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Bloody Bill Longley: The Mythology of a Gunfighter (Second Edition)

 by Rick Miller, University of North Texas Press, Denton, 2011, $29.95.

 William Preston“Bill” Longley (1851–1878) made use of his time behind bars waiting to be hanged by spinning wild tales featuring none other than himself. If Longley is to be believed, he was a deadly, daring outlaw, the equal of fellow Texas badman John Wesley Hardin. Two biographies related his story from his point of view, and thus the braggart’s fanciful tales became even more accepted. Along came lawman-turned-attorney Rick Miller, in his 1996 biography Bloody Bill Longley, to dig hard at the legend, pop many myths and reveal many truths. That book was available in a limited edition, so this second edition is most welcome.

Not by a long shot has Miller solved all the mysteries regarding Longley. “The problem with digging into Longley’s life is the real dearth of documentation in order to either corroborate what he claimed or to prove that he was a liar,” writes Miller in the introduction to this edition. Little public mention was made of Longley’s comings and goings or his crimes until he was caught in 1877, and most of the original letters written by Longley to Texas’ Giddings News have vanished. (Longley’s first biographer, Henry Clay Fuller, collected them but added Victorian flourishes.) Miller presents some new information—for instance, the discovery of Longley’s grave in Giddings’ cemetery in 1998 and the subsequent DNA testing. (Crews had exhumed 31 bodies from other unmarked graves in the long search for the right remains.) For the record, Miller has corroborated five killings ascribed to Longley, and not one involves noble or fair gunplay.


Originally published in the August 2011 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.