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Ruthless Outlaw "Wild Bill" Longley

Updated on July 31, 2015

Texas outlaw Bill Longley’s life is perhaps best summarized by the historical marker identifying his grave: “Texas outlaw Bill Longley was from a respectable family, but his hot temper, his fondness for liquor, and unsettled conditions during reconstruction led him to become one of the most daring gunslingers of his day. He is said to have killed 32 persons before his capture in 1877. Before Longley died, he repented and urged others to avoid his example.”

However, the epitaph barely begins to tell the story of the ruthless murderer who killed his first man at the age of sixteen. William grew up in an era when widely held racist views were not uncommon…and he was a racist to the extreme. This fact would eventually lead him to a hangman’s noose.

During his 27 years as one of the most vicious murderers of the Old West he assumed many different aliases. Some of his aliases were: Wild Bill, Rattling Bill, Tom Jones, Jim Paeeson, Jim Webb, Bill Black, Bill Henry, and Bill Jackson.

William Longley was born at Mill Creek, Texas October 6, 1851. His parents were Campbell and Sarah Longley. The family moved to the small town of Evergreen, Texas, when he was still a young lad. Like most boys his age in those days William attended school and worked on the family farm. By age 12 Longley had learned how to use a gun and would soon become known as one of the fastest draws in the territory.

After the Civil War, Texas Governor E.J. Davis, created a state police force made up of mostly freed slaves. One day in December, 1866, while Bill and his father, were in Evergreen, a drunken black policeman came riding down the street waving his gun and cursing at everyone in sight.

When the officer insulted his father, Bill stepped forward and told the man to lower his gun. The lawman, pointed his gun at Bill who without hesitation, shot and killed him. Soon Longley took up with other young men of like mind and began terrorizing blacks, killing two more in Lexington, Texas.

Longley had now earned a reputation as a fast-draw and was often sought out by others wanting to enhance their own reputations as gunmen. They all lost. Longley picked many fights with Yankee sympathizers and carpet baggers. And standing a muscular six feet tall, he was known to whip any man who crossed him.

For such a man who lived on the edge Longley seemed to lead a charmed life. More than once he escaped the Grim Reaper’s death grip. Once he and a companion were captured by vigilantes and lynched as horse thieves. However, as the mob rode off, one man turned and fired several shots at the pair. One bullet hit Longley in the face, breaking a tooth. Another frayed the rope from which he was hanging and broke saving his life.

In March 1870, military authorities offered a $1,000 reward for Longley and his brother-in-law, John W. Wilson, for killing a black man named Brice in Bastrop County the previous month. They were also accused of killing a black woman. Soon after his brother-in-law died and Longley made tracks northwards.

Longley later claimed to have worked as a trail driver in Abilene, Kansas. He reportedly killed his trail boss after having words. Longley also admitted to killing a horse thief named McClelland. His trail seemed to leave dead men in its wake wherever he went. In Leavenworth, Kansas he killed a soldier for speaking unkindly about the virtues of Texas women. He was arrested, convicted of murder and sentenced to 30 years. But once again he cheated death by escaping.

In June 1870 he enlisted in the United States cavalry and promptly deserted. He was captured, court-martialed and sentenced to two years' confinement at Camp Stambaugh, in Wyoming Territory. After about six months he was released. He again deserted on June 8, 1872.

Longley Boasted he lived and rode with Chief Washakie and the Shoshone which no one has been able to verify, and then returned to Texas. On the way back in Parkerville, Kansas, he claimed to have killed a man by the name of Charlie Stuart. But no records have ever been found to confirm this either.

He returned to Bell County, where his parents were now living, and worked as a cowboy in Comanche County. During this time some say he killed a black man and engaged in a gunfight at the Santa Anna Mountains in Coleman County.

In July 1873 William found himself under arrest in Kerr County by Mason County Sheriff J. J. Finney. He was taken to Austin so that Finney could collect the reward. After several days, when no reward money was forthcoming, Finney released his prisoner. Some believe Finney was bought off by one of Longley’s relatives.

In late 1874 William and his brother James rode from Bell County to the Lee County home of their uncle, Caleb Longley. Caleb asked William to kill a man named Wilson Anderson who was suspected of killing his son. On March 31, 1875, Longley killed Anderson with a shotgun while he was plowing a field. William and James headed north for Indian Territory. In July, James turned himself in. James was later acquitted of any part in Anderson's murder.

In November 1875 George Thomas died by Longley’s hand and in January 1876 he shot and killed William Shroyer in a gunfight. The next month he arrived in Delta County, Texas. As usual, trouble followed. He became embroiled in an argument over a girl, which landed him in jail. But as good as his brag, no jail could hold him, he started a fire and burned himself out. However, Longley never seemed to learn his lesson…for unknown reasons he shot and killed the Reverend William R. Lay as he was milking a cow.

Longley fled to Louisiana. However, he was soon captured there in DeSoto Parish, by Nacogdoches County Sheriff Milton Mast. He was returned to Lee County to stand trial for the murder of Wilson Anderson.

Longley began writing letters to the newspapers telling them of his life story and claiming to have killed 32 men. He also wrote the governor, asking for clemency. He stated in his letter John Wesley Hardin, received only twenty-five years for killing 40 people. Why then, was he being sentenced to hang? There was no response.

On September 5, 1877, the jurors deliberated only 1 ½ hours before sentencing William to death by hanging. He was moved to Giddings, Texas for his own safety from angry mobs.

John Wesley Hardin

After having been baptized into the Catholic Church on October 11, 1878, before a crowd of thousands he was led to the hangman’s noose. On the way he jokingly said they should repair one of the steps because he would hate “…to trip and break his neck.”

Before a crowd of about 4,000 and facing death, the outlaw backpedaled, now claiming to have only killed eight men. His parting words were: "I deserved this fate. It is a debt I have owed for a wild and reckless life…so long, everybody!”

However, an inexperienced hangman had left too much slack in the rope and he landed feet first on the ground. It took a few minutes to correct the embarrassing situation. Immediately the sheriff and several guards rushed and held Bill's feet off the ground so the rope could strangle him.

The Galveston Daily News on October 12, 1878 wrote: “The black cap was drawn, the rope adjusted, the words "All ready" given and at 2:37 the drop fell. The body fell eight feet, as was intended. The rope slipped on the beam and the body continued until the feet touched the earth, when Sheriff Brown and an aid caught and raised it up and refastened it, leaving the body properly suspended. Two moans escaped the lips, the arms and feet were raised three times, and after hanging eleven and one half minutes, life was pronounced extinct."

Wild Bill Longley is buried in the Giddings Cemetery west of Giddings on the south side of U.S 290.

Comments

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    • JY3502 profile imageAUTHOR

      John Young 

      6 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      ya don't say!

    • profile image

      Chris Longley 

      6 years ago

      That is my relative

    • profile image

      ruffridyer 

      7 years ago from Dayton, ohio

      It seems people could get away with murder a lot easier then. a nice hub.

    • JY3502 profile imageAUTHOR

      John Young 

      7 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      Thanks Pam...I really try. You are welcome Eiddwen.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      7 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Interesting story and I guess he really suffered in that 11 minute hanging for all those horrible murders. This story is really unique. Rated up.

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 

      7 years ago from Wales

      Very interesting. Thanks for sharing this one, my interest in history has strengthened over the last few years, and this one was a rare treat.

      Here's to many more hubs to share.

      Take care

      Eiddwen.

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