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.

Woman Hanged in Texas

In 1985 the Texas legislature passed a resolution to absolve Josefa “Chapita” Rodriguez of the murder for which she hanged on November 13, 1863.

Chapita Rodriguez lived in a lean-to shack where the Cotton Road crossed the Aransas River, north of San Patricio.  She offered meals and a cot on her front porch to travelers along the route, which the Confederacy used during the Civil War to ferry cotton to Mexico in exchange for guns, ammunition, and medical supplies.

Near the end of August 1863, employees at the nearby Welder Ranch found in the edge of the Aransas River the body stuffed in two burlap bags of John Savage whose head had been split with an ax.

A few days before the discovery, Savage arrived late in the evening at Chapita’s cabin carrying $600 in gold in payment for the sale of horses to the Confederate Army in San Antonio.  A large man who traveled heavily armed with six-shooters strapped to his leg, Savage frequently stayed at Chapita’s house.

Most of the records in the case burned in a courthouse fire, allowing rumors and legend to fill in the blanks.  Since Chapita was too old (probably in her sixties) and too small to stuff the bulk of Savage into the bags and drag him down river, authorities pointed to Juan Silvera who may have been her illegitimate son.

The sheriff who arrested Chapita and Juan Silvera served as foreman of the grand jury and foreman of the jury that heard the charges at trial.  At least three grand jury members also served as trial jurors, and members of both juries had been indicted on felony charges that were later dismissed.  Chapita’s only defense was her repeating “not guilty.”   A few days before the trial began, the gold was discovered down river from where the body was found.

Despite the discovery of the gold, Chapita was found guilty as charged.  The jury recommended mercy because of her age and the circumstantial evidence, but the trial judge Benjamin F. Neal sentenced her to be hanged.  Juan Silvera was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to five years in prison.

Some accounts claim she was held for a time in the sheriff’s home; other stories say she waited in leg irons, chained to the courthouse wall in San Patricio.  Children visited the courthouse, supplying Chapita with candy and cornshucks for rolling her cigarettes.

Many stories suggest Chapita’s silence was to protect her son Juan Silvera.  Whatever her reason, Chapita rode in a wagon to her fate while sitting atop her coffin and smoking a cornshuck cigarette, then stood to have the noose, dangling from a mesquite tree, placed around her neck.  San Patricio residents, many of whom believed her innocent, whispered among themselves that Chapita’s execution marked the end of San Patricio.

By the mid-1880s life began changing.  The introduction of barbed wire closed the open range and the excitement of cattle drives came to an end.  The railroad by-passed San Patricio, the courthouse burned, and Sinton became the new seat of county government.

Despite Texas’ record number of executions, only three women have faced the gallows.  Little information exists about the first woman legally executed other than she was a slave named Jane Elkins convicted of murdering a white man in Dallas County and hanged on May 27, 1853.

The third execution of a woman occurred in 1998 when Karla Faye Tucker died by lethal injection fourteen years after being convicted in a pickaxe murder.