Trail Dust - October 11
LONGLEYOn this day in 1878, another Texas bad guy, William “Wild Bill” Longley, bit the dust on the second try.
The term gunfighter appears behind his name in history but he would most likely be charged with hate crimes today.
He was orn in Austin County in southeast Texas in 1851, the sixth of ten children. In 1853 his family moved to Evergreen near present day Lincoln, Texas, where Longley used much of his ill-spent youth learning to shoot.
Dropping out of school to devote more time to drinking and gambling, Longley killed his first victim at just 17 when he and two companions ambushed three former slaves along the Camino Real. When Green Evens spurred his horse to escape, Longley shot and killed him. It was perhaps Longley’s only murder that he didn’t take full credit for, saying he was not the only one to shoot.
Following the Evens killing, he fell in with gambler and sometime saloon keeper, Phil Coe, who was shot and killed by Wild Bill Hickok in a street brawl and his partner, future sheriff of Abilene, Kansas, Ben Thompson. But by 1869, for reasons known only to them, Longley and brother-in-law, John Wilson, went on crime spree across south Texas, stealing horses and at some point, killing an African American woman. The Union military placed a $1,000 reward on his head and Longley moved north. He may have joined a cattle drive but by May of 1870 he was prospecting near Cheyenne, Wyoming.
The Cavalry ran Longley’s prospecting party out of the Black Hills of South Dakota for violating a treaty with the Lakota. The encounter signaled the start of his brief and notably unsuccessful military career resulting in his court marshal for desertion. Sentenced to hard labor at Camp Stambaugh in south central Wyoming, Longley was released after just four months and assigned to the unit’s frequent hunting parties because of his talent as a marksman. He deserted again in May of 1872.
His movements the next two years are sketchy but by February, 1973 he’d returned to his family’s farm now located in Bell County in central Texas. That summer the Mason County sheriff, J. J.. Finney, arrested Longley for killing yet another freed slave, ostensibly for the reward. But when the money failed to show up, Finney released Longley, creating speculation that Longley’s uncle Pres had paid off the sheriff to secure his release.
PHIL COEIn 1875, Longley moved from killing total strangers to shooting friends and acquaintances. He gunned down boyhood companion, Wilson Anderson, when asked by his uncle Cale to take avenge the death of Cale’s son.
With another price on his head, he fled with his brother Jim. Jim was eventually arrested and acquitted for Anderson’s murder.
The same year Longley shot and killed a hunting buddy named George Thomas and tried to ambush a fellow outlaw, Lou Shroyer. Shroyer shot back, missing Longley, but it is believed Shroyer was the only one of Longley’s victims to return fire.
On the run again, he took up sharecropping for an east Texas preacher, landing in jail for beating the preacher’s nephew in a rivalry over a young woman. When he was released from jail, however, he shot the preacher in a revenge killing.
After murdering 32 people, most unarmed and of African Americans and Hispanic heritage, Longley was finally run to ground in Louisiana by Texas sheriff Milt Mast and his two deputies.
He was hanged for the murder of his friend, Wilson Anderson, in Giddings, not far from his hometown of Evergreen. The rope slipped when the trap door opened on the first try causing Longley’s knees to drag the ground. He was successfully hanged on the second attempt at the age of 27 and buried in the Giddings City Cemetery.
Some years later, William’s father, Campbell, came forward claiming the second hanging had been faked and that his son was whisked away to California after a rich relative bribed the lawmen. The tale was discounted in 2001 when DNA testing confirmed that the gunman was indeed dead in Texas.
In a twist on history, Longley became the basis for the title character in the 1959 CBS series “The Texan” starring Rory Calhoun where he was transformed into a hero through the magic of television.
Famed Western author Louis L’Amour also featured Longley in his 1959 novel, “The First Fast Draw” a highly fictionalized and sanitized the life of another Texas desperado, Cullen Baker.