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

TALES ABOUT JOHN WESLEY HARDIN

John Wesley Hardin
Wikipedia

The handsome and gentlemanly John Wesley Hardin, son of a Methodist preacher, was named after the founder of the Methodist Church. Perhaps his proper upbringing caused “Wes” to view himself as a pillar of society who claimed he never killed a man who didn’t need killing. The number of dead differ, as do the stories about his escapades, but John Wesley Hardin managed in his forty-two years to kill at least thirty men. Some accounts claim forty.

Born in Bonham in 1853, Hardin at age fourteen stabbed a fellow student in a schoolyard fight. He might have been expelled for the incident except his father founded and ran the school. Like many men too young to fight in the Civil War, Hardin became the product of the hatred generated by the conflict. The restrictive policies and draconian laws of the Reconstruction government fueled anger, which encouraged citizens, especially impressionable young men, to lash out at freed slaves and at black members of the Union army sent to enforce the new order. A year after the stabbing, Hardin met a black man, got into an argument, and shot the man dead.

His relatives, sure that Wes could not receive a fair trial from the Reconstruction government, encouraged him to flee, which began a pattern of relatives and friends hiding Hardin from the law. When Hardin heard that three Union soldiers were headed for his hideout at his brother’s house, he later wrote: “I waylaid them, as I had no mercy on men whom I knew only wanted to get my body to torture and kill. It was war to the knife for me, and I brought it on by opening the fight with a double-barreled shotgun and ended it with a cap and ball six-shooter. Thus it was by the fall of 1868 I had killed four men and was myself wounded in the arm.”

Some accounts say within a year he killed another soldier. All stories agree that Wes Hardin served at age 17 as trail boss for a cattle drive up the Chisholm Trail. One account says he got into an argument with Mexican cowboys who tried cutting their herd in front of his. All the stories about the cattle drive agree that John Wesley Hardin killed six or seven men on that trip to Abilene, Kansas.

Some say Hardin became friends with city marshal Wild Bill Hickok whom he admired. Others say he forced Hickok to stand down. Whatever really happened, Hardin left Abilene in a hurry. He wrote regarding the episode, “They tell lots of lies about me.  They said I killed six or seven men for snoring. Well, it ain’t true, I only killed one man for snoring.” The gentleman to whom he refers slept in the next hotel room and Hardin shot through the wall to stop the snoring.

Wild Bill Hickok
Wikipedia

Hardin returned to Central Texas, married Jane Bowen a beautiful cultured girl from a respectable family who had been his childhood sweetheart. He did not, however, settle down. Despite constant absences, while he ran from the law, Jane remained loyal.  After being arrested, breaking out of jail, and taking sides in a major Central Texas feud, Hardin finally killed a deputy sheriff. Finding himself under constant pursuit, Hardin fled with Jane and their three children to Florida where they lived for two years under an alias. Some accounts claim he killed as many as six men while he was on the run.

Finally caught in 1877, Hardin stood trial in Austin and was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison for killing the deputy. While in prison, he made repeated escape attempts, read theology, served as superintendent of the prison Sunday school, wrote his autobiography, and studied law. He received a pardon from the governor in 1894 and was admitted to the Texas bar.

After raising their three children, Jane died while Hardin served his prison term.  Upon his release, he headed to El Paso where he opened a law practice, became involved with a client’s wife, and hired several law enforcement officers to assassinate the husband. One of the hires, Constable John Selman, possibly angry over not being paid for killing the husband, found Hardin in the Acme Saloon and shot him in the back of the head. Hardin died instantly. The career of one of Texas’ most notorious killers came to an end on August 19, 1895, but the legends and legacy continue to stir imaginations.

JOHN WESLEY HARDIN, KILLER

Handsome and gentlemanly John Wesley Hardin, named for the founder of the Methodist Church, was the son of a Methodist minister and circuit rider.  Perhaps his proper upbringing caused “Wes” to view himself as a pillar of society who claimed he never killed a man who didn’t need killing.  The numbers of dead differ, as do the stories about his escapades, but John Wesley Hardin managed in his forty-two years to kill at least thirty men.  Some accounts claim forty.

Born in Bonham, Texas, in 1853, Hardin at age fourteen stabbed a fellow student in a schoolyard fight.  He might have been expelled for the incident except his father founded and ran the school.  Like many young men too young to fight in the Civil War, Hardin became the product of the hatred generated by the war.  The restrictive policies of the Reconstruction government fueled anger, which encouraged citizens, especially impressionable young men, to lash out at freed slaves and the Union army overseeing Reconstruction. A year after the stabbing, Hardin met a black man, got into an argument, and shot the man dead.

His father, sure Wes could not receive a fair trial from the Reconstruction government, encouraged his son to flee, which began a pattern of relatives and friends hiding Hardin from law officers.  Hearing three Union soldiers were headed for his hideout at his brother’s house, Wes later wrote, “I waylaid them, as I had no mercy on men whom I knew only wanted to get my body to torture and kill.  It was war to the knife for me, and I brought it on by opening the fight with a double-barreled shotgun and ended it with a cap and ball six-shooter.  Thus it was by the fall of 1868 I had killed four men and was myself wounded in the arm.”

Some accounts say within a year he killed another soldier.  All stories agree Wes Hardin served at age 17 as trail boss on a cattle drive up the Chisholm Trail.  One account says he got into an argument with Mexican cowboys who tried cutting their herd in front of his.  All the stories of the cattle drive agree John Wesley Hardin killed six or seven men on that trip to Abilene, Kansas.

Some say Hardin became friends with city marshal Wild Bill Hickok whom he admired.  Others say he forced Hickok to stand down.  Whatever really happened, Hardin left Abilene in a hurry.  He wrote regarding the episode, “They tell lots of lies about me.  They said I killed six or seven men for snoring.  Well, it ain’t true, I only killed one man for snoring.” The gentleman to whom he refers was sleeping in the next hotel room and Hardin shot through the wall to stop the snoring.

Hardin returned to Central Texas, married Jane Bowen a beautiful cultured girl from a respectable family who had been his childhood sweetheart.  He did not, however, settle down.  Despite constant absences as ran from the law, Jane remained loyal.  After being arrested, breaking out of jail, and taking sides in a major Central Texas feud, Hardin finally killed a deputy sheriff.  Finding himself under constant pursuit, Hardin fled with Jane and their three children to Florida where they lived for two years under an alias.  Some accounts claim he killed as many as six men while he was on the run.

Finally caught in 1877, Hardin stood trial in Austin, Texas, and was sentenced to twenty-five years in prison for killing the deputy.  While in prison, he made repeated escape attempts, read theology, served as superintendent of the prison Sunday school, wrote his autobiography, and studied law.  He received a pardon from the governor in 1894 and was admitted to the state bar.

After raising their three children, Jane died while Hardin served his prison term.  Upon his release, he headed to El Paso where he opened a law practice, became involved with a client’s wife, and hired several law enforcement officers to assassinate the husband.  One of the hires, Constable John Selman, possibly angry over not being paid for killing the husband, found Hardin in the Acme Saloon and shot him in the back of the head.  Hardin died instantly.  The career of one of Texas’ most notorious killers came to an end on August 19, 1895, but the legends and legacy continue to stir imaginations.