Preston Longley went by several names during his
27 years as one of the most vicious murderers of the
West. Aliases included Wild Bill, Rattling Bill, Tom Jones, Jim Paeeson,
Jim Webb, Bill Black, Bill Henry, and Bill Jackson. Longley was a ruthless murderer,
killing his first man at the age of sixteen. Growing up with
strongly held racist views, he was adamantly opposed to the government’s
Reconstruction policy, a view that would lead to enough trouble that he
would eventually be hanged.
William Longley was born at Mill
Texas to Campbell and Sarah
Longley on October 6, 1851. When Longley was still very young the
family moved to the small town of Evergreen,
where he went to school and worked on the family farm. Longley learned how to use a gun
before he was a teenager and would soon prove to be one of the fastest
draws in Texas
with his deadly accurate aim and participation in numerous gunfights.
William Preston "Wild Bill" Longley
Texas Governor E.J. Davis, created a state police force that was
made up of mostly freed slaves. This incensed many of the
Confederate Southerners who were still bitter over the war. One
day in December, 1866, while Bill and his father, Campbell, were in
Evergreen, a black policeman who had been drinking came riding down the
street waving his gun and cursing some of the local towns’ people.
When the police officer began
to insult his father, Bill stepped forward and told
the man to lower his gun. Not knowing Bill's
accuracy, the lawman brought his own gun up, pointing it at young Bill
who shot the man dead. Soon Longley took up with other
young men and began to terrorize newly freed slaves, killing two more
black men in Lexington,
On December 20, 1868, Longley, Johnson McKeown, and
James Gilmore intercepted three ex-slaves from Bell County, killing a
man named Green Evans. During the next two years, he and his
brother-in-law, John W. Wilson, were terrorizing black families of
By this time, Longley had earned a
reputation as a fast-draw and was often sought out by those wanting to
establish themselves as feared gunmen. However, these
challengers invariably lost when calling Longley
into the street. Longley himself picked many a
fight with anyone he suspected of being a Yankee sympathizer or a
carpet bagger. Standing six feet tall, he was also known to whip
any black man who crossed his path.
It was during this time that Longley was supposedly
involved with an outlaw gang led by Cullen M. Baker in
Arkansas. Although, by some accounts, he was only traveling with a member of the
gang and was accused by association.
Soon, he and his
traveling companion were captured by a group of vigilantes and lynched
as a horse thieves. However, as the mob rode off, one man turned
and aimed several shots at the pair. One bullet hit Longley
in the face and broke a tooth, while another frayed the rope from
which he was hanging. The rope weakened with the weight of Longley's body and broke saving his life.
In February, 1870, Longley and his brother-in-law,
John W. Wilson, killed a black man named Brice in Bastrop County. They were also accused of killing a black woman. In March, the
military authorities offered a $1,000 reward for the pair. His
brother-in-law Wilson died soon after and Longley traveled north.
Later, Longley claimed to have worked as
a trail driver in Abilene,
Kansas where he killed his trail boss, a man
named Rector, after a disagreement. He also professed to having killed a
horse thief named McClelland. He then fled to
Kansas where he killed a soldier for insulting
the virtue of
Texas women. This time he was arrested and convicted of murder.
Though he was tried and sentenced to 30 years, he managed to escape.