William Preston "Wild Bill" Longley

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William Preston Longley

Birthdate: (27)
Birthplace: Mill Creek, Austin County, Texas, United States
Death: 1878 (27) (executed)
Immediate Family:

Son of Campbell Longley and Sarah Ann Henry
Half brother of Alexander Campbell 'Cam' 2nd Longley

Managed by: Private User
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Immediate Family

About William Preston "Wild Bill" Longley


William Preston Longley (October 6, 1851 – October 11, 1878), also known as Wild Bill Longley, was an American Old West outlaw and gunfighter noted for his ruthless nature, speed with a gun, quick temper, and unpredictable demeanour. He is considered one of the deadliest gunfighters in the Old West.

Early life

Bill Longley was born on Mill Creek in Austin County, Texas as the sixth of ten children of Campbell and Sarah Longley. His family moved when he was aged two years and was then raised on a farm near Evergreen, Texas, present day Lincoln, Lee County, Texas where he spent a large amount of his childhood learning to shoot. He would receive an average education for the time. He was 6 feet (183 cm) tall with a thin build, jet black hair, and was just reaching adulthood when the American Civil War ended in 1865.

By 1867, Texas was under full military control, with Union forces acting in all capacities including law enforcement, because of the Reconstruction Act. This brought on considerable resentment from the local Texas population. Around this time, Longley dropped out of school and began living a life of wild activities, drinking, and running in the company of other wild youths.

First murders in Texas

The Longley family farm, in 1867, was just one mile from the Camino Real, an old Spanish royal highway that joined San Antonio and Nacogdoches, Texas.

In mid-1868, three former slaves named Green Evans, Pryer Evans, and the third known only as Ned, rode through Evergreen, intending evidently to visit friends further south for Christmas. Longley, accompanied by a couple of friends, forced the three men at gunpoint into a dry creek bed. Green Evans panicked and spurred his horse to escape. Longley shot him several times, killing him (although it is likely he was not the only one shooting).

They then began going through the dead man's pockets, as the other two men rode away to escape. Later, although given sole responsibility for the murder, Longley claimed that he was not the only one shooting; Longley's account of this murder differs from that of his later killings, where he was more inclined to brag about shooting men than to try to divert blame to others. Some versions of Green's killing claim he was a member of the Texas State Police; the TSP only existed from 1870 to 1873.

Longley drifted around Texas for a time, gambling in saloons, during which time he met and became acquainted with gambler Phil Coe and possibly also gunman Ben Thompson.[citation needed] Then Longley and his brother-in-law, John Wilson, for reasons unknown, went on a rampage through southern Texas starting in 1869. Together they robbed settlers and in one instance killed another freed slave named Paul Brice in Bastrop County, Texas, after which they stole his horses. They also reportedly killed a freed slave woman in Evergreen.

In March 1870, a $1,000 reward for their capture was offered by the Union military authority. Longley later claimed that Wilson was killed by outlaws in 1870 in Brazos County, Texas, while other evidence lists him as killed in 1874, in Falls County, Texas. Longley left Texas to avoid the authorities.

U.S. Cavalry career

Longley moved north, possibly working on a cattle drive. By May 1870, he had joined a gold hunting party in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

The gold mining party traveled into the Black Hills of South Dakota, but a treaty with the Sioux prohibited mining, and the party disbanded when intercepted by a U.S. cavalry unit. On June 22, 1870, Longley enlisted for a five-year commitment in the army, joining Company B of the U.S. 2nd Cavalry Regiment. His unit was stationed at Camp Stambaugh. Unable to adapt to the strict lifestyle, he deserted two weeks later but was captured and court-martialed. He was sentenced to two years hard labor, strapped to a ball and chain, and imprisoned at Camp Stambaugh. He was held for four months and then released to return to his unit. His marksmanship skills were noticed, and he was assigned on the regular hunting parties leaving the post. He deserted again in May 1872.

Return to Texas and further murders

Longley's travels for the rest of 1872 remain mysterious, but by February 1873 he had returned to Texas, where he was accused of murdering another freedman in Bastrop County. He then returned to live with his father's family, which had moved to Bell County. In the summer of that year, Mason County, Texas, Sheriff J. J. Finney arrested Longley for murder and brought him to Austin to collect a reward. However, when the federal military reward was not forthcoming from state officials, Finney released Longley, possibly in exchange for a bribe from Longley's uncle Pres.

On March 31, 1875, Longley shot his boyhood friend Wilson Anderson dead with a shotgun. The murder was instigated by Longley's uncle Cale, who had blamed Anderson for the death of his son and urged Longley to take revenge. Longley then fled northward, accompanied by his brother Jim, who was later tried and acquitted of Anderson's murder. A new reward was posted for Longley's capture.

Under increasing pressure from law enforcement, Longley fled from place to place and used several aliases to avoid arrest. He briefly found work on a cotton farm, but he was forced to run again in November 1875, after murdering a hunting buddy named George Thomas with whom he had had a fistfight.

Longley committed another killing in Uvalde County in January 1876, when his attempted ambush of fellow outlaw Lou Shroyer turned into a gunfight. Shroyer shot Longley's horse from under him, but Longley shot Shroyer dead. This is the only known case in Longley's career where one of his victims returned fire.

Fleeing again, Longley went to east Texas and became a sharecropper of a preacher, William R. Lay. Stability eluded him again, however, when Longley became rivals with Lay's nephew for the affections of a young woman. Longley beat his rival up, was subsequently jailed, and escaped. Longley blamed Lay for his brief imprisonment. On June 13, 1876, Longley rode out to his landlord's farm, found him milking a cow, and murdered him with a shotgun. Lay would be the last man known to be killed by Longley.

Longley then possibly went to Grayson County, where two of his friends, Jim and Dick Sanders, were in jail. Longley broke them out, and the trio escaped, disarming deputy Matt Shelton when he tried to arrest them. Longley then fled to Louisiana.

Capture and execution

On June 6, 1877, Longley was surrounded and arrested without incident by Nacogdoches County Sheriff Milt Mast and two deputies, while he was residing in De Soto Parish, Louisiana, under the alias "Bill Jackson". He was returned to Texas, tried in the Lee County Court, and sentenced to hang for the murder of Wilson Anderson. His appeal was denied in March 1878.

On October 11, 1878, Longley was executed by hanging in Giddings, Texas, only a few miles from his birthplace of Evergreen. He claimed to have killed thirty-two people, mostly of Hispanic and African American heritage.

Although often referred to as a "gunfighter", most of Longley's victims were unarmed, and he killed several in the course of committing a robbery.


Years after the execution, Longley's father, Campbell, came forward in a press release stating that his son had not been executed. He claimed that a wealthy relative in California bribed the lawmen with $4,000, prompting them to rig a trick rope. They then staged the hanging and whisked the body away. The family even came up with alleged letters said to have been written by Longley from California. The legend spread, and many believed it for quite some time.[citation needed]

It prompted many historians to investigate. Finally, after confirming the gravesite of Longley, an exhumation of the human remains was performed. They were taken to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D. C., where DNA tests were performed, along with a skull reconstruction. In June 2001, it was officially reported that the remains from the gravesite were indeed those of Bill Longley. One datum in support of this conclusion was that the grave contained a Catholic medallion (The Miraculous Medal, an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary) that Longley was reported as wearing on the day he was hanged (Longley had converted to Catholicism shortly before his death, as reported by an episode of Scientific American Frontiers entitled "Dead Men's Tales").

Numerous myths and legends have grown up about Longley that cannot be verified by any contemporary source. Many of these legends trace back to tall tales that Longley himself told while imprisoned in Giddings in 1877. Some of these stories are provably false, while others could be true but lack any contemporary corroborating evidence. Longley's lies appear to have been motivated partly by his desire to rival John Wesley Hardin's reputation as a killer.

The most clearly false story Longley told was of being captured and lynched in 1869 alongside one of Cullen Baker's outlaw gang, surviving when a lucky shot severed the rope he had been hanged from, and then joining Baker's riders. As Baker was dead and his band dispersed at the time Longley claimed this happened, the story cannot be true.

The common stories that Longley murdered a black militiaman in Evergreen in 1866 for insulting his father Campbell, and that he shot eight blacks in Lexington in 1867 to avenge the loss of a horse racing bet, are not definitively disproven. However, there is no contemporary evidence for either event; furthermore, Longley would have been 14 and 15 years old respectively at the time of the alleged incidents. True or false, the stories are consistent with Longley's well-established racist character; in his own words he "was taught to believe it was right to kill sassy negroes."

Longley's account of killing a trail boss named Rector while en route to Wyoming in 1870 is similarly of unknown veracity.

Traditionally, Longley is said to have used a pair of Dance .44 revolvers; the Dance was a Texas-manufactured imitation of the Colt Dragoon. However, he used a shotgun to kill both Wilson Anderson and William Lay, his only murders for which his weapon is definitely known.

In popular culture

In 1954, the actor Douglas Kennedy played Longley in an episode of Jim Davis's syndicated western television series, Stories of the Century.

In 1958, Steve McQueen played Longley in Season 2, Episode 23 of Tales of Wells Fargo.

Longley was the title character in The Texan a television series starring Rory Calhoun which aired on CBS from 1958–1960 and portrayed Longley in an heroic role.

Longley figures prominently in Louis L'Amour's 1959 novel The First Fast Draw, a highly fictionalized version of Cullen Baker's life.

Texas singer/songwriter Houston Marchman has written a song about Longley, Bill Longley which is on his second CD Leavin' Dallas (1999).

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William Preston "Wild Bill" Longley's Timeline

Austin County, Texas, United States
Age 27