

    Im gonna miss aunt maggie. of course she wasnt my real aunt, but she was related to everybody here in harlan over the past 101 years. She sold to 3 generations of my family over the past 60 years. I graduated High School on a Sunday in 1998 and I was in charge of throwing the graduation party. Since I was 18 and my mom took my fake ID, I couldnt drive over to Virginia (Harlan is a dry county) and load up on beer. But I knew aunt maggie would take care of me. Needless to say, she was sort of surprised when i pulled up with all of my graduation money, but she didnt turn me away. I gave her around $700 and completely cleaned her out. I left her empty. She told me that hadnt happened in over 15 years. We had an extremely memorable graduation party that night. Heres to you Mag! Thanks for all the fun!!!

  2. ccl3

    Mag used to ask me “Now, who’s boy are you?” I would tell her and she would give me what I asked for.
    Once, while in the Military and on leave, I went to pick up a bottle and she asked me the same question BUT said “well I don’t remember you”. I presented a military ID, Drivers Liscense and she insisted she had nothing.
    My haircut must have scared her because I called a girl friend to stop by and Mag fixed her up. I think the last time I saw her was in ’87.
    She wasn’t just a bootlegger, she was a ‘tradition’.
    Rumor had it that she had even ‘donated’ to several Law Students over the years.
    “Pre-retainer” I imagin.
    She, like most of the Legends, will never be duplicated.
    God, Please Rest and Bless her soul. I truly know she did as much good as she may have, unintentionaly, contributed to the bad.
    A great book could be written about 10% of what she knew and expearanced.

  3. R. Myers

    I remember Maggie Bailey. She seemed to be kind and always ask who is your daddy boy. She would say OH,I know him and how is he doing. What about his brother. The last time I saw maggie was in 1969 if my memory serves me well. Her legend will live a long time.

  4. Geoff Brandner

    A local legend but a lawbreaker nonetheless. I am sure her moonshine blinded hundreds of her customers. Too bad people do not remember that.

  5. Maggie Bailey

    Well i didnt know maggie bailey but from that blog about her she seemed like a pretty cool person and she has one cool name considering its my name, but anyway i fill kinda stupid leaving this blog becuz i dont even know they lady and all the other tributes from people that personally knew her and all i did was google her name lol well im gonna go google somebody else’s name so bye.

  6. Jeremy Burk

    My grandfather just told me the coolest story of him and my great uncle going to this bootleggers house in Harlan back in the day… he said it was “Mag Bailey” I googled her and found all of this interesting info!!

  7. John Travis

    Geoff Brandner…do you always offer your opinions on subjects that you don’t know the first thing about?

    Maggie Bailey didn’t make or sell poison liquor. Like North Carolina moonshine distiller Junior Johnson, she took pride in producing quality corn and sugarhead whiskeys, and she lived by a code.

    My grandparents knew her and thought highly of her, as did everybody in Harlan County. She couldn’t have been that well loved if she’d sold rotgut liquor.

  8. Cyndi Bailey

    Do you have any information on Maggie Bailey’s family line? My husband’s family are in Salyersville. It would be interesting to know if they are related.

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