Deadly Outlaw Wild Bill Longley
William Preston Longley, AKA Wild Bill Longley, was considered one of fastest and deadliest gunfighters in the Old West. He was also mean, quick to anger and a compulsive liar. As to the latter, some writers later called him “Bloody Bill.”
Longley was born in Mill Creek, Texas in October of 1851. His family moved to a farm near Evergreen, Texas where he was raised. Young Bill spent most of his free time practicing with a pistol. Like many youths of the day, he read dime novels featuring thrilling accounts of western heroes and notorious outlaws. Bill’s idol was famed killer John Wesley Hardin.
Since, Bill was known to stretch the truth a little…OK he lied a lot, it’s hard to separate fact and myths. Bill, who grew to be 6 feet, reportedly began his career as an outlaw about the age of 15. There are several versions of a story where he killed a black man. One has Bill shooting him for insulting his father. Another says he and some other hooligans stormed a "colored circus" shooting wildly and killed the man. In any case his father, a god fearing man, disowned him not only for his callous views on killing indiscriminately but because he was an extreme racist believing it was alright to shoot blacks.
This became evident in mid 1868 when he and a few friends held up three blacks on horseback coming into to town to visit relatives. They were Green and Pryer Evans, and another known only as Ned. Green panicked, turned his horse and tried to escape. Bill shot him several times in the back, killing him. The other two escaped while the bandits rifled through Green’s pockets.
Bill later teamed up with his brother-in-law John Wilson in 1869 and together began robbing settlers throughout southern Texas. It’s said Bill killed another black man named Paul Brice in Bastrop County and then stole his horse. They also reportedly killed a black woman in Evergreen.
Shortly afterwards, the Union military authorities placed a $1,000 reward for the pair. It’s not certain what happened to Wilson except he was killed by outlaws in either 1870 or 1874. What is known is Bill fled to Cheyenne, Wyoming to avoid capture and joined up with some prospectors headed for the Black Hills. However the party was forced to disband when they discovered a treaty with the Sioux prohibited them from mining in the territory.
Not knowing what else to do Bill signed on for a five year enlistment with the Union Cavalry. However, that must have seemed too much like work because he deserted two weeks later. He was soon captured and sentenced to two years hard labor. He was released after only four months and sent back to his unit. Bill’s superiors saw he was highly skilled with firearms and he was assigned to hunting details. But, he deserted again in May 1872.
By February 1873 he had returned to Texas. Several months later, Mason County Sheriff J. J. Finney arrested Longley on murder charges and took him to Austin to collect the military reward. However, when they balked on the payment Finney released his prisoner in disgust for his wasted efforts.
In 1875, Bill killed his boyhood friend Wilson Anderson with a shotgun. Bill’s Uncle Cale blamed Anderson for the death of his son and had asked him to exact revenge. Bill then made tracks north when another reward was posted for his capture.
With the law always hot on his trail, Bill was forced to move frequently and use aliases to avoid arrest. In November 1875, as if he didn’t have enough murders under his belt, he killed a hunting buddy following a fistfight. About a year later he killed again during a failed ambush attempt of another outlaw named Lou Shroyer. Reportedly Shroyer shot Bill’s horse out from under him. Immediately afterwards Bill’s fast gun dropped him in the dust.
Still on the run he went to east Texas and hired on with sharecropper and preacher William Lay. However, it seemed Bill was just not able to stay out of trouble. William’s nephew and Bill began vying for the affections of a young lady. Resorting to his typical way of solving things he beat the nephew up. He was quickly arrested and thrown into jail, but managed to escape. Several days later he rode back out to the farm where he found Lay’s nephew doing chores. Lay was hit point blank by a blast from Bill’s shotgun and he sprawled headlong onto the ground dead.
Researchers believe he then moved on to Grayson County, where two friends, Jim and Dick Sanders, were doing time in the local jail. He disarmed the deputy sheriff and busted them out. Bill then hightailed it to Louisiana where he assumed the alias Bill Jackson.
But on June 6th, 1877, Bill’s luck ran out. He was arrested in Desoto Parish by Sheriff Milt Mast and two deputies. He was returned to Texas, where he was sentenced to hang for the murder of Wilson Anderson. Longley claimed to have killed 32 people, mostly minorities, which would’ve made his boyhood hero John Wesley Harden, proud. But then knowing his penchant for stretching the truth…OK lying, the real number may never be known
On October 11, 1878, Bill was executed only a few miles from his birthplace of Evergreen and was buried in the Giddings Cemetery west of Giddings…or at least that’s what the official records stated. Years later Bill’s father, Campbell, stated his son had not been actually hung.
He claimed a wealthy relative bribed the hangmen with a huge sum of money to rig a trick rope, stage a phony hanging, then take the supposed dead body away. Alleged letters written by Bill in California were said to have been produced proving he hadn’t been executed. The story became instant fodder for the media and it spread like wildfire. And for a long time many believed it.
However, later serious historians began investigating the claim. Bill’s grave was opened and the remains were subjected to DNA testing at the Smithsonian laboratories. In June 2001, the results were published. The remains were those of Bill Longley.
More by this Author
"Somebody just shot my kids!" was all Diane Downs kept screaming as emergency room staff scrambled to her assistance. Diane didn't give any answers right away, avoiding the identity of the shooter.
Cattle Annie and Little Britches are mostly forgotten in western history, but not in Oklahoma and Indian Territories. There, they were thee two most famous female outlaws ever to strap on a six gun.
During the 1800's many pioneers braved the journey across the Western frontier headed for Ca. Many didn’t make it. The "Oatman Massacre" made National headlines.