Who was William Preston Longley?

Jonathan Smith
Rodenberg, Lower Saxony, Germany

“Wild Bill” Longley had a reputation—which he helped build—as one of the deadliest gunfighters. But he was racist, unpredictable, ruthless and quick-tempered. In most cases, the native Texan’s victims were blacks.

Longley bragged he’d killed 32 men.  But Rick Miller, author of Bloody Bill Longley, documented only five: “Green Evans (a former slave on his way to visit a relative), Wilson Anderson (a former boyhood friend who was plowing a field, and the crime for which Longley was executed), George Thomas (a young man on a hunt in  Waco), Lou Shroyer (a fellow gunman in the Uvalde area) and the Rev. William Lay (who was ambushed while milking a cow in a dispute over a girl friend). The rest appear to be boasts in  order to best the killing record of John Wesley Hardin,” he says.

The law caught up with Longley in 1877. He was tried for murder, convicted and sentenced to hang on October 11, 1878, in Giddings. The hangman left too much slack in his rope, and Longley dropped until his feet were touching the ground. The quick-thinking sheriff, along with some guards, grabbed his feet and held them off the ground until he slowly strangled.

His family later claimed his hanging had been faked and that he escaped to Central America. DNA tests taken in 2001, however, proved that Longley was indeed executed in 1878.

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian and vice president of the Wild West History Association. . His latest book is Arizona’s Outlaws and Lawmen; History Press, 2015. If you have a question, write:  Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or e-mail him at

William Preston Longley

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