Longley, William Preston (1851–1878)

By: Rick Miller

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: September 7, 2017

William Preston (Bill) Longley, outlaw, son of Campbell and Sarah Longley, was born in Austin County, Texas, on October 6, 1851. By April 1853 his family had moved to Evergreen, in what was then Washington County, where Longley went to school and worked on the family farm. Tales of Longley's criminal career are a mixture of actual facts and his boasts, but it is known that at the end of the Civil War a rebellious Longley took up with other young men and terrorized newly-freed slaves. On December 20, 1868, Longley, Johnson McKeown, and James Gilmore intercepted three ex-slaves from Bell County; this incident resulted in the death of Green Evans. Longley would later claim that after this he worked as a cowboy in Karnes County, and then killed a soldier as he rode through Yorktown, but there is no corroboration for these stories. He also claimed that he rode with bandit Cullen M. Baker in northeast Texas, but this is unlikely. In 1869–70, he and his brother-in-law, John W. Wilson, were terrorizing residents of south central Texas, and it was alleged that in February 1870, in Bastrop County, they killed a black man named Brice. In March the military authorities offered a $1,000 reward for them. They were also accused of killing a black woman. After Wilson's death in Brazos County, Longley traveled north, later claiming that he killed a traildriver named Rector, fought Indians, killed a horse thief named McClelland, and killed a soldier at Leavenworth, Kansas, for insulting the virtue of Texas women. None of these claims have been corroborated. At Cheyenne, Wyoming Territory, Longley joined a gold-mining expedition into the Wind River Mountains, but was stranded when the United States Army stopped the group. In June 1870 he enlisted in the United States cavalry and promptly deserted. He was captured, court-martialed, and sentenced to two years' confinement at Camp Stambaugh, Wyoming Territory. After about six months he was released back to his unit, where he remained until he again deserted on June 8, 1872. Longley claimed that he lived and rode with Chief Washakie and his Shoshone Indians, which is questionable, and then returned to Texas via Parkerville, Kansas, where he claimed he killed a Charlie Stuart, of whom there is no record. He returned to Texas and Bell County, where his parents had moved, and claimed that he worked as a cowboy in Comanche County and what was then Brown County, allegedly killing a black man and engaging in a gunfight at the Santa Anna Mountains in Coleman County.

In July 1873 Longley was arrested by Mason county sheriff J. J. Finney in Kerr County and taken to Austin so that Finney could be paid a reward. When the reward was not paid, Finney was supposedly paid off by a Longley relative and Longley was released. In late 1874 Longley and his brother James Stockton Longley rode from Bell County to the Lee County home of their uncle, Caleb Longley, who implored Longley to kill a Wilson Anderson for allegedly killing his son. On March 31, 1875, Longley shotgunned Anderson to death while Anderson was plowing a field, and the two brothers fled north to the Indian Territory. They returned to Bell County in July, where James turned himself in; James was later acquitted of any part in Anderson's murder. In November 1875 Longley killed George Thomas in McLennan County, then rode south to Uvalde County, where, in January 1876, he killed William (Lou) Shroyer in a running gunfight. By February 1876 Longley was in Delta County, Texas, sharecropping for the Reverend William R. Lay. A dispute with a local man over a girl led to Longley's arrest. He burned himself out of the Delta County jail and, on June 13, 1876, killed the Reverend Lay while Lay was milking a cow. On June 6, 1877, Longley was captured in DeSoto Parish, Louisiana, by Nacogdoches county sheriff Milton Mast; Longley was returned to Lee County to stand trial for the murder of Wilson Anderson. Longley promptly began writing letters to a local newspaper about his "adventures," claiming that he had killed thirty-two men. On September 5, 1877, he was found guilty of murder and sentenced to hang. He was held in the Galveston County jail until the Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction in March 1878. Longley was baptized into the Catholic Church. On October 11, 1878, before a crowd of thousands in Giddings, Texas, Longley was executed by Lee county sheriff James Madison Brown. Just before his execution, Longley claimed that he had only killed eight men. Rumors persisted that Longley's hanging had been a hoax and that he had gone to South America, and a claim was made in 1988 that he had later reappeared and died in Louisiana. Between 1992 and 1994 an effort was made to find his body in the Giddings Cemetery, but to no avail. There is also some evidence that his body may have been returned to Bell County after his execution.

Ed Ellsworth Bartholomew, Wild Bill Longley: A Texas Hard-Case (Houston: Frontier Press of Texas, 1953). Frontier Times, June 1926, June 1927. Henry Clay Fuller, The Adventures of Bill Longley (Nacogdoches, Texas: Baker, n.d.). Galveston Daily News, September 16, 1877. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Outlaws, Criminals, Prostitutes, Gamblers, and Rebels
Time Periods:
  • Reconstruction

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Rick Miller, “Longley, William Preston,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 26, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/longley-william-preston.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

September 7, 2017