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
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.