the 1960s, more than forty "western" series dominated prime-time television
network series. One, "The Texan," starring Rory Calhoun in the title
role. His character was named Bill Longley, and he was a character
indeed. Calhoun played him as one the dodge for the law who spent
a weekly half hour rescuing someone or righting some wrong. Old
Bill would not have recognized himself.
The real Bill
Longley was born in Austin
County, Texas, on a family farm in 1851. The family later moved
to Washington County.
The Civil War began before Longley
was old enough to participate but he caught the spirit of the times
nonetheless, and his first scrape with the law involved brutalizing
freedmen and women.
claimed at his most notorious stage to have killed thirty-two men,
the first in 1868 when he could have been no more than seventeen years
of age. At that stage, his victims consisted mostly of freed slaves,
former soldiers, and unfortunates who crossed his path at the wrong
prospected for gold in Wyoming
and joined the U.S. Cavalry, deserted, and spent six months in the
guardhouse before being released to complete his enlistment, at least
until he deserted again, this time successfully.
For several years Longley
lived in Kansas, Texas, and even Louisiana,
and his frequent moves left more corpses behind. Occasionally arrested,
he escaped one sentence in Delta County, Texas, by burning down the
was captured for the last time in Desoto Parish, Louisiana, by Nacogdoches
County Sheriff Milton Mast, who brought the prisoner to his jail while
preparing to transport him to Giddings
to stand trial for a murder committed there. This time Longley
did not escape.
Marker in Giddings
(October 6, 1851 - October 11, 1878)
Texas outlaw Bill Longley was from a respectable family, but his hot
temper, his fondness for liquor, and unsettled conditions during Reconstruction
led him to become one of the most daring gunslingers of his day. He
was said to have killed 32 persons before his capture in 1877. Tried
for a Lee County murder, he was hanged in Giddings
in 1878. Before Longley died, he repented and urged others to avoid
his example. His grave was once outside the cemetery
Longley's Grave in Giddings Cemetery
TE photo, 2000
the trial in Giddings,
was hanged on October 11, 1887, just five days past his twenty-seventh
birthday. Or was he? As with other "legends" of the Old West, rumors
emerged that the hanging had been faked and that Longley
lived for years under assumed names in Louisiana. If so, he himself
had reduced his status at the trial by admitting that he had killed
only eight men, not thirty-two.
One thing is sure. He killed none in the Nacogdoches County jail.
P. McDonald, PhD
5 , 2004 column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
(This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical
Association. Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and
author of more than 20 books on Texas )
by Archie P. McDonald