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Texas | Features | Cemeteries

Bill Longley
Does Not Get Along Well With Others

A Visit to the Giddings City Cemetery

Giddings, Texas

by John Troesser

Book Hotel Here › Giddings Hotels
After our accidental discovery of the gravesite of Dallas Stoudenmire in Colorado County, we were reminded that Bill Longley was buried in (relatively) nearby Giddings (Lee County). Pay no attention to your spell checker when it suggests Giddiness. We remembered reading that Bill was from a good family but took a liking to demon rum (actually it was Brandy). We also remembered that he went out in a cheerful manner, even though he had to ride to the gallows on the same wagon as his coffin.

The Giddings Cemetery is just west of the town on Hwy 290 - the cemetery has unpaved entrances on Highway 290 and if you decide to visit, it is safer to enter from the street that borders the cemetery on the east.

Bill Longley's name isn't as familiar as other "wild-west" gunmen because his motivation for killing was not personal gain, but instructing others on how to properly show respect. It may also be because most of the 32 or 33 men he is reported to have killed were Black Union soldiers and the shootings were done during reconstruction, which was not the happiest time in Texas history. Striking back against the "occupying forces" in any way was heroic to many.
bill Longley's grave plaque
Historical Marker Text:

William Preston (Bill) Longley
(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 bounds.

Longley's Grave with new plaque and the original petrified wood marker
TE photo, 2000
It was a cold December day back in the year 2000, when we entered the cemetery and went searching for Longley's grave. We nearly gave up looking for it, when the Rodriquez family of Giddings appeared and pointed it out to us. Mr. Rodriquez, who works for a local funeral home and disposes of the extra dirt from burials remembered the grave because of the huge fuss that was made not that long ago when the experts came in with all their surveying, digging, and camera equipment. We're sure that's a story in itself. We were later told that it was the Smithsonian Institution that was doing the locating and exhumation and that when the skeleton was finally found, the bones were taken away.

The reason the grave was lost is that sometime in the 1970s the cemetery people widened a road and since Longley's grave was outside the cemetery proper, it was the only one in the way of the widening. What may have happened was that the petrified wood marker was moved, but not the bones. While the petrified wood is now only about 8 inches tall, a photo in the Giddings library shows that in the 70s, the marker was about 20 to 24 inches tall. It appears as though souvenir hunters have been at work.
Evergreen Texas tree
The Big Tree in Evergreen today
TE photo, January, 2001
We needn't go into all of Bill Longley's wild and short life. Suffice it to say that William was a dangerous man in dangerous times. We're sure that after all the forensic tests are completed, it will be officially announced that Bill was bad to the bone.
If you're interested in Wild Bill's story, we were told by a chamber of commerce representative that you can pick up Bill's Biography "at any bank in town." A short and very readable account of the Life and Hangings of Bill Longley is contained in Richard Zelade's Hill Country (Gulf Publishing, 1999).

Longley is listed in the index and also under the heading of Evergreen. Evergreen was Longley's home and just seven miles from both Lexington and Giddings.

William Longley escaped death by hanging twice, although Robert Ripley reported in 1931 that it was three times. Rumors persist to this day that the hanging was performed with an ingenious rigging harness. You can believe Ripley - Or not.

The first time Bill was hanged it was as half of a pair of horse or cattle thieves. Bill was travelling with a horse and/or cattle thief and it was clearly a case of guilt by association. According to most stories, the two men were strung up and several shots were fired in the general direction of the two as the lynch party rode off. One bullet hit Bill in the face and broke a tooth, while another frayed the taut rope. Bill's gyrating bulk and the weakened rope caused a break and William was spared.

We find it strange behavior to ride off after going to all the trouble to lynch someone. There weren't a lot of diversions back then and you have to assume that hanging a man wasn't an everyday occurrence, even in Lee County. Just the novelty of the event would dictate that at least some of the posse would stick around longer than a person could hold their breath. But anyway, that was the story we heard.

Bill's second encounter with a rope was in Giddings. After his capture over in East Texas he was sent back to the Lee County seat. The jurors of Lee County deliberated for only 11/2 hours before they sentenced William to death by hanging. While appeals were being made, Longley was transferred to Galveston where the authorities felt he would be safer from a mob of Longley's victim's survivors. When he kept his appointment with the hangman, he gave a memorable warning to youth from the gallows and apologized for being such a disagreeable neighbor. He sent letters of apology to many Texas newspapers and one account even has him kissing the sheriff (men were hanged for this in other parts of Texas).

On the day of Bill's not-so-excellent adventure, he was escorted to the gallows by 50 Infantry Troops and an additional 150 guards who were local citizens who just wanted to help out in some way. He insisted that the wobbly stairs be tightened before ascending to the top. He made some lighthearted remark about not wanting to break his neck.

The novice hangman cut Longley some slack (literally) and he landed feet first beneath the gallows. This extended his life for the few minutes it took to correct the embarrassing situation. Bill's third hanging went off without a hitch (but with a sheepshank).

According to one account, the sheriff and some of the guards lifted Bill's feet off the ground so that the rope could strangle him.

Bill had always been close to the Lee County soil. Now he was under it. Due to a long standing tradition concerning consecrated ground and murderers, Mr. Longley was placed outside the boundries of the cemetery. Ironically, the cemetery has expanded with time so that his grave came to be well inside the boundaries. We were told in the excellent and entertaining, Myra Hargrave McIllvain's Six Central Texas Auto Tours, Eakins Press, 1980, that the judge who sentenced him to hang lies not far away, although since they moved Bill's marker, that no longer applies.

See Giddings, Texas

John Troesser
January, 2001

Bill Longley,
and the Giddings Cemetery

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