William Preston "Wild Bill" Longley (1851-1878)

Son of Campbell Longley & Sarah Ann Henry


 A copy of this photo was also used to illustrate the book, WILD BILL LONGLEY: A TEXAS HARD CASE, by Ed Bartholomew, Houston: The Frontier Press of Texas, 1953. "Illustrated from the famous Rose Collection," it says. Caption under the photo opposite title page says, "Wm. P. Longley, copy of an old faded photograph, made just before his execution at Giddings, Texas, Oct. 11, 1878."

 Photo Courtesy of Kenneth Langley of Athens, McMinn Co., TN

A copy of the following handwritten letter from Bill Longley was given to me in 1998 by a grandson of Jim Brown, the addressee:

Devil's Pass Hell's Half Acre,  September the 41st, 7777 [sic] (probably 1877)

Mr. Brown:
Kind Friend, This leaves me fine after floating through the gentle breezes of misrie and feel just as hapy as a big sun flower that waves and bends in the breezes. Well, sir, I understand that I have threatened your life and if I done it, it must have been when I was asleep, for I know nothing about it myself. I killed the only one in that country that I had anything against at that time now Jim Shaw. If I ever kill any man in that country it will be eather for killing some of my kinfolks or else it will be in resulting being captured for if the court knows itself I will not be captured in that country alive, tho I will come there just when I pleas. I wrode by your house the first Monday night in August 1875. I stopped near the old road fence and stood for an hour and my mind run back over my whole life, and I thought of my childhood and the hapy hours that I had passed in the old cabin home. Oh, what dreadful thoughts pierced my heart's intermost core

for a little while, but I cursed my weakminded soul and treated myself to a drink of good old brandy and wrode on with a bold heart.  It hurt me bad when I heard that Johnson McKowen had been hurting me with the intent of betraying me and getting me in a snare to be killed, for I loved him like a brother. Oh, the happy hours that I have palled with Johnson but now they are oer. Two nights before I passed your house I was at home and my own Dear Father told me never to put my foot in his house again, and Brother Jim quit me and said I was too bad for him, and now my kinfolks is all so G---- cowards they don't want me to come about them, so I shall alone tread the living land destitute of friends. But G---- the world and every son of a bitch that don't like me, for I am a wolf and it is my night to howl. I expect to get killed some time but you may bet your sweet life that I will keep the flies off the son of a bitch that does it while he is at it.

 Third page
Jim, I have got nothing against you and do not blame you for _____me if you thought I had threatened you, but now if you will all let me alone, I will not bother none of you nor your property. I understand that some fellow in that country intends to get in with me and help me do mischief a while, then kill or capture me, but you tell the son of a bitch that I favor a lone hand or I would like very much to fall in with him. Tell old Anderson he will find me somewhere between the Riogrand and the Rocky Mountains, and if ever hires anyone to kill Uncle Cale, he may find me somewhere near his yard fence some dark night. You all know that Wils Anderson did kill Cale Longley and why in the hell does _____

 Fourth page
want to take a hand in it for. Why not just say it is dog eat dog and all of you go on about your business and let the biggest dog eat the most dog if he can, and I will bet old Bill will get his share of dog. Brother Jim did not have any thing to do with killing Wils Anderson. He did not know that I was going to do it until it was done, and if they arrest him and you will use your influence in getting him out, I will be your bosom friend and will do anything for you that I can. I will be back through there in two weeks and I will come and see you. So no more at present. I remain ever your true friend until further orders, do not doubt Jim, for I am true.

W. P. Longley
Give my kindest regards to Mr. Cope, for I never hear of him doing anything against me.

 Bill's father Campbell Longley wrote a letter 11 Oct 1878 to his daughter and son-in-law, Mary Catherine & Charles M. Tyler in Utah (excerpts from original donated by Loura Tyler Soto to the Bill Longley Collection, Texas State Historical Association)

Dear son and daughter,

We received your letter of October 8th. It found us all well and hope when these lines reach you, they may find you all in good health and still in the notion of coming to Texas.

I will not sell any corn or pork this winter, so as to have plenty when you come.

Corn is only 15 to 25 cents per bushel, and pork is $3.00 to $3.50 per 100 lbs. Calico 5 to 6 cents per yard, and everything else in proportion. Sewing machines is from 15 to 20 dollars. The very best for $25.00. Bacon sells for 8 cents per pound, flour 4 cents per pound, coffee 25 cents per pound, sugar 6 to 10 cents per pound.

Bill was hung October 11th at 12/pm in 3 miles of your old place at Giddings. I done everything I could to get him reprieved, but to no effect.

Little Lizzie Carnes was all the relative on the ground that saw Bill executed, her sweet little arms around his neck, a sweet kiss and good-bye was hart-rending in the extreem. There was 4 or 5 thousand people present.

I want you to come back, lock, stock and barrel. Tell me in your next about what time you can come. I remain your aff father until death.

C. Longley"

Like all wars, the Civil War (aka War between the States, or War of Northern Aggression) brought about great social changes in our country. The aftermath of the war was much to blame for the era of outlaws and gunfighters which ensued in the south due to its changed economic status and to the occupation of the Union Army. Campbell's son William Preston "Wild Bill" Longley was the first of those notorious gunmen. He became a famous gunfighter (the first, actually) in the Reconstruction period after the War, and was known as "Wild Bill" Longley.

A biography by Rick Miller suggests that Bill Longley was credited for many killings committed by others.

Wild Bill Longley's story is included in several texts on gunfighters and was the subject of a Louis Lamour western novel. His story ended unhappily, for he was hung, and was never discussed by our family. It began when he killed what he considered an uppity Negro, a former slave. Several of his victims were black.

 Breed of the Border

He was a man before he was done being a boy. That was at once Bill Longley's fate and the explanation of this "big old He" of the long line of Texas gunmen, for -- even more than Cullen Baker -- Longley was Number One of the modern gunslingers.

He was a child of the Texas frontier. Upon him environment cut like a lathe-tool. Born October 6, 1851, on Mill Creek in Austin County, at the age of two he was taken by that God-fearing veteran of Houston's army, Campbell Longley his father, to Old Evergreen in Washington (now Lee) County.

He was ten when the Civil War got fully underway. Old enough to understand the bitter feeling between the two factions which, in Lee County as elsewhere in Texas, were local typifications of the North and the South. Old enough to understand the fury of the secessionists when Campbell Longley voted the Union ticket, a rage checked before it reached the stage of killing only by the San Jacinto record of young Bill's quiet, determined father.

Bill Longley was always large for his age. Six feet tall from his fifteenth year, his weight at maturity was to be two hundred pounds so magnificently proportioned as to make him look slender. He was the idol of the boys at Evergreen's field schoolhouse. Dark-eyed, dark-haired, his Indian-like face could smile or lower in the same minute. He rode like a Comanche. He could not remember when the "hogleg" shaped butt of the Colt's pistol was not familiar to his hard big palm.

Behind him was the background of the Texas pioneer who had asked no odds of anything thtg ran or walked or crept or flew. The Texan of incredible deeds, of the Alamo, of San Jacinto. This young gamecock being bred by quiet old Campbell Longley had in him the fiery independence of habit in thought and action which made the Texan of the '30s onward an adventurer, a hell-for-leather fighting an, whose suyperior has never been seen.

He was raw material at fourteen, but destined to be graved into what he became without much more delay, for the South's second war began with ending of its first, a savage guerilla war, fought never on a formal battlefield, but in a thousand desparate, bloody skirmishes, marked by bloody cruelty on both sides.

In Evergreen, the tiny community flanking the Austin-Brenham road, Bill Longley was a leading spirit among the younger generation. His size, his courage, his amazing skill with twin Colts, a certain fierce elan which was never to desert him, made him a marked figure among the gatherings at the crossroads blacksmith shop and store, under the wide shade of the court house oak -- which had served both as justice court and gallows, in its day, and which still stands a brooding gint over that quiet land.

The carpetbagger and the negroes were the problems discussed at these gatherings of the disfranchised whites. The older negroes were giving no trouble. But the younger freed men were drunk with liberty and license. Incited to swaggering insolence by the riffraff whites in power, protected by troops against prosecution for any crime, they were intolerable to the intensely proud people who were being stupidly affronted by the worst element among their conquerors.

When a week's tale of outrages major and minor was told, with the sullenly hopeless reflection added, that no legal process, no orderly method, of recourse was available to the outraged, then the human, the natural, reaction among a people of unbroken iron temper was the impulse to hit back.

The stage was set. Bill Longley, standing under the court house oak, with unwavering dark stare going from one face to another, was in the grip of shaping events which -- he proved later by his letters, he understood not at all. All he knew was that conditions were such that no white man of any pride of race or history could endure them. He was no philosopher, no thinker. His brain was director of that magnificent body of his, no tool for abstract thought.

Bill Longley . . . There are old men yet alive who squint across the mists of a long half-century and see him as he was in his heyday. Hunkering in the sun with back to some corral, they mutter his name in their beards and recount the Longley legends. He rides again, gigantic on phantom caballo, across the blue-bonneted prairie, smoke wreathing from the muzzles of his Colts, the elfin echo of his fierce yell carrying to us, as once it carried thunderously into the cabins of the negroes and sent them cowering and mumbling to the shadowed corners. . .

He belongs to Texan folklore . . . he stands at the head of a long procession of Texas gunmen, slingers of the sixes who were to set style and pace for the Genus Gunfighter elsewhere on the frontier that stretched from Montana to Mexico, from Mississipi to California.

He is the major figure of the beginning of the Gunman Cycle that roughly embraced the span of years between 1860 and 1900, the period in which amazing skill in the mechanics of pistol-handling was developed, when gunplay became a be-all, end-all, an art separate from the business of mere promiscuous killing.

A LOUD-VOICED negro sat his norse on the Camino Real, the ancient Royal Highway of the Spanish, which ran from Bastrop to Nacogdoches. He was cursing certain white men of the Evergreen neighborhood. Beyond him Bill Longley lounged in his saddle, hands held loosely on the great horn, listening.

"And Campbell Longley," the negro took up another name.

He cursed Bill Longley's father, but only for a sentence. The huge sixteen-yeazr-old had moved. Down to the curving butts of the Colts sagging at his thighs his hands flashed. The negro saw and loud in the silence his hands slapped the stock of the rifle across his lap.

"Don't you move that gun!" Bill Longley snarled at him.

But the rifle lifted. Bill Longley spurred his horse and it leaped forward, turned sideway with knee-pressure and slight body-swaying of its rider. The rifle whanged! but the whirling horse had carried Bill Longley clear. Back it spun and as it straightened out into a gallop, Longley fired. The negro came sideway, sliding out of the saddle with a bullet hole through his head.

Sure that no second shot was needed, Bill Longley pushed the Colts back into their holsters. He took down the lariat from his saddle and shook out a loop. He tossed it deftly, to encircle the dead man's neck. He dragged the body off the road and to a shallow ditch. He buried it . . .

In the first reward that Governor James Coke posted for Anderson's murder, Bill and James Longley were included, but James was not in the second one. Bill wrote to a friend that his brother James had nothing to do with the murder of Wils Anderson.

A TV series in 1958-1960 in which Bill Longley was a heroic figure, "The Texan," starred Rory Calhoun. The first of its two volumes on videotape, Volume 1 has two 30-minute shows, the series pilot film, "Law of the Gun," and "First Notch." Cost: $14.24 plus shipping.

THANKS to cousin Michael A. Reese, for two website sources. Order carefully, not to confuse the show with two movies called "The Texan" (1932 & 1938) ... not about Bill Longley: http://www.moviesunlimited.com/musite/affiliate/member/589/4.asp and http://www.hollywoodteenmovies.com/ForSaleRoryCalhoun.html

Bill's early choice of weapon was the Dance revolver, until the Colt Peacemaker revolver was introduced:

 He is reputed to have carried Dance revolvers from his youth until 1873, when Colt introduced the Peacemaker model. If Longley's name doesn't register in your memory, you aren't an authority on Western gunfighters, for Bill was the father of them all. Mr. Eugene Cunningham, writing of a notorious gallery of gunfighters, calls Longley "Number One of the modern gunfighters."

During the reconstruction period, following the War, many good men were outlawed. White people were denied a vote and were ruled by blacks, who were backed up with Northern bayonets. It was this shortsighted, unjust carpet-bagger rule which engendered the racial question in the South, nourished hatred for the Yankees for so long. Do not attribute it to the war, which created a vast respect in each side for the opposition. It was the cruel reconstruction period which scalded such a crippling sore, that the cure has been not even yet.

The negroes of 1865 were hardly the same race as our modern negroes. Some of them, not too far removed from the African bush, were as primitive as our American Indians. Through no fault of their own, they were ill-equipped to administer their own affairs, much less the affairs of State. Failure of the whites to resent this imposition would have demanded qualities of far beyond the frailties of a mere human being. Where abusing a negro before the war stamped a man as an uncouth boor, negro hating during the carpetbag era was apt to make a popular figure of him. But whatever the qualities of the law, opposition to authority breeds outlaws.

It was during this period that Bill Longley became an outlaw and rode from bad to worse. He lived near the Grimes County [Dance revolver factory] plant and secured a pair of Dance revolvers while but a youth. Becoming proficient in their use, he killed his first man before he was sixteen. From then on, he was a "longrider" and a "hardcase," staying alive by his dexterity with his weapons, riding from the Rio Grande to Wyoming, always hunted, always attracting trouble, as steele draws the compass needle, always spreading the gospel of rapid leather slapping -- the quick draw. Dozens of men were to achieve fame, or notoriety, for their indifference to the results of a blazing gun fight. Bill Longley was the first.

Mr. Cunningham describes Longley as riding into an assembly of drinking, roistering negroes and engaging in a gun battle with the lot, killing two and wounding six. Maybe this is the same incident related by Mr Ruffin Farmer, who was a friend of the participants and possessed full knowledge of the event, and who tells of a negro preacher, a leader with dangerous ambitions and an inflammatory tongue. So much trouble was being stirred up by this carpetbag leader that it became recognized by the disfranchised whites that something must be done. Bill Longley was the something.

He was masked as he strode up the aisle at the next public meeting of the Negroes, and consequently could not be recognized, on oath, by spectators. But as he shot the carpetbagger off of the speaker's platform, several recognized the Dance revolver. This was in 1868, and indicates the Dance pistols were even then rare in Texas. This same revolver later became the property of Mr. Farmer. Its serial number is 4 and indicates it was made in Columbia, rather than in Grimes County.

In 1873, Longley longed for the Colt six-shooter using brass cartridges, instead of the old style cap and ball revolvers. He obtained a pair of Peacemakers and soon staged a leather slapping contest in which he shot a man twice through the head.

"These certainly are fine guns! They shoot right where you hold them!" he said.

Admiral Nelson once said, "When in doubt whether to fight, I always fight." Bill Longley had the same philosophy, but never had any doubts. Bill was no hero. He was brave, but he was also brutal, merciless and domineering. He was a creature of his times, a product of his environment. He reputedly killed thirty-two men before being hanged at Giddings, Texas, October 11, 1878.


 Michael Alan Reese located his cousin Bill Longley's first pistol, Dance #4 (serial no. is on every removable part), after a thirty-year search. It was manufactured by D. H. Dance Co. in Brazoria, Texas

BILL LONGLEY and Cullen Baker were featured in THE FIRST FAST DRAW: The Blazing Story of the First Great Gun Fighters, by Louis L'Amour published in 1959 by Bantam Books.

The following article appeared in Texas Parade magazine in 1959:

The Texan They Hung Three Times
Boyce House

 There's some question that even the third hanging "took."

When it comes to "tough guys," Texas can present names that are tops.

For instance, John Wesley Hardin, who killed so many men that there wasn't room on the handles of his two guns for all the notches -- forty or so. Not, of course, counting them two Republicans from Kansas.

But Hardin's not the man I want to tell you about.

There was one Texan who was so rugged that they had to hang him three times. It's a fact. His name was Bill Longley. Bill didn't kill as many men as Hardin did -- but his record of 32 is impressive. Even at that Bill worked on the population so fast and fatally that the chambers of commerce had to labor overtime to keep the total number of inhabitants level.

About Longley's being hung three times? I'm coming to that. As Barnum & Bailey used to advertise, "Three rings -- count 'em! -- three." So you keep track.

The first time Bill Longley was hung was over in East Texas. He fell in with some fellows that were traveling the same way he was. Then another bunch, vigilantes they were, came riding up and seized the first set, who were outlaws, and strung them up, including Bill, despite his protest that he was not acquainted with the about-to-be deceaseds but was just along for the ride.
As the vigilantes were riding off, one turned and fired a volley. One of the bullets hit the rope that was holding Bill and, he being a heavy man, in a little while the rope broke. But he was still tied, hand and foot. Then out of the bushes came a boy, who was a brother of one of the outlaws, and cut the cords and Bill Longley was free. 

That was his first time to be hung.

Next was down in South Texas. This time he was first tried in a courtroom with the benefit of ex post facto, delirium tremens and all the other refinements of the law. The sentence was the same, though: hanging.

A big crowd was there, many of the spectators being his friends. Bill was as calm as you please and smoked a big cigar. He made a speech in which he asked his friends not to make any trouble and he urged everybody to lead a law-abiding life. Then he stuck the cigar back in his mouth, shook hands with the sheriff, and said, "I'm ready."

So the trap was sprung and Bill dropped. And that was Hanging No. 2.

But wait. As I told you, Bill was a heavy man, and the rope broke.

So there was a delay until a stouter rope could be obtained and then he was hung again.

And "the third time was charm," you say? Well, not necessarily.

Friends immediately took possession of the body. At the funeral, the casket wasn't opened. After a while, it began to be talked around that Bill had arranged to have a special harness made. Remember, he had been mighty cool; also that he had asked his friends not to try to stop the hanging; and also remember that the sheriff was his personal friend. Then there was that hurrying away with the "corpse" and that not opening the coffin so that the "last remains" could be seen. Durned if I don't believe maybe the story is true.

So you see, a Texan is so tough that you have to hang him three times -- and even then you can't be sure he's dead.*

 * There was a lot of speculation about whether Bill Longley's third and last hanging really "took." The late J. Marvin Hunter wrote in The Album of Gunfighters that stories have circulated widely and rumors still persist that Longley escaped to Mexico or South America, where he became a prosperous ranchman. One man claimed to have seen him in Austin twenty years after the hanging. Hunter noted, however, that all of these stories had been contradicted many times by people who witnessed the execution which had been staged in Giddings on October 11, 1878.

It is not clear whether the Bill Longley of this story was meant to be the same Bill Longley who is the hero of a popular TV series. If so, either the historians have done him a grave injustice or the Hollywood writers have taken some mighty bold liberties with the facts. Perhaps a bit of both.

Bill Longley's grave is at Giddings. The photograph accompanying this article shows a tall, handsome, dark-haired man. His life is the subject of a book published by The Pioneer Book Company, Toyavale, Texas, Reeves County. Members of his family said Bill was a very talented person, a victim of his time. Many of those he killed were bounty hunters who were after him, or gun-fighters wanting to enhance their reputation. He was featured in a weekly television program about 25-30 years ago starring Rory Calhoun, and as a wax figure in the Southwest Museum of Wax in Grand Prairie, Texas, before it burned and was rebuilt as part a Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum.

In 1881 William T. Patterson acted as his attorney, and at one point his "cousin, William Patterson" supposedly paid Sheriff Finley $586 to let him go free. We know that a William T. Patterson married Joseph Longley's sister Abigail and they went from Tennessee to Catoosa County, Georgia, and the "cousin" may have been their son or grandson. A William T. Patterson is buried in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.

The listing for Longley, William Preston in The Handbook of Texas is less kind in its description. (New Handbook of Texas, 1998). http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/search.html

Adventures of Bill Longley: Captured by Sheriff Milton Mast and Deputy Bill Burrows, near Keatchie, Louisiana, in 1877, and was executed at Giddings, Texas, 1878. A photo beneath that caption, "Bill Burrows - Longley - Sheriff Mast." "By Henry C. Fuller, Nacogdoches, Texas. Baker Printing Co., Nacogdoches." The author says he was 9 years old at the time of Bill's capture and/or execution, tells his version of Bill's story and the moral lesson to be learned from Bill's mistakes, and quotes some of the letters Bill wrote from jail to the Nacogdoches newspaper, later republished in a Galveston newspaper.

Reinterment of Bill Longley, 19 July 2001