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Bloody Bill Longley

The Mythology of a Gunfighter, Second Edition

Rick Miller

Publication Year: 2011

William Preston “Bill” Longley (1851-1878), though born into a strong Christian family, turned bad during Reconstruction in Texas, much like other young boys of that time, including the deadly John Wesley Hardin. He went on a murderous rampage over the last few years of his life, shotgunning Wilson Anderson in retribution for Anderson’s killing of a relative; killing George Thomas in McLennan County; and shooting William “Lou” Shroyer in a running gunfight. Longley even killed the Reverend William R. Lay while Lay was milking a cow. Once he was arrested in 1877, and subsequently sentenced to hang, his name became known statewide as an outlaw and a murderer. Through a series of “autobiographical” letters written from jail while awaiting the hangman, Longley created and reveled in his self-centered image as a fearsome, deadly gunfighter—the equal, if not the superior, of the vaunted Hardin. Declaring himself the “worst outlaw” in Texas, the story that he created became the basis for his historical legacy, unfortunately relied on and repeated over and over by previous biographers, but all wrong. In truth, Bill Longley was not the daring figure that he attempted to paint. Rick Miller’s thorough research shows that he was, instead, a braggart who exaggerated greatly his feats as a gunman. The murders that could be credited to him were generally nothing more than cowardly assassinations. Bloody Bill Longley was first published in a limited edition in 1996. Miller separates fact from fancy, attempting to prove or disprove Longley’s many claims of bloodshed. Since the time of the first edition, diligent research has located and identified the outlaw’s body, the absence of which was a longstanding myth in itself. This revised edition includes that part of the Longley story, as well as several new items of information that have since come to light.

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Series: A. C. Greene Series


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pp. iii-iv

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pp. v-viii

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” So says Maxwell Scott in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, John Ford’s 1962 film based on a short story by Dorothy N. Johnson. It is a classic line in a classic film that, unfortunately, remains all too true in the field of western Americana. The West remains mired in mythology and folklore with defenders adamantly striving to keep it...

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pp. ix-xviii

The post-Civil War era in Texas spawned a political and social upheaval that generated, in addition to a drastically changed economy for former slaveholders and a fragile new equality of sorts for freed slaves, a few individuals who stepped forward into public notoriety as gunslingers. The most noted was the deadly John Wesley Hardin, followed closely by volatile Ben Thompson of Austin. Legends ...

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Chapter 1 A Good-Hearted Boy

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pp. 1-13

The menacing clouds and threat of rain did not deter the hundreds of people flocking to the small Texas town of Giddings to see Bill Longley die. The newly constructed wooden gallows waited silently some six hundred yards northwest of the railroad depot, where passengers alit by the score from incoming trains. Although the execution was not scheduled until later in the ...

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Chapter 2 These Desperate Scoundrels and Out Laws

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pp. 14-24

The Civil War ended in 1865, and Texas struggled to restore some equilibrium throughout its many communities. Young Bill Longley reportedly dropped out of his schooling and acquired a six-shooter and a horse, like many other young men in those unsettled times. And thus began the confusing mixture of fact and fiction that complicates a Some have written that in 1866, fifteen-year-old Longley jumped ...

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Chapter 3 Murdering, Robbing, and Ravishing

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pp. 25-37

By Longley's scenario, he left Washington County in the spring of 1869 and headed for Arkansas. At some point, as he reached the Texas-Arkansas-Louisiana border area, he said that he fell in with a Tom Johnson, whose family lived in Lafayette County, Arkansas, just east of the Texas state line where Texarkana is located. Johnson was allegedly a "noted horse thief" and a member of the gang...

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Chapter 4 I Kept on Pumping Lead

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pp. 38-49

Longley said that he decided that the most practical way to get to Utah was by joining one of the many cattle drives headed north through the Indian Territory and terminating at the railhead at Abilene, Kansas. According to him, he rode north to near Gainesville, in Cooke County not far from the Red River, and ran upon a large herd. The boss of the herd, a man named Rector, who Longley said ...

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Chapter 5 We Set Out in Fine Spirit

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pp. 50-60

Whatever happened in Kansas, Longley continued northward, first to Omaha, Nebraska, then on to Cheyenne in Wyoming Territory, where he said that he joined a party of miners preparing for an "exploring expedition" into the Big Horn range of mountains.1 He was welcomed by the leaders forming the group, including a Captain Kuykendall, and on their instructions obtained necessary supplies and ...

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Chapter 6 A Man of Low Instinct and Habits

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pp. 61-76

A comparison of Longley's version of his adventures in the Northwest with the official record concerning Camp Stambaugh truly reveals his artful ability to mix fact with fiction in order to project the desperado image he sought. The truth does not do much for that given by Fuller, he claimed that after the Kuykendall expedition broke up, he was broke and stranded, so he applied to the army quarter...

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Chapter 7 The Worst Indian

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pp. 77-87

As a matter of record, Bill Longley deserted from the army on June 8, 1872, but he does not turn up for the record again until July 1, 1873, in Texas. As before, his version of events in his life during this interim period can be only repeated, not corroborated, and, unfortunately, the sole accounts are lengthy versions of prose colored To begin with, Longley claimed that after his feet recovered from ...

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Chapter 8 Who in the Hell Are You?

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pp. 88-100

After his 1877 arrest, Longley claimed that "after leaving the Indians, he went to Iowa and 'knocked around' for a month or two, and then revisited the state of Kansas." There was no mention by Longley of the beautiful Dolores Gomez or any injuries received while trying to outdistance pursuing Mexican bandits, as Fuller later wrote. Very likely, Longley leisurely began his way back to Texas with...

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Chapter 9 Desperate-Looking Character

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pp. 101-113

Although Fuller did not mention it in his account, Longley claimed that after he left Bell County, he went southwest to Mason County, where he moved about under the alias of "William Henry." He said that he attended a horse race at old Fort Mason, which had been abandoned by the army in 1869, and met James J. Finney, the sheriff of Mason County.1 A former blacksmith,2 Finney was first appointed ...

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Chapter 10 Shot Him Dead

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pp. 114-126

Between July 1873 and Christmas 1874, there is no real record of Longley's whereabouts. We only have his story that, after being released in Austin, he killed a man in Frio County and then worked for Dr. McIver in Madison County. The 1877 account of his adventures found in the Galveston Daily News had him leaving Madison County, which is in East Texas northeast of Bryan, visiting his parents ...

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Chapter 11 Bill Was Still Fighting

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pp. 127-135

The Lee County sheriff mounting the search for the Longley brothers was James McKeown, the father of Bill's early criminal companion, Johnson. Sheriff McKeown was elected as Lee County's first sheriff on June 2, 1874.1 But the posse led by James McKeown never came close to the fleeing brothers, who headed north after leaving ...

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Chapter 12 I Will Not Be Captured

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pp. 136-155

Bill Longley's whereabouts after he left Bell County are unknown, but the best evidence indicates that he returned to his old that his brother was in custody and hearing numerous rumors in the neighborhood about his own well-being, Long ley wrote a remarkable letter to Jim Brown, likely in September or October of 1875, although breeses of misrie and feel just as happy as a big sun flour that ...

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Chapter 13 The Last of “Pea Time”

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pp. 156-167

The murder case against Jim Longley, arrested in August 1875, was severed from that of his brother. His lawyer asked for a change of venue, likely because of hard feelings in Lee County about the murder of Wilson Anderson, and the court agreeably transferred venue of the case to the district court in Fayette County at La Grange. Jim was released on a high $5,000 bond, his father, Uncle Cale, and ...

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Chapter 14 Plenty of Ammunition

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pp. 168-179

After killing the Reverend Lay, Bill Longley left Delta County, but there is only his fanciful account of where he was for the next year, as provided in Fuller's heavily edited Adventures of Bill Longley. According to Longley, on June 13, 1876, he rode north from Delta County and camped near the Red River as it grew dark. He hid off the main road, ate a cold meal that he had gotten at Mr. Lane's place, then ...

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Chapter 15 We Want Him

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pp. 180-194

Bill Longley likely visited his parents in Bell County in the late fall and perhaps early winter of 1876, during which time Dick Sanders may have left him and returned home. It is also possible that in March 1877 Longley and Sanders might have been in Kerr County. Company C, responding to some source of information, was sent into the county to look for them.1 The Rangers returned empty-handed. ...

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Chapter 16 The Most Successful Outlaw

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pp. 195-212

While he sat in the Lee County jail awaiting trial, Longley continued his letter writing. Ink, pen, and paper were provided by Sheriff Brown, and he was allowed to write to anyone he wished, provided that Brown saw the letters. He wrote his father, Campbell, telling him not to employ any counsel for him, that the state would be bound to appoint one for him because it was a death penalty case. ...

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Chapter 17 I Have Killed A Many Man

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pp. 213-233

After Longley was sentenced on Tuesday, September 11, 1877, Jim Brown discussed with Judge Turner his concerns about the security of the Lee County jail while Longley was awaiting the outcome of his appeal. Turner agreed that it was "not a safe jail for the confinement" of Longley, and ordered that he be conveyed to the Travis County jail in Austin "for safekeeping during his appeal."1 Turner ...

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Chapter 18 Same Old Rattling Bill

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pp. 234-255

Longley now languished in the well-guarded Galveston County jail until Judge Turner returned to Giddings in August to open the term of the district court. Although constrained by an iron bar connecting his ankles and affixed to chains,1 he kept himself occupied with a prolific frenzy of interviews, as well as writing letters when he could obtain writing materials and postage. Much of what he was reported ...

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Chapter 19 Hanging is My Favorite Way of Dying

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pp. 256-279

As Bill Longley faced his transfer to Giddings and coming one step closer to the gallows, his father was apparently not faring very well. Bell County Judge Erastus Walker submitted a petition to the state government on behalf of Campbell Longley requesting a petition for financial assistance stemming from his service in the Texas army in 1836. Walker described the sixty-two-year-old Campbell as ...

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Chapter 20 Not Upon His Doomed Neck

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pp. 280-296

Bill Longley quickly passed from the pages of Texas newspapers, and his notoriety with him. Other gunmen, such as Hardin and Ben Thompson, stepped to the forefront of the public spotlight, their sort continuing to fascinate those who found glamour and excitement in the larger-than-life exploits of an outlaw, as opposed to the humdrum routine of school, farming, or other similar everyday callings. As ...


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pp. 297-336


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pp. 337-350


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pp. 351-372

E-ISBN-13: 9781574413533
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574413052

Page Count: 392
Illustrations: 38 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: A. C. Greene Series