Before long, Longley joined a gold-mining
expedition in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming
Territory, 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 the Shoshone
which is questionable, and then returned to
Parkerville, Kansas, where he professed to have killed a Charlie Stuart, of
whom there is no record.
He returned to
and Bell County, where his parents had moved, and worked as a cowboy
in Comanche County. During this time he allegedly killed a black
man and engaged in a gunfight at the Santa Anna Mountains in Coleman
In July 1873 Longley
was arrested in Kerr County by Mason County Sheriff J. J. Finney and
was taken to Austin so that Finney could collect the reward. After
several days, when the reward money had not been paid to Finney, he
released Longley. According to legend, Finney was paid off by a
In late 1874 Longley
and his brother James Stockton Longley
rode from Bell County to the Lee County home of their uncle, Caleb
who implored Longley
to kill Wilson Anderson for allegedly killing his son. On March 31,
1875, Longley shot gunned Anderson to death while Anderson was plowing a
field, and the two brothers fled north to Indian Territory. In July,
JamesLongley returned to Bell County and turned himself in. James
was later acquitted of any part in Anderson's murder; however,
Longley remained a wanted man.
In November 1875
killed George Thomas in McLennan County, then rode south to Uvalde
County, where, in January 1876, he killed William (Lou) Shroyer in a
stand up gunfight.
February 1876 found
sharecropping for the Reverend William R. Lay in Delta County, Texas.
A dispute with a local man over a girl led to
Longley's arrest; however, the jail couldn’t hold
Soon, he started a fire and burning himself out, he escaped. For
unknown reasons he was angry with the Reverend Lay and on June 13,
1876, he shot and killed him while he was milking a cow.
then headed to Louisiana to hide until things cooled off in Texas.
However, the long arm of the law reached out and he was captured in
DeSoto Parish, Louisiana, by Nacogdoches County Sheriff Milton Mast.
was returned to Lee County to stand trial for the murder of Wilson
promptly began writing letters to the newspapers telling them of his life
adventures and claiming to have killed 32 men. He also wrote the governor,
asking for clemency. He stated in his letter that
John Wesley Hardin, the most infamous gunman
produced, received only twenty-five years in prison for his forty
killings. Why then,
wanted to know, was he being sent to the hangman? The governor did
September 5, 1877, the jurors of Lee County deliberated only 1 ½ hours
before they sentenced William to death by hanging.
While appeals were being made,
was transferred to Galveston,
where the authorities felt he would be safer from a mob of
victim's survivors. In March, 1878, the Court Of Appeals affirmed
his conviction and soon
was returned to Giddings, Texas to be
After having been baptized into the Catholic Church on October 11, 1878,
before a crowd of thousands in Giddings, Texas,
was led to the hangman’s noose by Lee County Sheriff James Madison Brown.
Having a sense of humor,
told them to repair a board before they went up the steps, stating that he
would hate to trip and break his neck.
Before the crowd of some 4,000 people
Longley claimed that he had only killed eight men. Before Brown
sent him downward to his death, Longley
held up his hand, saying: "I deserved this fate. It is a debt
I have owed for a wild and reckless life. So long, everybody!”
Then he nodded to the executioner and was sent downward through the trap
to his death.
However, as fate would
have it, a novice hangman cut Longley too much slack and he landed feet
first beneath the gallows, extending his life for the few minutes it took
to correct the embarrassing situation. Immediately the sheriff and
several of the guards rushed downwards and held Bill's feet off the ground
so the rope could strangle him.
The Galveston Daily
News on October 12, 1878 described the hanging:
black cap was drawn, the rope adjusted, the words "All ready" given and at
2:37 the drop fell. The body fell eight feet, as was intended. The rope
slipped on the beam, and the body continued until the feet touched the
earth, when Sheriff Brown and an aid caught and raised it up and
refastened it, leaving the body properly suspended. Two moans escaped the
lips, the arms and feet were raised three times, and after hanging eleven
and one half minutes life was pronounced extinct.
Longley's life is best summarized by the historical marker that
identifies his grave.
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 is said to have killed 32 persons before
his capture in 1877. Before
died, he repented and urged others to avoid his example. His grave was
once outside the cemetery bounds.
is buried in the Giddings Cemetery west of Giddings,
the south side of U.S 290.
of America, updated November, 2015.