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Texas | Columns | Lone Star Diary

This Wild Bill Was No Hero
The Legend of Bill Longley

by Murray Montgomery
Murray Montgomery

Years ago, television had an abundance of stories about the old West. One of my favorites was about the adventures of a kindly gunfighter know as, "The Texan." This guy was my hero and best I remember he always wore a black vest. I guess it was black; in those days everything on television was either black or white.

I can't recall exactly who starred in the show but I believe it was a guy named Rory Calhoun. In later years, I was told that the series was based on the life of a Texas outlaw by the name of Bill Longley. I decided to do a little research on Mr. Longley and believe me; his real life was much different than how it was portrayed on television. Fact is, he wasn't kindly at all.

According to “The Handbook of Texas Online, ”William Preston "Bill" Longley was born on October 6, 1851, in Austin County, Texas. Longley was a farm boy and was, no doubt, a product of his environment. Like so many other young men in Texas during that era, he was extremely bitter over the outcome of the Civil War.

Some of Bill Longley's experiences were not unlike those of the notorious John Wesley Hardin. Although Hardin acquired more fame than Longley, the latter did his share of killing and terrorizing folks in south central Texas. Although both men were known to have attacked and murdered black men, Longley was also accused of killing a black woman in Bastrop County.

Bill Longley' loved to brag about his exploits but most of the time he didn't have actual witnesses to back up his claims. Some historians believe that Longley's criminal career was just a mixture of actual facts and his boasting ways.

During his life, Longley was apparently somewhat of a drifter. He was a gold miner in the Wyoming Territory and later joined the Army while in that part of the country. He didn't care much for the military, however, and soon deserted. The Army caught the Texas drifter and promptly court-martialed and locked him up at Camp Stambaugh in Wyoming. Six months later he was released back to his unit, but Bill just didn't like army life and he deserted again on June 8, 1872.

Records indicate that Longley made good his escape from the Army or it could be that they just got tired of messing with him. After his less than illustrious military career the drifting Longley turned up in Bell County, Texas. He supposedly worked as a cowboy in Comanche County where he killed a black man.

Longley continued his killing ways from 1872 to 1877. He killed a man named Anderson supposedly because he (Anderson) had murdered Longley's cousin. Anderson was plowing a field when Bill unloaded a shotgun into him. In 1876 Longley killed a man named Shroyer in a gunfight. Later, Bill tried his hand at sharecropping in Delta County, Texas. He was working for the Reverend William R. Lay. But, as was his habit, Longley got in trouble again, this time it was over a woman, and local authorities promptly arrested him.

The Delta County jail couldn't hold Longley; he started a fire and made good his escape. For some reason, Bill was angry with the Reverend Lay and murdered him while Lay was milking a cow.

Longley decided to hide out in Louisiana until things cooled off in Texas but the long arm of the law reached out and caught Bill; Sheriff Milton Mast of Nacogdoches County, Texas, captured him on June 6, 1877. Longley was returned to Texas were he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to hang.

After his capture, Bill Longley contacted several newspapers to tell of his adventures; he told the local media that he had killed 32 men. Longley evidently got religion and joined the Catholic Church while he was awaiting execution. That event took place before a large crowd in Giddings, Texas, on October 11, 1878. Just before Lee County Sheriff James Madison Brown executed him, Longley said that he had only killed eight men. It seems that even in death, Bill couldn't get his stories straight.

Rumors were started that Longley's hanging had been a hoax and that he had gone to South America and later died in Louisiana. According to “The Handbook of Texas Online,” a search was conducted between 1992 and 1994 to find his body in the Giddings Cemetery. The remains were never found but there was evidence that his body may have been moved to Bell County, Texas, after the execution.


© Murray Montgomery
Lone Star Diary November 20 , 2009 Column

More on Bill Longley

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

More on 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 - Longley's hometown
  • Giddings, Texas - Giddings Hotels
  • Nacogdoches - Nacogdoches Hotels
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