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Chapter 20. Not Upon His Doomed Neck

Rick Miller University of North Texas Press ePub

Chapter 20

Not Upon His Doomed Neck

Bill Longley quickly passed from the pages of Texas newspapers, and his notoriety with him. Other gunmen, such as Hardin and Ben Thompson, stepped to the forefront of the public spotlight, their sort continuing to fascinate those who found glamour and excitement in the larger-than-life exploits of an outlaw, as opposed to the humdrum routine of school, farming, or other similar everyday callings. As with Longley, the notorious Jesse James also capitalized on the press to insure a place in history, although James took great pains to deny his nefarious deeds.

Only eight months after the hanging, however, stories were already being passed around in Dallas that the execution had been a hoax, thus commencing decades of confusion and speculation about the ultimate fate of Bill Longley. “Rich relatives supplied him with a steel corset and neck piece, which prevented the rope from choking him or pulling on his neck at all when the drop fell.” Friends were supposed to have pretended to bury the body, smuggling Longley away and “setting him up in business in California, where he now lives a pious and model young man.”1 Although the story was briefly published in 1879, it did not garner a public response from those who knew better, apparently because it seemed so absurd on its face.

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Chapter 19. Hanging is My Favorite Way of Dying

Rick Miller University of North Texas Press ePub

Chapter 19

Hanging is My Favorite Way of Dying

As Bill Longley faced his transfer to Giddings and coming one step closer to the gallows, his father was apparently not faring very well. Bell County Judge Erastus Walker submitted a petition to the state government on behalf of Campbell Longley requesting a petition for financial assistance stemming from his service in the Texas army in 1836. Walker described the sixty-two-year-old Campbell as “too old to labour for a support, that he has several in family to provide for and has no one to assist him to make a support for himself and family—that his health is not good—that he is poor and needy, in fact in indigent circumstances and that he was in said condition on the 1st of July, 1876.”1 In May, 1874, Campbell had filed a pension claim, which was approved for $250.2

Whether or not Bill Longley was aware of this is unknown. His uncle Alexander Preston Longley, known as “Pres,” sent a letter in August on behalf of his condemned nephew to President Rutherford Hayes, blaming “politics” and asking for a presidential pardon.3 “W. P. Longley is very young, and, I think, has a good heart, and might, in case you reprieve him, under other skies do some thing to make amends for any misdeeds he has done.”4 Campbell Longley’s brother, Pres Longley, had long ago migrated with another brother, William Tennessee Longley, to Butte Creek Canyon in California in search of gold, but was largely unsuccessful and certainly never wealthy as would later be rumored. In addition to being noted for a fondness for drink and festive occasions, he gained local prominence in Butte County as a poet and, it was claimed, personally met President Hayes in Chico, California, in 1881.5 The letter was forwarded to the Department of Justice, which sent it on to the United States attorney in Houston. That official being out of town, his wife forwarded it to Texas Governor Hubbard. No record exists of any response to this plea.6

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Chapter 17. I Have Killed A Many Man

Rick Miller University of North Texas Press ePub

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

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Chapter 18. Same Old Rattling Bill

Rick Miller University of North Texas Press ePub

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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Chapter 16. The Most Successful Outlaw

Rick Miller University of North Texas Press ePub

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.

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