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.