Friday, May 26, 2017

Bill Longley -- Gunfighter Or Cold-Blooded Murderer

Dear Friends,

A reader wrote to ask about this killer. He wanted to know if he was really the stone cold racist murderer that legend says he was?

I know he killed freed black slaves. But he also killed whites and maybe a Mexican of two. So I don't know about him be a racist, but he was surely a killer. From what I know about the man, he seem to hate everyone.

The killer that I'm talking about is William Preston Longley who was born on October 6th, 1851, in Mill Creek in Austin County, Texas. Since most people back then had large families for a number of reasons including the fact that childhood mortality was high and the other fact being that people wanted a ready made work force to keep the homestead going. Bill was the sixth of ten children of Campbell and Sarah Longley.

That's right, ten children. Of course women had to be tougher than boot leather back then simply to stop from going crazy with all of those kids. Of course, parents were a lot stricter back then. So maybe, just maybe, that was why kids stayed in line on the overall back in the day.

In 1853, when he was two years old, his family moved and he was raised on a farm near Old Evergreen in what is present-day Lincoln, Lee County, Texas. It was there that he spent the largest part of his childhood.

It's said his upbringing wasn't any different than most at the time. He received an average education. He did chores. He looked after those younger than him just as his older siblings looked after him. And yes, like many others back in the day, he learned to how shoot as a kid. No, nothing would make one think that he would one day be known as a killer. He was just an average child.

As for looks, I read where he was considered a good looking young man with a thin build and black hair. And yes, since it's said that folks were all shorter back in the day, he was considered tall when he was actually only six feet tall as a adult.

Texas is said to have descended into anarchy for a while after the Civil War. Union General Gordon Granger assumed authority there, and violence is said to have plagued the state during the Reconstruction Era. And while that is what is said, from what I can tell Texas was in turmoil for quite a few years after the Civil War.

For example, because of unrest and lawlessness, Texas was still completely under the control of the Union Army into the early 1870s. Fact is, due to the Reconstruction Act, the Union Army was in charge and acted in all capacities, including as judges and law enforcement. It wasn't until 1876 that the period of Reconstruction officially ended in Texas.

Since no one likes being in a position of being subservient to those they see as invaders and oppressors, this caused considerable resentment throughout the state of Texas and the South in general. Yankees were Republicans and animosity toward the Republican Party and Reconstruction Era policies actually lead to the election of a Democrat politician as governor in 1872. And to the surprise of no one, he was former Confederate officer, . 

Today with all of the effort to cleans America of reminders of the Civil War, we forget that Texas and the the states in the South seceded from the Union were no different than Great Britain which recently exited the European Union. The states that made up the United States at the time did not see themselves as provinces of one nation, but instead as nations bound together as an alliance out of economic and military necessity.

We forget that each of the colonies that united against Great Britain had their own laws and even their own currencies before forming an alliance to take on Great Britain. We forget that it was an alliance, a union, that they felt they were in their right to leave if the central government, in our case the Federal government, made too many demands that went against what their people wanted.

Yes, really no different than why Great Britain recently withdrew from the European Union who tried to rule the British from Brussels, Belgium. The people in Brussels tried to supersede British laws and policies. The British people rightfully felt oppressed by a foreign government. That's the South in 1860 in a nutshell. Southern felt oppressed by Northerners running the Federal government.

Remember that it was up to the Federal government to decide exactly how the defeated Confederate states were to be treated. Conditions were less than beneficial to Southerns considering the animus of  Northerners after the way, including that from President Andrew Johnson himself.

It was a period of increased tensions in the South. So much so that after the Civil War, many thought a second Civil War was on the horizon. This was due to the policies of the Federal government during Reconstruction. In many ways, those who resided in the South didn't like how they were treated. Many felt like second-class citizens since the Federal government stripped them of many of rights. Rights it seem to them reserved for opportunists carpetbaggers arriving in the South after the war.

Imagine this, President Johnson declared the civilian government restored in Texas in 1866. But even though that was the case, it wasn't until 1870 that the United States Congress actually allowed duly elected Texas representatives into the federal government. So all in all, to say that Texas was a volatile place as the state struggled with an economic depression, labor issues, lawlessness, and the demands of the Federal government is probably an understatement. 

In reality, the Reconstruction Era spawned a number of outlaws. It was around 1867 that Bill Longley began showing signs of having crossed the line over to the outlaw side. It's said he was only in his teens when he started living wild, drinking, and running with a bad bunch of no-goods. At that time, it's said the Longley family farm was about a mile from the Camino Real that joined San Antonio and Nacogdoches, Texas.

In mid-December of 1868, three former slaves, brothers Green and Pryer Evans, and a third man known only as Ned, rode through Old Evergreen as they left Bell County on horseback to travel south to visit friends and family in Austin County for Christmas. Longley and his cohorts spotted the men and supposedly decided to take the horse ridden by Green Evans. Longley, along with the bad company that he was running with, forced the three men at gunpoint into a dry creek bed. 

One of the freed men, Green Evans, believing that he was going to be killed panicked and tried to escape. As Evans spurred his horse to escape, Bill Longley shot and killed him. He actually shot Evans several times as if to make sure he killed him. But frankly, he didn't kill Evans like a man wanting to rob and kill. Instead, he killed Evans like a man filled with hate. Some say that was because Bill Longley hate blacks, especially freed slaves. Later, he would prove that he hated former slaves, lawmen, and anyone who he saw as easy prey. To him, they were all alike.

Some folks have tried to say that Green Evans was a member of the Texas State Police. But frankly, that can't be since the Texas State Police was not created in 1868 and only existed from 1870 to 1873.

As for Longley and his cohorts like vultures going after a carcass went through Evans pockets as he lay dead, the other two, Pryer Evans and Ned rode off as fast as their horse could carry them. They reported what happened. 

Longley's account of that murder was one of shared responsibility in that he said he wasn't the only one who shot Evans. This is surprising because Longley was well known to brag about who he shot and how he did it. He was also know to tell tall tales the defy logic. But then really, what do we expect from a man killer without a conscience. 

In all of my research, I've found that one of the things that people like Bill Longley, John Wesley Hardin, Killer Jim Miller, and other murderers have in common is the complete lack of conscience. They refuse to adhere to an inner sense of right and wrong. They do not let right and wrong control their actions as we all do. They know the difference, but they refuse to do the right thing. Their actions are not a matter of survival, one that is dictated by conscience. They lack the ethical and moral principles that controls us all in ways that makes us all live civilized lives as individuals.

As I said, their lack of a conscience shows because their guide to the rightness or wrongness of one's behavior is not present. And frankly, that sort of lack of conscience can apply to an entire community. For example, the story goes that when the former slave owner, Alfred Evans of Salado in Bell County, rode to Evergreen to investigate, that he ran into silence from the townsfolk there. As horrible as it is to think, no formal charges were ever brought against Longley or the others because such lawlessness was seen as fine as long as the victims were ex-slaves. Imagine that.

And while that was the case, that he and the others may have been safe there, the idea of being arrested by the military authority who did not see things the same was was enough for the 17-year-old Longley to see that he should leave the area.

OK, so now we get into part of the myth regarding Bill Longley. Though there are no witnesses or credible sources, according to Longley, he said that he left by the spring of 1869 and found himself near Texarkana in northeastern Texas. He claimed that he was grabbed by a lynch mob that believed he was part of the gang of the outlaw Cullen Montgomery Baker.

Longley said that the mob hanged him on the spot, along with a man named Johnson. According to Longley, the vigilantes left right away, and Johnson’s brother shot the rope holding him and he dropped to the ground, barely alive. He then supposedly became one of Baker’s chief lieutenants. Of course, there are problems with his story since Cullen Baker was killed in January of 1869. And no, there are no records of Longley ever being part of that gang. But even though that's the case, that's one of the lasting legends about Bill Longley.

In reality, in 1869, Longley and his brother-in-law, John Wilson, went on what was considered a crime spree through southern Texas even back then. Together, he and Wilson robbed settlers coming into Texas and murdered at least two freed slaves. One was a man named Paul Brice in Bastrop County, Texas, after which the two are said to have stole his string of horses. And yes, the other is said to have been a woman in Old Evergreen.

Living the outlaw life does come with it's shortcomings, and one of those is having a bounty placed on your head. In March of 1870, the Union military authority in Texas offered a $1,000 reward for their capture. Some say it was "Dead or Alive."

With the law bearing down on him, Bill Longley left Texas and fled north to avoid authorities. Then in May of 1870, he joined a group of miners seeking gold in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

It is the stuff of legend, that gold miners traveled into the Black Hills of South Dakota even though a treaty with the Sioux prohibited mining, and would surely kill you in all sorts of ways if they caught you. In the case of Longley and his party going into the Black Hills, they were intercepted by a U.S. Cavalry unit and turned back. 

Then, believe it or not, on June 22nd, 1870, even though he is still technically on the run, Bill Longley enlisted for a five-year hitch in the U.S. Army. He actually joined Company B of the 2nd Cavalry stationed at Camp Stambaugh. Camp Stambaugh was an outpost in the Wyoming Territory located in the mining district near South Pass City and Atlantic City in the Wind River Mountains. It was established in early June of 1870 to help stop hostilities between Indians and miners sneaking into the Black Hills. 

The outpost was named for First Lieutenant Charles B. Stambaugh who was killed while protecting settlers from a raid in May of that year. The camp was established and manned by Company B of the 2nd Cavalry which were originally from Fort Bridger. Camp Stambaugh was a short lived outpost in that it was abandoned in 1878 because the mining town populations dead off.

As for Bill Longley, his Army career was short lived as well since he deserted two weeks after enlisting. Some say he wasn't able to adapt to the strict military lifestyle. Imagine that from a psychopathic killer. 

He was captured and given a Court Martial. He was actually sentenced to two years hard labor. And yes, it's said that he was actually shackled to a 24 pound ball and chain while imprisoned at Camp Stambaugh. Then because of an extremely harsh winter, his commander commuted his sentence to the four months he'd already served. He was then released to return to his unit. 

Now, given that logic completely evades some folks even back then, what happens to Army Private William Longley is not surprising when it comes to the Army making mistakes. You see, it's said that Longley's marksmanship skills impressed someone to the point of his being assigned to the regular hunting party that left the post each day. So really, did it surprise anyone that the once deserter decided to desert again in May of 1872? I hope not.

About now, someone reading this wants to know about Bill Longley's brother-in-law John Wilson. Well, Wilson was supposedly shot by Longley during a disagreement back in 1870 before Longley fled Texas. Then again, Longley once claimed that Wilson was killed by outlaws in early 1870 in Brazos County. Again, before he fled Texas. But, some say that Wilson was killed in 1874 in Falls County, Texas, long after Longley deserted from the Army and returned to Texas. 

It is interesting to note that Longley later denied that he was ever in the Army. He also lied about being a teamster during that period and having killed an officer who was in on a criminal kickback scheme with him. No, it's no wonder that one of his Sergeants reportedly recalled that Longley as "an idle boaster, a notorious liar and a man of low instinct and habits." 

What he did after deserting in May of 1872 is really unknown. We do know that by February of 1873 that he returned to Texas. We know that because he was accused of murdering another freed slave by the name of Price in Bastrop County.

Then in July of that year, Longley was in Bell County, where his parents had moved to and were now farming along the Lampasas River. It's said someone spotted him carrying a pistol, which believe it or not was illegal, and he was supposedly later indicted for that -- though never arrested. A few weeks later though, he was arrested in Kerr County when he was found associating with the last of Frank Eastwood’s gang of horse thieves. Local vigilantes had enough of the Eastwood men and about decimated the entire gang.

It's said that Bill Longley had the bad luck of being seen with some of the gang's leftovers. Because of that, he was identified as being wanted for murder. That's when Mason County Sheriff, J. J. Finney arrested Longley for murder and took him to Austin to collect a reward for his capture. But there was a problem. 

When the federal military reward was not paid from Texas state officials, Mason County Sheriff, J. J. Finney simply released Longley. Some say that it was in exchange for a bribe from a relative. Some say it was because Finney felt betrayed by the "Yankee authorities" and "carpetbaggers".

Then a few years later, Bill Longley shot Wilson Anderson dead. Supposedly that murder was instigated by Longley's uncle, Caleb B. Longley, who had blamed Anderson for the death of his son, "Little Cale". Although some said that Little Cale had actually gotten drunk with Anderson, and killed himself when he rode his horse into a tree, revenge is said to have blinded the boy’s father. And with that, Bill's Uncle Caleb urged Bill to take revenge.

Wilson Anderson was said to be Bill Longley's childhood friend, yet Longley shot him dead with a shotgun. It's true, on the afternoon of March 31st, 1875, Bill Longley in the company of his 15 year old brother James rode over to the Anderson’s farm where they found Wilson out plowing a field. Though James is said to have tried to stop him by telling him to leave any killing to Uncle Caleb if he wants to kill someone, Bill Longley rode up to Anderson and told him that he was going to kill him. He then shot Anderson twice with a shotgun. Wilson Anderson died instantly.

After that cold-blooded murder of Anderson, Bill Longley fled the scene with his brother. James was later tried and acquitted of Wilson Anderson's murder. But by then, a new reward was posted for Longley's capture.

Wild Bill Longley was seen as nothing less than a rabid animal, and he was now hunted like one. So with increasing pressure from law enforcement bearing down on him, Longley is said to have fled from place to place and used several aliases to avoid arrest. At one point he briefly found work picking cotton, but he was forced to run again in November 1875. That was after murdering George Thomas after they had had a fistfight. Thomas was said to be Longley's friend.

In Uvalde County, Texas, in January of 1876, Longley's attempted ambush fellow outlaw Lou Shroyer turned into a real gun battle with someone shooting back for a change. In the exchange, Shroyer shot Longley's horse from under him. But Longley ended up shooting Shroyer dead. And as I eluded to before, this is the only known case in Bill Longley's life where one of his victims actually had the opportunity to shoot back. Like many others, including Tom Horn and Killer Jim Miller, Longley was known to kill by ambush.

From Uvalde County, Bill Longley fled to east Texas where it's said he actually became a sharecropper for a preacher by the name of William R. Lay. Longley's temper got the best of him when he became rivals with Lay's nephew for the affections of a young woman. Fact is Longley beat up his rival and was jailed. 

But sadly for the preacher, he escaped. You see, Longley blamed Preacher Lay for his being in jail. And because of that, on June 13th, 1876, Bill Longley went to Lay's farm where he found him milking a cow. Longley then murdered Lay by unloading both barrels of a shotgun on the preacher. Preacher William Lay would be the last man known to be killed by Bill Longley.

For some unknown reason, Longley went to Grayson County, Texas, where two cohorts 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. From there, Longley then fled to Louisiana.

Then on June 6th, 1877, while living in De Soto Parish, Louisiana under the alias "Bill Jackson," Longley was surrounded and arrested by Nacogdoches County Sheriff Milt Mast and two deputies. They returned him to Texas where he was tried in the Lee County Court. There he was sentenced to hang for the murder of Wilson Anderson.

His appeal was denied in early March on 1878. And on October 11th, 1878, Wild Bill Longley was hanged in Giddings, Texas. He was executed only a few miles from his birthplace of Old Evergreen just a few days after his 27th birthday. 

Known as "Wild Bill" Longley, he was an outlaw and cold-blooded killer. And while some call him a gunfighter, he was in only one gunfight where his opponent was able to shoot back. He was actually a ruthless murderer who is said to have had a quick temper and unpredictable demeanor.

Though this man is considered one of the deadliest gunfighters in the Old West, I believe he was just another young man filled with hate. He was a man who killed with no compunction, a man who killed without a feeling of guilt, a man without moral scruple, a man who was known to brag and appear ti take pride in his evil deeds.
Knowing this, I'd say it's a safe bet to say that his hanging made a great number of folks very happy.

Tom Correa

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