Wild Bill Longley, the Texas Outlaw Who was Hanged Three Times

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Tony Maples Photography


After the Civil War, the reconstruction of Texas left its mark as the most dangerous time in Lone Star State history. It was a breeding ground for notorious outlaws like Bill Longley, Jim Miller, John Selman, Sam Bass, King Fisher, Wild Bill Hickok, John Wesley Hardin, Mannen Clements, and scores of others. They met their fate the way they lived: violently. Some died at the end of a rope; others were gunned down – mostly shot in the back.

Texas outlaw Bill Longley arrived in Houston City in 1866 aboard a puffing steam engine at the tender age of sixteen. He wore overalls, clutching them and gaping wide-eyed at a wild west city.  The six-foot tall, lanky boy scanned the railroad platform with cold, small piercing eyes, the eyes of a killer. Although he wasn’t aware of his dark side, he could stand up to any man who stepped in his way. Bill wanted a pistol, not just any kind, but a Colt .44 or a Dance .46. He knew meanness was rampaging throughout Texas.

Wild Bill Longley, the Texas Outlaw Who was Hanged Three Times

Photo: Wikipedia

Bill arrived when Texas was gasping from the first shock of reconstruction.  Blue-clad carpetbaggers ruled the land and created hostility among the Texans. Bill considered them scum, looking to line their pockets. Gold chained pocket watches were draped across their satisfied paunches.  Newley freed slaves, some with families, roamed the streets poor, starving, and looking for work. The union hired some to enforce reconstruction. Texas Governor Davis created the Texas State Police to employ the former slaves, and the Texas Rangers reorganized and hired them as well.  These new lawmen received a uniform of sorts, a weighted tetherball, and a few had pistols. These newly freed men roamed an America still trying to find itself. It was an age of hatred and violence.

While working on the family farm, Bill practiced using his new and modified holster, enabling him to become one of the fastest draws in Texas, deadly as they come. Bill never picked a fight, folks just kind of got in his way and drew on him first. He left a wake of dead men across Texas, never staying in one place long, keeping one step ahead of the law. He always rode on horseback, never by train because someone might recognize him and telegraph ahead where lawmen could be waiting. William Longley was a particular breed, a loner who was not a robber like Sam Bass. Most said he was a murderer, but according to Bill’s letters, he said, “people kept getting in my way and needed killing.”

Wild Bill Longley, the Texas Outlaw Who was Hanged Three Times

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Bill Longley was allegedly hanged for the first time when he was caught traveling with a horse or cattle thief. As legend has it, the lynching party rode off, firing several wild shots, as the pair of men were still hanging. One of the shots nicked the rope that was strangling Bill, and it ultimately snapped, saving the dying outlaw.

Fate finally caught up with Bill on his cotton farm in Louisiana where the local sheriff identified him as a wanted man in Texas. It wasn’t long before Bill was standing trial in Giddings for the murder of Wilson Anderson.  The jury took less than two hours to convict him of the murder, sentencing him to hang. A year later, Bill walked to the gallows and said, “I deserved this fate.  It is a debt I have owed for a wild and reckless life.  So long, everybody!” Then the trap door dropped open, but a surprising thing happened. Bill plunged to the ground and landed on his feet.

The hangman had made the rope a tad too long for Bill’s six-foot frame. The crowd estimated, at four thousand, booed the botched hanging. Quickly the sheriff and his deputy hoisted Bill up so the hangman could tie a sheepskin knot in the rope.  The lawmen held the rope while Bill slowly choked to death.  And that’s the story of how the outlaw Bill Longley lived through two hangings with the third taking him to his Maker.