Bloody Bill Longley: The Mythology of a Gunfighter

Bloody Bill Longley: The Mythology of a Gunfighter

Bloody Bill Longley: The Mythology of a Gunfighter

Bloody Bill Longley: The Mythology of a Gunfighter

Synopsis

William Preston "Bill" Longley (1851-1878), though born into a strong Christian family, turned bad during Reconstruction in Texas, much like other young boys of that time, including the deadly John Wesley Hardin. He went on a murderous rampage over the last few years of his life, shotgunning Wilson Anderson in retribution for Anderson's killing of a relative; killing George Thomas in McLennan County; and shooting William "Lou" Shroyer in a running gunfight. Longley even killed the Reverend William R. Lay while Lay was milking a cow. Once he was arrested in 1877, and subsequently sentenced to hang, his name became known statewide as an outlaw and a murderer. Through a series of "autobiographical" letters written from jail while awaiting the hangman, Longley created and reveled in his self-centered image as a fearsome, deadly gunfighter--the equal, if not the superior, of the vaunted Hardin.
Declaring himself the "worst outlaw" in Texas, the story that he created became the basis for his historical legacy, unfortunately relied on and repeated over and over by previous biographers, but all wrong. In truth, Bill Longley was not the daring figure that he attempted to paint. Rick Miller's thorough research shows that he was, instead, a braggart who exaggerated greatly his feats as a gunman. The murders that could be credited to him were generally nothing more than cowardly assassinations.
Bloody Bill Longley was first published in a limited edition in 1996. Miller separates fact from fancy, attempting to prove or disprove Longley's many claims of bloodshed. Since the time of the first edition, diligent research has located and identified the outlaw's body, the absence of which was a longstanding myth in itself. This revised edition includes that part of the Longley story, as well as several new items of information that have since come to light.

Excerpt

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” So says Maxwell Scott in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, John Ford’s 1962 film based on a short story by Dorothy N. Johnson. It is a classic line in a classic film that, unfortunately, remains all too true in the field of western Americana. The West remains mired in mythology and folklore with defenders adamantly striving to keep it there. The harsh reality is that the West was populated by people, both good and bad.

This is not, of course, to say that there were no bigger-than-life figures. There were men such as Wild Bill Hickok. Hickok was a legend in his time, the topic of newspaper articles and dime novels. Now dead for more than a century, Hickok has been transformed by movies, television, and comic books into a two-gun hero, clean-cut and intrepid. Fortunately, Hickok’s main biographer, Joe Rosa, has ably sifted fact from fancy. In Wild Bill’s case, the facts are more fascinating than the legend. Hickok, indeed, was of heroic stature, but was also a human being with blemishes.

This is not always the case, however. Less worthy personalities have also assumed a persona far beyond the importance they enjoyed in their lifetimes. The celebrated Wyatt Earp, for example, had a history of involvement with his brothers in prostitution as well as in enforcing the law. It cannot be proven that he ever personally killed a man, even though he was a participant in the noted OK Corral gunfight, and he and his associates were involved in several murders while in Arizona after that gunfight. Yet for all this, folklorists have . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.