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Bloody Bill Longley: The Mythology of a Gunfighter, Second Revised Edition

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William
Preston ™ëBillí¬ 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 Andersonø_s killing of a relative; killing George Thomas in
McLennan County; and shooting William ™ëLouí¬ 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
™ëautobiographicalí¬ letters written from jail while awaiting the hangman,
Longley created and reveled in his self-centered image as a fearsome, deadly
gunfighteräó_the equal, if not the superior, of the vaunted Hardin.

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Chapter 1. A Good-Hearted Boy

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Chapter 1

A Good-Hearted Boy

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 afternoon of this dark, ominous October day, the main street of Giddings and the surrounding prairie teemed with the growing crowd from an early hour. They came by train, by carriage, by wagon and horseback, and on foot, black and white mingling single-mindedly as they awaited the carrying out of the court’s order and the end of the self-proclaimed mankiller’s odyssey. Stories circulated about a last-minute escape attempt and there were rumors that Longley had already survived one hanging.

Bill Longley had been confined now for not quite a year and a half, fighting this day as vigorously as he had willingly defied the conventions of his time. When captured, he had boasted of killing thirty-two men, even penning his memoirs in a Giddings newspaper and relishing the sensation he created throughout the state. He adopted for himself a deadly reputation rivaling that of the much vaunted and more publicized John Wesley Hardin. After all, Hardin, when captured, was said to have killed only twenty-seven. Longley had gone to great lengths to portray himself as one of Texas’ deadliest gunmen.

 

Chapter 2. These Desperate Scoundrels and Out Laws

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Chapter 2

These Desperate Scoundrels and Out Laws

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 straightforward telling of Longley’s short criminal career.

Some have written that in 1866, fifteen-year-old Longley jumped a train in order to go to Houston, where he could get his hands on a pistol. This seems a little contrived, given the ready availability of firearms. However, as the story goes, in the teeming streets of Houston, he saw firsthand how “the newly-freed Negroes had taken over the new State Police and created clashes with the white man.”

Longley supposedly took up with another young white man, and having nowhere to stay, they decided to bed down in an alley. According to the story, they were confronted by a blue-uniformed black policeman swinging a lead ball on a leather thong, commonly called a mace. The officer demanded to know what they were doing and, instead of searching them, ordered them to undress. Longley’s companion suddenly pulled a knife from under his shirt and stabbed the officer to death. Longley grabbed the officer’s Texas-manufactured “Dance” revolver and the two boys fled. Longley immediately returned to Evergreen, the proud possessor of his first firearm, or at least so the story goes.1 Unfortunately, there is no documented basis for this story and it seems a little far-fetched.

 

Chapter 3. Murdering, Robbing, and Ravishing

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Chapter 3

Murdering, Robbing, and Ravishing

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 of terrorists led by the notorious Cullen Baker. When Longley asked where he might find accommodations that night for himself and his horse, Johnson invited him to his father’s farm.1

Cullen Montgomery Baker was known as the “Swamp Fox of the Sulphur,” leading a band of cutthroats all over northeastern Texas, western Arkansas, and northwestern Louisiana. Repeated raids on blacks, on white supporters of the Union, and on Union troops themselves, dealing death and terror, led Union army troops in the area to focus on his gang, in addition to other marauding groups. Allegedly, Baker’s family had been molested in some fashion by blacks, leading Baker to desert the Confederate army in order to seek revenge. Recruiting a band of desperate men, Baker achieved considerable statewide notoriety for his gang’s bloody deeds, leading to the continuing manhunt for him.2

 

Chapter 4. I Kept on Pumping Lead

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Chapter 4

I Kept on Pumping Lead

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 came from Bee County in southwest Texas, hired Longley to go along on the drive, offering him pay of a dollar a day. Rector also furnished Longley with an extra horse so that the horse Longley was riding could be turned out with the other extra horses on the drive in order to rest and gain a few pounds. Longley said that he picked out a horse and joined the trail drive as it headed into the Indian Territory.

Fuller quoted a letter from Longley that described his days with the trail drive as tedious, “following a big herd of cattle, seeing that none drop out by the wayside or are stolen and in the days of which I speak Indian thieves as well as white thieves lined the great cattle trails, ready to steal or stampede the cattle and kill the men in charge of them if necessary.”1 Longley said he was assigned to drive the chuck wagon and help the cook in preparing grub for the cowboys. On occasion, he and the mule-driven wagon would get ahead of the herd and have to wait for it to overtake him. As Fuller quoted him, he recalled one stampede:

 

Chapter 5. We Set Out in Fine Spirit

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Chapter 5

We Set Out in Fine Spirit

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 readied to leave immediately.2

The record backs up Longley’s account at this point. Judge W. L. Kuykendall, late in 1869, had pondered the feasibility of organizing a semi-military group of prospectors to venture into the country above the North Platte River to displace the Sioux Indians there and look for gold. Discussing the idea with others, Kuykendall placed an advertisement in the Cheyenne newspaper for a meeting at McDaniel’s Theater. Elected president of the Black Hills and Big Horn Association at the meeting by eager prospectors, Kuykendall began recruiting an expedition, and ultimately, according to him, two thousand men volunteered, each agreeing to bring with him a “repeating gun,” one thousand rounds of ammunition, and rations for six months.3 According to the Territorial Census for 1870, William Kuykendall was a thirty-two-year-old farmer from Missouri, who lived with his wife and three children in the household of lawyer James Whitehead in Cheyenne.4

 

Chapter 6. A Man of Low Instinct and Habits

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Chapter 6

A Man of Low Instinct and Habits

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 image.

When Longley was captured in 1877, according to the account given by Fuller, he claimed that after the Kuykendall expedition broke up, he was broke and stranded, so he applied to the army quartermaster for a job as a teamster. He said that his job was to drive a sixmule team between Camp Brown and Fort Bridger hauling supplies and equipment. Because of the Indian threat, he said that there were usually four or five wagons in each caravan, guarded by a detachment of cavalrymen. Longley alleged that on September 15 (probably 1870, although no year is given), a caravan was attacked by some 130 Indians between South Pass City and the Green River on a creek that he called the Dry Sandy, which lies to the southeast of South Pass. Longley said that after much shooting and yelling and the loss of one of their men, the Indians were driven off. As will be seen, Longley could not possibly have been present at that fight, if it occurred, even as a soldier.

 

Chapter 7. The Worst Indian

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Chapter 7

The Worst Indian

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 by Fuller’s poetic flourishes.

To begin with, Longley claimed that after his feet recovered from his experience in the snowstorm, he went to Camp Brown. There, according to him, he was hired by the army quartermaster, a man named “Captain Gregory,”1 and placed in charge of the animal corral. As Longley told it:

I had been there about one month when I discovered that the quartermaster was tricky, and as he had great confidence in me he told me we could make a lot of money if we could handle the business as he directed. We had several hundred mules inside the corral. He was getting one hundred and fifty dollars per month, and I was getting seventy-five. He would issue full rations of corn for the mules, and then instruct me to see that the mules were fed only half rations. Corn was two dollars and a half a bushel and we sold what we thus stole from the government to the miners, who did their trading at Camp Brown. We kept up that and several other ways of swindling the government and at the same time were being well paid by the government for our services.

 

Chapter 8. Who in the Hell Are You?

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Chapter 8

Who in the Hell Are You?

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.”1 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 without intending much in the way of adventure.

Longley said that he ultimately arrived in Morris County in the east central part of Kansas, stopping at the village of Parkersville (now Parkerville) “to take stock and form his plans for the future.”2 Parkersville, some ten miles northwest of the county seat, Council Grove, was on a branch line of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway that ran from Junction City, north of there, to Parsons in the far southeastern part of the state.3 The main street of the town paralleled the railroad line, and it was likely that Longley arrived there by train.

 

Chapter 9. Desperate-Looking Character

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Chapter 9

Desperate-Looking Character

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 county sheriff in October 1869 under the military government of Reconstruction, then elected in his own right in November 1872.3

Longley said that Finney suspected his true identity because of descriptions that the lawman had received, but the two talked, drank, and gambled for four or five days. Longley claimed that he was suspicious of the sheriff. By mere chance, according to Longley, when Finney was ready to spring his trap, Longley happened to ride up to Fredericksburg in Gillespie County. He had not been there but a few hours when Finney and another man arrived in town, talked with Longley, and invited him to a saloon to take a drink. In the saloon, Longley said, he carefully avoided getting between the two men and kept the bar counter between them, frustrating their intent to surprise and overwhelm him. He said that he accepted their invitation to meet there again later that night to play cards, but that he instead mounted up and rode southwest some twenty miles to Kerrville in Kerr County.4

 

Chapter 10. Shot Him Dead

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Chapter 10

Shot Him Dead

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 again briefly in Bell County, then riding on to old Fort Ewell on the Nueces River in LaSalle County, at the junction of the San Antonio and Laredo roads. The fort had been established in 1852, but abandoned in October 1854 when army troops there were transferred to Fort McIntosh on the Rio Grande above Laredo.1 Fort Ewell and Dog Town, forty miles northeast on the Frio River, became two principal stage stands between San Antonio and the Rio Grande. Fort Ewell was not much of a town, being principally occupied by Mexicans and a storekeeper known as Peg Leg Stuart.2

 

Chapter 11. Bill Was Still Fighting

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Chapter 11

Bill Was Still Fighting

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 Burleson County.

Jim later recalled2 that they initially steered clear of settlements where they might be recognized. Camping out in the open each night, Jim hunted and killed swamp rabbits to eat with the bacon and bread they had brought with them. They approached the Brazos River, heading toward Bryan, and encountered a black man with three yokes of steers that he was taking to Caldwell. The two outlaws, apparently feeling their oats, made the man “dance,” riding on after rewarding him with a half-quart of whiskey. One can only suspect what happened to the other half-quart.

 

Chapter 12. I Will Not Be Captured

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Chapter 12

I Will Not Be Captured

Bill Longley’s whereabouts after he left Bell County are unknown, but the best evidence indicates that he returned to his old haunts in what was now Lee County, around Evergreen. Not aware that his brother was in custody and hearing numerous rumors in the neighborhood about his own well-being, Longley wrote a remarkable letter to Jim Brown, likely in September or October of 1875, although it could have been later:

Devils Pass

Hell’s Half Acre

Septober the 41st 7777

Kind friend. This lieves me stil floating through the gentle breeses of misrie and feel just as happy as a big sun flour that boes and bends in the breeses. Well Jim I understand that I have threaten your life and if I done it it must have bin when I was a-sleeping. For I know nothing about it myself. I killed the only one in that country that I had any thing against at that time. now Jim Brow[n] if I ever kill any man in that country it will be eather for killing some of my kinfolks or els it wil be in resisting being captured for if the court knowes its self I will not be captured in that country alive tho I wil come there just when I pleas. I wrode by your house the first Monday night in August 1875. I stoped near the old yard fence and stood for an hour and my mind run back over my whole life and I thought of my childhood and the hapy hours that I had passed in the old cabin home.

 

Chapter 13. The Last of “Pea Time”

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Chapter 13

The Last of “Pea Time”

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 H. C. Jones acting as sureties.1

Still on the move, Bill said that he left Uvalde County about January 20, 1876, ten days after Shroyer was killed. Riding with three unidentified men, he rode east. Approaching Castroville, in Medina County west of San Antonio, the three men revealed that one of them had a brother in the jail there for killing a Mexican. Concluding that Longley was “a pretty solid sort of fellow, one who would do to tie to,” they asked him if he would help them get him out. Longley said that they offered him $250 and that he reluctantly agreed, provided that he was in charge of the operation.

 

Chapter 14. Plenty of Ammunition

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Chapter 14

Plenty of Ammunition

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 slept on his saddle blanket. The next morning he took a ferry across the river and said that the ferryman told him of several parties who had crossed the night before into the Indian Territory looking for a man who had killed a preacher. Longley said that the ferryman looked at him with suspicion as Longley asked him questions, but Longley said that he learned that most members of the posse believed that the fugitive was still in Texas and that they planned to set up on roads leading into the Indian Territory and waylay Longley when he headed north.

 

Chapter 15. We Want Him

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Chapter 15

We Want Him

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. From March 10 to March 20, a detachment of Texas Rangers from Company C, responding to some source of information, was sent into the county to look for them.1 The Rangers returned empty-handed. No doubt concerned that the authorities would get wind of his whereabouts in his old haunts, Longley said that he went to East Texas, and he ultimately made his way into Nacogdoches County, across the Angelina River. An educated guess would place this trip in the spring of 1877.

For whatever reason, Longley decided that he would detour around the town of Nacogdoches, rather than ride through it. Fuller, who himself was a resident of Nacogdoches, and speaking again in third person, said that the outlaw had “heard something” about Nacogdoches Sheriff Milt Mast and his deputy, Bill Burrows, and did not want to get into “fresh trouble.”2 About four or five miles west of the town, Longley stopped at the farm of George Washington Clevenger, Jr., a twenty-six-year-old who lived with his wife, Missouri Caroline, and two daughters, Ida and Nora.3 Clevenger had a brother who may have been living with him at the time, Joseph Phlemester Clevenger, who was shy of his twentieth birthday, and whom Fuller described as a “good-sized boy.”4

 

Chapter 16. The Most Successful Outlaw

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Chapter 16

The Most Successful Outlaw

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. According to Brown, Longley wrote his father that he only wanted a lawyer to postpone his case for six months, and that if he could not escape in that time, he deserved to be hanged.1

Longley’s murder trial was initially set for August 24, 1877, and Samuel R. Kenada was his attorney, perhaps appointed by the court because this was a capital case that could result in the death penalty upon conviction, although Longley later claimed that he was hired for fifty dollars. Kenada, born in Alabama around 1839, came to Texas and settled in the Evergreen community where he was both a merchant and a farmer.2 He and his family moved to Burton, about halfway between Giddings and Brenham, where he studied for the law. In March 1876, he underwent a thorough examination in the law by prominent attorneys Seth Shepard, C. R. Breedlove, Dan McIntyre, and J. T. Swearingen, and was admitted to the practice of law.3 Kenada advertised that he could represent clients in district, county, and justice courts, and that he gave “prompt attention to the collection of claims.”4 However, Longley could not have taken much assurance from the fact that he had an inexperienced lawyer who was likely handling his first capital murder case.

 

Chapter 17. I Have Killed A Many Man

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Chapter 17

I Have Killed A Many Man

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 initially ordered Longley sent to Galveston, but crossed it out in favor of Austin.

Apparently there was no room for Longley in Austin where John Wesley Hardin was currently being detained. Brown sent a telegram that evening to Sheriff Christian Jordan in Galveston: “I want to imprison Bill Longley with you. Answer instanter. Can you take him?”2 Jordan promptly responded that the county commissioners of Galveston County had prohibited him from receiving prisoners from other counties until the county jail could “be placed in a more secure condition.” On the 13th, Brown again telegraphed him: “By request of many citizens I telegraph you again to take Wm. Longley for safekeeping. He is convicted of murder and is threatened by mob.”3

 

Chapter 18. Same Old Rattling Bill

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Chapter 18

Same Old Rattling Bill

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 as saying and wrote during this period gives insight into Longley’s mindset as he sought to both justify himself and rationalize his self-created reputation, at the same time beginning to reconcile himself to his pending fate. But throughout his writings can be detected a continuing glimmer of hope that he might yet avoid the hangman.

In one interview with a Chicago reporter, Longley boasted of yet another killing that he had not previously mentioned. This involved an alleged duel with a man named Grady in Mexico, supposedly in revenge for the killing of a friend of Longley in Texas. Longley also claimed that he was at this time invited, but declined, to participate with Mexican bandits on a raid into Texas.2 As with his other claims, this one also appears to be another idle boast. Although it is possible, there was never any evidence that Longley went to Mexico.

 

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