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Bloody Bill Longley
The Mythology of a Gunfighter
By Rick Miller
University of North Texas Press Copyright © 2011 Rick Miller
All rights reserved.
A Good-Hearted Boy
The menacing clouds and threat of rain did not deter the hundreds of people flocking to the small Texas town of Giddings to see Bill Longley die. The newly constructed wooden gallows waited silently some six hundred yards northwest of the railroad depot, where passengers alit by the score from incoming trains.
Although the execution was not scheduled until later in the afternoon of this dark, ominous October day, the main street of Giddings and the surrounding prairie teemed with the growing crowd from an early hour. They came by train, by carriage, by wagon and horseback, and on foot, black and white mingling single-mindedly as they awaited the carrying out of the court's order and the end of the self-proclaimed mankiller's odyssey. Stories circulated about a last-minute escape attempt and there were rumors that Longley had already survived one hanging.
Bill Longley had been confined now for not quite a year and a half, fighting this day as vigorously as he had willingly defied the conventions of his time. When captured, he had boasted of killing thirty-two men, even penning his memoirs in a Giddings newspaper and relishing the sensation he created throughout the state. He adopted for himself a deadly reputation rivaling that of the much vaunted and more publicized John Wesley Hardin. After all, Hardin, when captured, was said to have killed only twenty-seven. Longley had gone to great lengths to portray himself as one of Texas' deadliest gunmen.
But now time had run out for Bill Longley. There was no point to any further boasting. The mass of humanity pouring into tiny Giddings was there to witness his final chapter. The only important thing now was how Longley would make his exit. Would he face his maker with the same reckless spirit that brought him here? Would he keep his nerve and leave mortal Earth in a manner befitting the image of the bold and daring desperado that he sought to portray? Or would he, as some hoped, shrink from his fate in a manner more befitting a coward?
It had been barely a decade since Longley set out on the path that led him most certainly and surely to this day. That path had commenced just a few miles from here. The thousands of milling witnesses camped in Giddings that day exchanged stories and exploits of the doomed man, both true and exaggerated, as they awaited his final procession to the waiting gallows. But there were also folks from that community, from recently formed Lee County, who knew the truth about this man Longley and who could easily separate myth and legend from the truth. They knew Bill Longley well and had their own opinions about the difference between the truth and the legacy he wanted to leave behind. In their minds, justice for Bill Longley would come at the end of a rope.
Campbell Longley was descended from pioneers of the American Revolution. By early in the nineteenth century, his family was located in Tennessee. One of eight children, he was born on September 30, 1816, near the Little Pigeon River in the eastern portion of the state not far from Sevierville. When he was about twelve years old, the Longley family moved to Jackson's Purchase in McMinn County, Tennessee, where his father died a year later. Campbell was the oldest child and became his mother's mainstay in working the family farm.
In 1836 Sam Houston's ragtag army in far-off Texas was in full retreat from the advancing Mexican army led by Santa Anna. The effort by expatriated Americans to live under Mexican rule in this new frontier had not been successful, given their inherent suspicion of the intent and motives of the Mexican government, as well as the paranoid suspicion on the part of the Mexican government as to the ulterior motives and intent of these Yankees on Mexican soil. A clash had become increasingly inevitable, and a state of war had existed, such as it was, since the first shot fired in October 1835 near the small village of Gonzales. A Mexican victory would financially ruin the many impresarios and entrepreneurs who had invested their personal fortunes in bringing settlers to this new Texas land. And a Mexican victory indeed seemed imminent after Santa Anna overran Travis and his men at the Alamo near San Antonio on March 6, 1836. Despite the impatience of the leaders of the newly formed Texas government for some sign of hope, their designated army commander, Sam Houston, continued to fall back with his illprepared troops before the oncoming enemy without offering any resistance. There was an ominous feeling that defeat seemed imminent for the Texians once the two armies finally met.
News of the Texas army's poor prospects reached Tennessee, especially distressing one Joe Clay. Clay was an investor in the Robertson Colony, an association of investors initially formed by Sterling and Felix Robertson in Nashville in 1822 to settle colonists in Texas. The Mexican government had granted the association a permit to bring eight hundred families to an area in the Brazos River basin. Sterling Robertson had been attempting to solve some difficulties with Mexico when the Texas Revolution broke out. In order to protect his land investment, Clay was one of a number of entrepreneurs who rallied in response to Houston's call for help by organizing companies of volunteers to reinforce the Texians in the spring of 1836.
Captain Gustavus A. Parker of Georgia formed a unit of some one hundred men and officers from Georgia and Tennessee and was able to lay his hands on a small quantity of arms, ammunition, and horses. Clay greeted the unit when its members assembled in Nashville. The twenty-year-old Campbell Longley, having decided to leave his mother and family behind to seek fortune and adventure in far-flung Texas, was one of the eager new recruits. Clay arranged for temporary lodging for Parker's company and treated the new soldiers, along with other soldiers assembling in Nashville, to a large barbecue as a sendoff. The soldiers departed on a steamer to Louisiana, then on to Texas. As they left, Nashville citizens bolstered the supplies of the departing militiamen with flour, bacon, and coffee.
By the time Parker's unit reached the San Augustine settlement on the Angelina River, however, there was word that Houston and his Texas army were already squaring off against Santa Anna's army at San Jacinto far to the south. They wouldn't be able to get to the battle in time, so Parker was directed to take his company to Coleto in present-day Goliad County where James Fannin and his men had been brutally massacred in the March 27 Goliad Mission surrender. From Coleto, the company joined volunteers in gathering up and burying the bodies of the massacre victims. On April 21 Houston and his men surprised a sleeping Santa Anna and soundly defeated the Mexican force. Santa Anna was captured and, taken before Houston, acknowledged his defeat.
As the new Republic of Texas began to grope for organization, young Campbell Longley remained with Parker's company at Coleto after formally enlisting in the Texas army on June 12, 1836, for a three-month term. On September 12, his term of service completed, Longley was honorably discharged. However, because he owned only a tattered suit of clothes and pair of shoes, he was forced to assign his Texas army discharge to George Green for cash, thus giving up a claim of land under the new Texas republic. Captain Parker went on to settle in Fort Bend County and represent that county in the Texas legislature before his death in 1845.
Campbell intended to return to his family in Tennessee. He had no ties to Texas, the big adventure was over, and he had no reason to stay. But when he and other discharged soldiers set sail from Texas, a shipwreck left them stranded at Matagorda without any money. Unable to return to Tennessee, he went into Austin County, north of Fort Bend County and south of Washington County, where he decided to settle.
In Austin County, Campbell established himself as a farmer and became involved in local activities. At a camp meeting held in October 1837, the Texas Missionary Society was organized. Robert Alexander, a Methodist missionary, assembled subscribers, including Campbell, to pledge financial support for the new organization. Religion had been and always would be a strong factor in Campbell Longley's life. By 1838 Campbell was on the Austin County tax rolls with $150 in land. More importantly, on July 25, 1838, Campbell Longley married Pennsylvania native Sarah Ann Henry, seventeen years old. Young Miss Henry was an orphan brought to Texas from Cincinnati, Ohio, by Judge and Mrs. Goodnow. Their first child, Mary Catherine, was born on December 20, 1839, to be followed by a second daughter, Martha Jane, on Christmas Day of 1841.
Although the Mexicans were no longer a threat, various tribes of Indians, finding themselves being displaced by the new Texians, were. Regular reports circulated among Texians concerning bloody conflicts between Indian and settler, often involving atrocities committed by both sides. In August 1840, an especially large band of Comanches swooped south in a series of bloody raids. Near Lavaca Bay in what is now Calhoun County, the Indians laid waste the small village of Linnville, then retreated northward with hostages and loot. Alarmed Texians organized a volunteer army under General Felix Huston, Colonel Edward Burleson, Captain Mathew Caldwell, and others, and the army joined with Ben McCulloch's Texas Rangers in pursuit. On August 11, near the present town of Lockhart in Caldwell County, the Texians overtook the fleeing Indians and soundly defeated them in a running battle at Plum Creek. Campbell Longley, his farming routine interrupted, was a part of this expedition, as was noted Indian fighter Big Foot Wallace.
In 1842 Mexico was still smarting from its defeat at the hands of the Texians six years earlier. Sensing that the defense of Texas was now in the hands of a poorly organized and poorly equipped militia, an invasion into the new republic was mounted by General Rafael Vasquez. By March 5, San Antonio had fallen to Vasquez, and once again volunteers flocked to form an army to repel the invader. Campbell Longley was part of an armed contingent marching from Austin County. However, Vasquez subsequently withdrew to Mexico without any attack or pursuit by the Texians. Again, Campbell assigned away his claim for any compensation by the Republic.
Back in Austin County, Sarah Longley gave birth to Frances Caroline on February 15, 1844, followed in 1846, a year after Texas was admitted to the Union as a state, by the Longleys' first son, Alexander. George Washington Longley was born on March 26, 1849. During this period Campbell continued to work his farm and served for six successive years as a justice of the peace. He also assisted in establishing in Austin County the first Church of Christ west of the Brazos River. For the rest of his life, Campbell was a strong supporter and advocate of the minority "Campbellite" viewpoint of the Church of Christ, and this would be the faith into which a young Bill Longley would be baptized.
On October 6, 1851, Campbell and Sarah Longley's sixth child, William Preston, was born in Austin County.
As early as 1839, Campbell Longley owned a headright grant for "one league and one labor" in Washington County, to the north of Austin County. In August of 1851, he was initiated into Hubert Masonic Lodge no. 67 in Chappell Hill, Washington County. He received his third degree in that order on December 14, 1851. He was later a charter member of the J. D. Giddings Lodge no. 280 at the village of Evergreen in Washington County. By early April 1853, Longley, having purchased a farm three miles west of the small village of Evergreen, moved his family to Washington County. Among the property they took with them was a female black slave.
A daughter, Elizabeth, was born on March 23, 1854. Their eighth child, Joseph, was born January 24, 1857, but died on April 3, 1860, of "inflammation of the brain." James Stockton Longley was born on January 21, 1859.
When the 1860 census was taken in Evergreen, it reflected the hard work of Campbell and Sarah in building a farm worth $6,000 and personal property worth $4,000. Six children lived with them, including an almost nine-year-old Bill. Their eldest child, Mary Catherine, married Charles M. Tyler on June 29, 1854, and lived with her husband and their two children next to the Longley farm. Also living at the Longley farm was William Carnes, a laborer, who married Martha Jane Longley on August 7, 1860. Frances Caroline married J. T. Lawrence on July 9, 1859.
With the advent of the Civil War, despite the fervent opposition of Sam Houston, Texas elected to enter the Confederacy. Families on farms and homesteads throughout the state saw their young men enlisting and marching off to fight for states' rights. Despite the fact that his father was a staunch Unionist, fifteen-year-old Alexander C. Longley traveled to Houston to be mustered into Captain James S. Lauderdale's company in Nelson's Confederate Regiment of Texas Volunteers on October 25, 1861. Three months later, in January, young Alexander was captured with other members of his regiment at Fort Hindman, Arkansas, and delivered as a prisoner of war to Camp Douglas, Illinois. Paroled in April 1863, young Alexander was hospitalized in Petersburg, Virginia, with "debilitas" for much of the rest of the year. He was subsequently involved in battle near Atlanta, Georgia, in the summer of 1864 and received wounds in his left shoulder and hip. The Longley family Bible asserts that he received a gunshot wound through one of his lungs. Admitted to a hospital at Marietta, Georgia, then to a hospital at Chattanooga, Tennessee, he died on July 31, 1864, the second Longley child to die.
Also marching off to war was J. T. Lawrence, husband of Frances Caroline. A member of the Confederate army, he died on December 9, 1862. His death would have major significance in Bill Longley's criminal career because of his sister's next choice for a husband.
As the war wended its way to ultimate defeat for the rebelling southern states, Campbell remained in Washington County with his family. He was remembered for serving a "special detail in caring for the war widows and children." In addition, he tanned leather, made and mended shoes, and taught others how to card, spin, warp, and weave cloth.
The name of the small village of Evergreen was descriptive of the variety of trees that abounded in the area. Both Elm Creek and the West Yegua Creek provided clear water and good fishing. The timber from the ample trees in the area allowed for building farms, and the land was quite suitable for corn and cotton. Today the village of Evergreen has totally disappeared, leaving behind only a giant live oak tree, fully five feet in diameter, under which it is said that the local authorities used to administer justice and which gave shade to a blacksmith shop and a number of saloons. The village sat on the AustinBrenham road and was one-half mile east of the San Antonio-Bastrop-Nacogdoches road. The Longley farm was well located and enjoyed abundant natural resources, requiring only the addition of human toil to make it successful.
Campbell Longley served as a Washington County commissioner from 1857 until the Civil War, although the long trip from Evergreen to Brenham, the county seat, must have grown tedious and frequently took him away from the farm. With the end of the war, young Bill Longley, along with his brothers and sisters who were still at home, continued working on the family farm and attending the local school when they could. Fourteen-year-old Bill was considered "a goodhearted boy, tall, and well-liked by the other boys." The Evergreen children were taught by a medical doctor, G. D. Wilkerson. Two of Bill's younger classmates, Will Grant and Ike W. Sparks, recalled that Bill supervised games, such as "One-Eyed Cat" and "Bull-Pen," for the smaller children and acted as a leader. The school regimen included close study of Webster's "blue-back" spelling book and McGuffey's series of readers.
Less than a month before his execution, Bill reminisced with another schoolmate, Mrs. Bettie Southern, recalling her and her sister, Artimissa, and their pony, Charlie, on which the two girls would ride to school. After school, the boys, smitten with the two sisters, would race to see who could saddle Charlie for their trip home. On one occasion, Bill threw his hat at Charlie, causing the horse to jump and throw Bettie. Bill ran to her and, seeing that she was unhurt, told her that he did it just to have a chance to help her up on the horse. With respect to Bill's formal learning, however, it was said that his education was "by no means of an advanced order; he learned to read and write about as well as farm boys usually do."
Excerpted from Bloody Bill Longley by Rick Miller. Copyright © 2011 Rick Miller. Excerpted by permission of University of North Texas Press.
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