Bill Longley, The Noted Desperado - J. Marvin Hunter, Sr.
William P. Longley was born on Mill Creek, in Austin county, Texas, October 6, 1851. He was the son of Campbell Longley, a good and upright citizen. In 1853, when Bill Longley was two years old, his father bought a farm one mile west of Evergreen, in Lee county. This part of Lee county was at that time in Washington county. The Longley home was situated near the main highway as you journey from Nacogdoches to Bastrop.
At the close of the Civil War, in 1865, Bill Longley was fourteen years old and attended the school at old Evergreen, good-hearted, liked by all of the boys, and one of the largest boys in school. This school was taught by Dr. G. D. Wilkerson, who graduated in medicine, but in the early years following the war was a schoolmaster at Evergreen.
Just after the Civil War the negroes were inflated by their new given freedom. While the older members of the race were law-abiding and had respect and veneration for their old Master and Missus, the younger breed took on airs, were domineering, and were very loose with their talk. Military government had been established all over the South, carpet-baggers had come to the country, and conditions were bad generally. The young white men of each southern community resented the overbearing rowdy attitude of the negroes, and in the old Evergreen community much feeling was aroused. Bill Longley by this time had quit school, and like other young Southern men had a six-shooter and a horse.
The inevitable clash came between the young negroes and the young white men one day on the old Bastrop and Nacogdoches road, when a burly negro applied the fighting epithet to Bill Longley's father. Previous to this Bill had become an expert with the sixshooter to such an extent that he could gallop past a tree and put six balls into it without missing a shot.
When the epithet was applied by the negro against the name of Campbell Longley it was answered by Bill Longley's six-shooter, and the black fell from his horse with a bullet in his brain. The negro's pockets were turned wrong side out, a rope was tied around his neck, and he was dragged several hundred yards from the road into the woods and buried in a very shallow grave in a ditch.
At the age of sixteen Longley had formed a partnership with one Johnson McKowen, and at one of their races the negroes outnumbered them and the white boys were forced to withdraw. That night in the town of Lexington the negroes were having a dance. The whites had all left the town. Longley and McKowen heard of the party, went into Lexington heavily armed, and in the midst of the negro festivities the sixteen-year-old Longley charged into the crowd. He was mounted and his two six-shooters barked with such effect that two negroes were killed outright, and several others were wounded.
In 1867 a circus came to Evergreen. Bill Longley and a companion came to the circus, demanded admittance, were refused by the doorkeeper, who was instantly knocked down, and Longley and his companion entered the circus, walked into the ring and made the clowns and other actors do the "hoe down," "back-step," and "highland fling." There was an instant stampede on the part of the audience and the circus tent was torn down by the wild scrambling to get out. The show was completely broken up and people scattered in all directions without even waiting to tell each other goodbye.
On another occasion three negroes came into Evergreen, went into a saloon and tanked up. They became rather boisterous and sassy and Longley killed one of them. This occurred the latter part of 1866. On Christmas Day the deputy sheriff of Washington county and some others arrived in old Evergreen, but Bill Longley got wind of their coming and escaped.
Early in 1868 Bill Longley went into Karnes county, where he worked for John Reagan, a large stock owner. He kept in close touch with the Taylor Clan, and on his return through Yorktown he was mistaken for Charlie Taylor, whom they were trying to capture. The soldiers tried to arrest Longley, but he fled on a well trained horse. They followed five or six miles in a running gun battle and only stopped their pursuit when a shot from Longley's gun killed the sergeant of the Sixth Ohio Regiment. After killing this soldier Longley returned to his home, but the country by this time was too hot for him and he left for Arkansas in the early months of 1868.
About this time the Federal authorities, who had a fort at Boston, in Bowie county, were on the lookout for Cullen M. Baker. On his way to Arkansas Longley headed for Cullen Baker's territory, and on the way he fell in with a young outlaw named Tom Johnson. He went home with Johnson to stay all night, not knowing that his new-found friend was a horse thief. That night the house was surrounded by vigilantes and they were both captured, taken to the woods and hanged from the same tree, several shots being fired into them as the vigilantes left. One of the shots hit Longley in the belt by which he carried his gold, but it did no harm. Another shot cut the strands of the rope, and Longley's weight soon caused the rope to give way and he fell to the ground unconscious. A small brother of Johnson's had followed the lynchers, and fortunately arrived about the time that Longley fell. He cut the rope loose from Longley's neck, and when Longley recovered he and the boy cut down the body of Tom Johnson, stone dead.
Longley concealed himself in the woods near the Johnson home for several days, and was fed by the Johnson family. Cullen Baker heard of the occurrence, visited Longley in his hiding place, and persuaded him to join the Baker gang. Thus Longley became a full-fledged member of the band of Cullen M. Baker in 1868. Cullen Baker would not rob the Southern people, but his principal glory and pleasure was in robbing the government trains and in protecting Southern people from the scalawags and swell-head negroes.
In the spring of 1868 Cullen Baker's gang captured some of the vigilantes who had hanged Johnson and Longley, and among them was an individual who boasted that he had fired the shots into the swinging bodies as they hung in the woods to limbs of trees. At this time Bill Longley was only sixteen and a half years old, but he was a man grown in experience, marksmanship, and in daring. He demanded that the captured vigilant be turned over to him, and when this request was granted the victim was escorted to the very place where a short while before Longley had been hanged and had been saved by the Johnson boy and by a broken rope. The vigilant and former lyncher was hanged to the same limb from which Longley had been suspended, and Longley stood off and emptied his six-shooter into the swinging body, and he was very careful that he did not cut the rope in two with one of his shots.
He remained with the Baker gang until the summer of 1868, and while he was in that company he assisted killing from five to seven persons.
Longley returned to his home near Evergreen, but by this time the Federal authorities were hot on his trail, and the negroes were aiding them as much as possible. Longley and his brother-in-law left this neighborhood and went on a scouting expedition. It is claimed that on this scouting expedition they killed seven negroes. They soon separated, and Bill Longley started for Salt Lake City to visit another brother-in-law, who had moved to Utah. On the trip he joined a cattle driver by the name of Rector, of Bee county, who was taking a herd to Kansas. It seems that Rector had some trouble with one of his men and abused him soundly. Longley made some remark about the difficulty and offended Rector. They met on the prairie to settle the difficulty, and before Rector got his pistol into play Bill's gun was pumping leaden bullets into his body, and the six-shooter never stopped action until all six bullets had found lodgment in Rector's body, and he fell to the ground a dead man. This was some exploit for a boy that had not reached his seventeenth year.
Longley had to leave the herd and one of the cowboys by the name of Davis joined him and they headed for Abilene, Kansas, with Salt Lake City as their ultimate goal. On their way they met a party of horse thief hunters who were on the lookout for two cowboys who had stolen two horses the night before. They joined in the hunt and succeeded capturing the thieves, for which they received a reward. Longley and Davis separated at Abilene. Longley continuing his journey towards Salt Lake.
While stopping in Leavenworth, Kansas, one night in a saloon a soldier asked Longley where he was from. Longley replied that he was from Texas. "Well, you ought to be ashamed of yourself," said the soldier. "Why," retored Longley, to which the soldier replied that all Texans were horse thieves and there was not a virtuous woman in Texas. Longley answered, not with his tongue, but with his six-shooter, and the soldier fell dead. Longley escaped and left for St. Louis, but was captured at St. Joseph, Mo. He was taken back to Leavenworth, but after two weeks managed to escape, and started for Wyoming. He arrived in Cheyenne, and joined a party of miners headed for the Big Horn Mountains. Later he returned and became a teamster for the government. Some time afterward he killed a quartermaster named Greggory, mounted a mule and headed for Salt Lake City. He was captured and sentenced to prison for thirty years, but made his escape and joined the Ute Indians, with whom he remained nearly a year. After he left the Indians he started on a circuitous route to Texas. In Morris county, Kansas, near a little town called Parkersville, he got into a game of cards with a man by the name of Charlie Stuart. A quarrel soon developed and Longley being the quickest on the draw, sent one ball into Stuart's head and one into his heart. Stuart's father offered a reward of $1,500 for the man who killed his son. Longley was at this time passing under the name of Tom Jones. He encountered two other individuals and they concocted a scheme for getting the reward offered by Stuart's father. The two arrested Longley according to agreement and delivered him to the sheriff and collected the reward. Before leaving town they told the sheriff they wanted to speak to the prisoner. The sheriff accompanied them to the jail and the three overpowered the sheriff, gagged him, and made their escape, and Longley received his one-third of the $1,500 reward.
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Longley came back to Texas, and while working on a farm in Bell county, he learned that a posse was coming from Lee county to arrest him and get a $1,000 reward. He left immediately for Comanche county. While staying in Comanche county he was sent to the Williams ranch in Brown county, where he killed a negro. In company with two men named Mitchell and Martin he started for the Colorado river country, and when they were in camp near the Santa Anna Mountain, they had a fight with five men in which Longley killed one of the five.
Longley went back to Bell county and spent a few days. From here he went to Mason county, passing under the name of William Henry. Here he met Sheriff Finley, who had received a printed description of Longley. He and the sheriff became great friends; they talked, gambled and drank together. Longley was on the alert, and one day when Finley had completed his plans for the capture of Longley, that individual slipped out of his clutches and made his way to Fredericksburg. He had been in Fredericksburg only a short time when the Mason sheriff and a friend met him in a barroom. They made a date for a game of cards, but again Longley mounted his horse and this time went to Kerrville. A short time before this Frank Easterwood, a noted desperado had been killed and the citizens were on the alert for outlaws. The atmosphere was decidedly uncomfortable there, so Longley headed for Edwards county. He camped on the High Divide the first night out, and awoke next morning to find himself surrounded by nearly a hundred men with Sheriff Finley of Mason at their head. He was taken to Austin and placed in jail. Here he broke jail and disappeared for a time.
His next activity was in Frio county where he killed a Mexican in an argument over a horse trade.
Some time afterward he killed Lew Sawyer on the Dry Frio in Bandera County. Longley, under the name of Swift, followed Sawyer to the Dry Frio, and by a ruse induced Sawyer to go to a certain place, where he ambushed him and shot him to death. After killing Sawyer, Longley took the slain mans' gloves, rode to his home and asked Mrs. Sawyer if her husband had returned. She replied that he had not. Longley threw the gloves in the yard and said, "He will never return."
At Fort Ewell Longley had a row with a gambler named Dave Clark, whom he shot, but did not kill.
He went to Angelina county, where he killed two negroes. He passed through Lovelady in Houston county, and finding himself out of money, put up his horse at a raffle, took two of the first chances himself, threw first, and while the others were drawing their lots he mounted his horse and rode away. Continuing westward to Bastrop county he secured work on a farm of William Baker on Walnut Creek. He told Baker he was a distant kinsman and that his name was Bill Baker. While on the Baker farm, Longley heard that a cousin of his, young Gale Longley had been killed by Wilson Anderson near Evergreen. Bill Longley quietly returned to the neighborhood and on April 1, 1875, killed Anderson with a shotgun. He went to McLennan county, and secured work on a farm near Waco. On Saturday night he got into a game of cards with a man named George Thomas; they fell out, and Longley killed Thomas.
On June 23, 1876, Governor Coke offered a reward of $500 for the arrest and delivery inside the jail doors of Delta county, Texas, of one William Black, alias William Longley, for the murder of Rev. Roland Lay on June 13, 1876. Old settlers of Delta county verify the account to the effect that in June, 1876, a man by the name of William Black passed through Delta county near Ben Franklin; that he became infatuated with the daughter of Rev. Roland Lay, and made some arrangements to work for Mr. Lay. Later Rev. Lay, on learning that Black was a notorious character protested against the attention paid to his daughter by Black. Black made some threats against Mr. Lay, who immediately instituted proceedings to have Black placed under a peace bond. He was put in jail and remained there several days, but succeeded in burning his way out, got possession of a horse and gun and made his way toward Ben Franklin. He found Lay in the cow lot milking and killed him, and left for Louisiana.
Captain Milton Mast finally located Longley near Keatchie, DeSoto Parish, and arrested him, May 17, 1877. He was tried at Giddings, Texas, and convicted September 14, 1877, and on October 11, 1878, he was executed, Sheriff Jim Brown of Lee county being in charge of the hanging.
Thus ended the wild career of one of Texas' most bloodthirsty desperadoes, who was credited with having killed at least thirty men, most of whom were negroes.
A report persists that Longley did not die on the gallows. It has been said that a special harness was fitted to his body, under his clothing, to which the noose was attached in such a manner that when the trap was sprung the harness broke the fall and prevented his neck being broken. And afterward the supposedly dead body was taken away by friends. Many people believed this to be a fact. It has even been said that Bill Longley was seen in Mexico several years after the hanging. Just how true this is I cannot say. Personally, from all accounts which I have of the career of Longley and the incidents of the execution, I believe he was hanged by the neck until he was dead, at Gidding, Texas, October 11, 1878.
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