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 Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical :

BILL LONGLEY
Down and Out in a Nacogdoches Jail

by Archie P. McDonald
Archie McDonald Ph.D.
In the 1960s, more than forty "western" series dominated prime-time television network series. One, "The Texan," starring Rory Calhoun in the title role. His character was named Bill Longley, and he was a character indeed. Calhoun played him as one the dodge for the law who spent a weekly half hour rescuing someone or righting some wrong. Old Bill would not have recognized himself.

The real Bill Longley was born in Austin County, Texas, on a family farm in 1851. The family later moved to Washington County. The Civil War began before Longley was old enough to participate but he caught the spirit of the times nonetheless, and his first scrape with the law involved brutalizing freedmen and women.

Longley claimed at his most notorious stage to have killed thirty-two men, the first in 1868 when he could have been no more than seventeen years of age. At that stage, his victims consisted mostly of freed slaves, former soldiers, and unfortunates who crossed his path at the wrong time.

Longley prospected for gold in Wyoming and joined the U.S. Cavalry, deserted, and spent six months in the guardhouse before being released to complete his enlistment, at least until he deserted again, this time successfully.

For several years Longley lived in Kansas, Texas, and even Louisiana, and his frequent moves left more corpses behind. Occasionally arrested, he escaped one sentence in Delta County, Texas, by burning down the county jail.

Longley was captured for the last time in Desoto Parish, Louisiana, by Nacogdoches County Sheriff Milton Mast, who brought the prisoner to his jail while preparing to transport him to Giddings to stand trial for a murder committed there. This time Longley did not escape.
bill Longley's grave plaque
Historical Marker in Giddings Cemetery:

William Preston (Bill) Longley
(October 6, 1851 - October 11, 1878)

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 was said to have killed 32 persons before his capture in 1877. Tried for a Lee County murder, he was hanged in Giddings in 1878. Before Longley died, he repented and urged others to avoid his example. His grave was once outside the cemetery bounds.


< Longley's Grave in Giddings Cemetery
TE photo, 2000
After the trial in Giddings, Longley was hanged on October 11, 1887, just five days past his twenty-seventh birthday. Or was he? As with other "legends" of the Old West, rumors emerged that the hanging had been faked and that Longley lived for years under assumed names in Louisiana. If so, he himself had reduced his status at the trial by admitting that he had killed only eight men, not thirty-two.

One thing is sure. He killed none in the Nacogdoches County jail.


Archie P. McDonald

All Things Historical December 5 , 2004 column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
(This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical Association. Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and author of more than 20 books on Texas )

More on Bill Longley

  • This Wild Bill Was No Hero by Murray Montgomery
    The legend of Bill Longley
  • Bill Longley Does Not Get Along Well With Others by John Troesser
    Bill Longley, his hangings, his grave and Giddings Cemetery
  • Bill Longley: Down and Out in a Nacogdoches Jail by Archie P. McDonald ("All Things Historical" column)
  • Dance Pistols by Clay Coppedge
    Firearms collectors are willing to pay big bucks for vintage Colt revolvers but the most valuable of all the old guns that were used on the Texas frontier might be the Dance pistols... One of the most notorious Dance loyalists was Bloody Bill Longley...

    Tracing the Footsteps of Bill Longley

  • Evergreen, Texas - Longely's hometown
  • Giddings, Texas - Giddings Hotels
  • Nacogdoches - Nacogdoches Hotels
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