PROUD TO BE A KILLER

There is an old tale that claims a piece of petrified wood leans against a blackjack tree in the Giddings Cemetery marking the burial site of a gunslinger who finally repented.

William “Bill” Longley, dead by the hangman’s noose soon after his 27th birthday, was one

William “Bill” Longley
Wikipedia

of Giddings’ most famous citizens. Longley grew up like many young men during the Civil War––infused with hate stirred by the conflict.

The period of Reconstruction in Texas, which saw freedmen being allowed to vote and serve in the military, bitterly angered Longley. He and his roughneck friends delighted in harassing blacks at every opportunity. In 1867 at the age of sixteen, he killed a black man. From then on, the killings and claims of killings continued until blacks feared the mention of his name.

He and his brother-in-law terrorized Bastrop County, killing a black man. After the military put up a $1,000 reward, they reportedly killed a black woman. After his brother-in-law died, Longley traveled north, claimed he shoot a trail driver, fought Indians, and killed a horse thief. He also bragged about killing a soldier at Leavenworth, Kansas, for insulting the virtue of a Texas woman.

He enlisted in the United States cavalry, promptly deserted, and landed in prison. Released after six months, he returned to his unit and deserted again.

His stories continued––riding with Shoshone Indians and killing a man in Kansas––of which there are no records. Back in Texas, he boasted of a gunfight in the Santa Anna Mountains and killing another black man. In 1873 Sheriff J.J. Finney arrested Longley in Kerr County and took him to Austin to claim the reward. When the money was not forthcoming, Finney released his prisoner supposedly when a Longley relative made the payment.

In late 1874, his Uncle Caleb asked Longley and his brother to kill Wilson Anderson who supposedly killed the uncle’s son. While Anderson plowed his field, Longley killed him with a shotgun, and the brothers fled to Indian Territory.

Meantime, in November 1875 Longley shot a man in McLennan County and killed another man in a running gunfight in Uvalde County. By February, he was sharecropping for a Reverend William Lay when he was arrested after a dispute over a girl. He burned himself out of jail and murdered Rev. Lay while the preacher was milking a cow.

Finally, arrested a year later in Louisiana, he was convicted of murdering Wilson Anderson for his uncle and sentenced to hang in Giddings. His brother James was acquitted.

During the trial, he wrote letters that were published in Texas newspapers bragging of his exploits, claiming to have killed 32 men. However, after the Court of Appeals upheld the conviction, he was baptized in the Catholic Church, claimed only eight murders, and blamed liquor and his bad temper on his misjudgments. He admonished young men not to follow in his footsteps.

On October 11, 1878, a crowd of thousands descended on Giddings to see the hanging of the notorious “Wild Bill.” Because of his earlier escapes, word spread that he got away, still roamed the country, a desperate killer. Records show he was buried, as was the custom for outlaws, outside the bounds of the Giddings Cemetery. Over the years, the cemetery expanded and Longley’s grave was thought to be about the center of the burial ground. Years later, the judge who sentenced him was interred in the adjacent plot.

However, rumors persisted calling the hanging a hoax. Some said he had gone to South America, returned to Louisiana and died there. In true Texas fashion, money was raised to “get at the truth.” The digging took place between 1992 and 1994. The body was never uncovered.

Advertisements

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT

In case you have wondered where I’ve been for the last nine months, I have been writing my eleventh book. A LONG WAY HOME is a step away from my mostly nineteenth-century Texas historical tales.

The seed for A LONG WAY HOME took root immediately after 9/11. For some reason that would require a psychiatrist to explain, I thought of a woman whose husband had abused her for years deciding to disappear when the towers fell. The idea ginned in my head for days, which prompted me to write a short story about Meredith Haggerty––the woman who became very real to me.

The story proved too raw for publishing and I tucked it away. But the character I created did not go away. She squirreled around in my head during the time I wrote five Texas books, lectured on Texas history, had a houseful of grandchildren, and other good life things.

During that fallow period, I heard a program in which people sent in anonymous statements revealing secrets that no one knew about them. A person wrote that “everyone thought I died on 9/11.” That secret shook me. My idea wasn’t nuts.

I am not done with A LONG WAY HOME. The first draft is finished and I will be going over it until it feels ready.

Meantime, the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association (PNWA) has notified me that out of over 700 submissions from all over the world, A LONG WAY HOME is one of nine finalists in its 2019 Literary Contest.

A hint for you Texas fans: Meredith ends up in the Rio Grande Valley. You know me, I can’t leave Texas out of the story.

 

TEXAN SANTA FE EXPEDITION

Mirabeau B. Lamar

When Texas was a Republic––a country all its own––the second president, Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar had plans as grand as his name. He had organized the Philosophical Society of Texas before his election and he planned to lay the foundations for Texas to become a great empire. The problem was that the United States was the only country that recognized Texas independence. Mexico loomed as a threat to reconquer its rebellious people, and the new country had no money and no commercial treaties. Lamar instituted Indian wars that ran the Cherokees out of East Texas in 1839, and the following year, his campaign against the Comanches wiped out most of the Indians in West Texas––at a cost of $2.5 million.

With an eye to establish much-needed trade, the Santa Fe market looked like the best opportunity. Lamar imagined establishing a trade route that would allow Texas to gain jurisdiction over Santa Fe. He sent a commission with a letter detailing the benefits to Santa Fe citizens of joining the Republic of Texas. Then he ignored the Congress of the Republic of Texas when it did not approve his plans.

He called for volunteers and merchants to join an expedition to establish trade with the New Mexicans. To protect the expedition and their goods, a military force of five companies of infantry and one artillery accompanied the group of merchants, teamsters, and others. Twenty-one wagons carried supplies and the traders’ merchandise valued about $200,000.

On June 19, 1841, 321 eager “pioneers” set out with visions of establishing a foothold in

Route of the Texan Santa Fe Expedition

New Mexico that would spread Texas influence all the way to Santa Fe. When they reached the Wichita River on August 7, they mistook it for the Red and followed its route for ten days before discovering their error. Over the next six weeks, their Mexican guide abandoned them and they had to fend off Indian attacks. Their provisions ran low and they suffered from lack of water. They failed to find a route for the wagons to climb up the Caprock whose sheer rock face rose in places up to 1,000 feet to one of the largest mesas in the United States. Finally, an advance party moved ahead to seek help. Instead, they brought back a detachment sent by the Governor of New Mexico that forced the expedition to surrender on October 5. After almost four months of struggle in the desert-like country, the exhausted and sick members of the expedition were marched to Mexico City and on to Perote Prison in Veracruz. It was April 1842, well after Mirabeau B. Lamar left office, before the prisoners of the Santa Fe Expedition were finally released.

FIRST MAN TO FLY IN AN AIRPLANE?

Always interested in mechanics and inventing, Jacob Brodbeck tried––apparently without

Jacob Brodbeck

success––to build a self-winding clock while he was teaching school in his native Württemberg, Germany. In 1847 he arrived in Fredericksburg to serve as the

Original Vereins Kirche in Fredericksburg

second teacher at the Vereins Kirche and then taught at other schools in Gillespie County. He married one of his students in 1858, and despite traveling the county as a surveyor and serving as district school supervisor, he and his wife had a dozen children.

Brodbeck’s real dream, which he worked on for twenty years, was to build an “air-ship.” He moved in 1863 to San Antonio to serve as a school inspector and took with him a small model of his invention that consisted of a rudder, wings, and a propeller powered by coiled springs.

When the blockade of Texas ports during the Civil War stopped the shipment of ice blocks cut from the lakes in the North, Brodbeck designed an ice-making machine. By the time his machine was complete in 1869, there were three plants producing artificial ice in San Antonio (and five other ice plants in the United States).

Meantime, Brodbeck attended local fairs to demonstrate the success of his model air-ship and to raise money to build a full-sized model large enough to carry a man. The Republic of Texas Library at the Alamo owns a copy of an article written by Brodbeck and published in the Galveston Tri-Weekly News on August 7, 1865, in which he touts his views: “For more than twenty years I have labored to construct a machine which should enable man to use, like a bird, the atmospheric region as the medium of his travels.” He sought subscriptions, not donations to fund and patent his airship. Stock certificates for the investors have been donated to the library.

Several prominent men invested in the venture and accounts vary as to when and where the “flight” took place. Brodbeck’s machine was equipped with an enclosed space for the “aeronaut,” a propeller for landing on water, a compass, and a barometer that was intended to measure the predicted speed at between 30 and 100 miles per hour. Some claim that on September 10, 1865, in a field east of Luckenbach––yes, the same Luckenbach made famous years later by Willie, Waylon and the boys––the airship rose twelve feet and traveled about 100 feet before the springs completely unwound and the sudden landing destroyed the contraption. Brodbeck, the “aeronaut,” was not seriously hurt.

Thought to be the photo of Brodbeck’s destroyed “air-ship.” Property DRT Library

Brodbeck bust in San Antonio’s San Pedro Park.

Another account of the flight places it in San Antonio’s San Pedro Park where a bust of Brodbeck was placed several years later. And a third rendition claims the flight actually took place in 1868.

Regardless of the locale and the date, Brodbeck was undeterred and set about traveling the United States to raise money for another attempt. He could not persuade audiences to invest in the plan, and he was in Michigan his papers were stolen. The DRT Library holds a typed document that claims to be the transcription and translation from German of the inventor’s detailed specifications of his airship

He returned to his ranch outside Luckenbach and lived for another six years after the Wright Brothers first flight at Kitty Hawk on December 17, 1903.

ANCIENT PEOPLES FOUND IN TEXAS

A discovery forty miles north of Austin, known as the Gault Site, tells the story of hunters

Gault Site

and gatherers who lived 16,000 to 20,000 years ago, which makes them older than the Clovis People thought to have been the first in the New World. The Gault Site offered a perfect locale in a wooded valley near several springs feeding a creek where limestone outcrops provided high-quality flint (chert) for use in tool-making. The rich soil and abundant animal life made the area an ideal living environment.

For decades, the family that owned the land allowed treasure hunters to dig for a fee. Texas’ first professional archaeologist J. E. Pearce excavated part of the site in 1929-30 and reported it was one of the largest Clovis sites in Texas. However, paid digging continued even after 1991 when test excavations disclosed extensive evidence of older occupation. Although researchers were analyzing and cataloging the artifacts, it was 2007 before a private individual purchased the land. He donated fifty-four acres to the Archaeological Conservancy, a nonprofit that protects sites nationwide, and he gave the balance of the land to the Gault School of Archaeological Research at Texas State University in San Marcos.

Archaeologists dug a test pit below the 13,000-year-old Clovis occupation through thirty centimeters of sediment to find this unknown civilization. To determine the age of the stone artifacts, they used optically stimulated luminescence, which determines when particles of quartz and feldspar in soil samples around the artifacts were last exposed to sunlight.

Touted as one of the most important Paleo-Indian archaeological discoveries, the project has yielded 2.6 million projectile points, tools, flakes, and other artifacts. It is fortunate that the earlier pay-to-dig amateurs did not go deeper. The treasures included almost 200 stones carved with grids, spirals, and designs with perfect parallel lines and herringbone

Gault Stone with parallel lines cutting across at different angles.

patterns thought to be the oldest art in the Americas They found a stone floor (possibly the earliest known house) with “toss piles” of flint or chert to the northeast and large animal bones to the southwest (upwind from the smell of rotting flesh). Apparently, just like modern campers, these people kept their site clean and tossed their trash off to the side.

The abundance of tools and weapons indicates that this was a huge manufacturing area that attracted people over a long period. There is also evidence of leather-working such a hide-scrapers, and tools to cut and work or punch hide.

Clark Wernecke, an adjunct professor at Texas State and director of Gault School of Archaeological Research said that researchers who study these artifacts cringe when they hear someone call these ancient people “a primitive culture.” He reminds us that these folks invented tools that we are still using today.

For tours of the Gault Site, contact Williamson County Museum, Georgetown Square, 512/943-1670.

WATERS PLANTATION

Great News! WATERS PLANTATION, the long-awaited sequel to THE DOCTOR’S WIFE and to STEIN HOUSE  is available. It follows many of the characters from both books who move from the Indianola seaport to Washington County, Texas, and continue their story during the political turmoil that builds after Reconstruction.

WATERS PLANTATION, my tenth book, is historical fiction. It will be available on November 6, but you may preorder on Amazon.

Here is an overview:

It is 1875 in Texas, and Albert Waters takes pride in his image––prosperous merchant and plantation owner who freed his wife’s slaves before the Civil War and gave them land after her death. Then his son Toby, ready to depart for Harvard Medical College, demands answers. Was his mother a slave?

How does a man account for the truth that on a drunken night, when all he could think about was Amelia his long-ago lover, he gave into the touch of a slave girl?

Al and the Waters plantation co-operative of former slaves create a community that prospers as they educate their children and work their land. They organize against political forces regaining control through rape, lynchings, and the rise of the KKK.

Al believes he has been given a new life when Amelia arrives with dreams of moving her family from the hurricane dangers of the Texas coast. In the rapidly changing world swirling around him, Al will have to confront the image he has held of himself if he wants to keep Toby and Amelia, the two people he loves most.