One of the main characters in my third novel is a serial killer named William Estes McGill.  A charming, intelligent man, his personality is based on research that I’ve done on some real life murderers, or mankillers as they were called in the 19th century.  And there were plenty of examples of psychopaths and violent men to choose from following the chaos and lawlessness of the Civil War.

    An example of a true mankiller was Wild Bill Longley, a native Texan pictured here.   At the time of his death by hanging in 1877, he had killed 32 men.   A practiced marksmen, it was said that he could shoot left or right-handed, and held a particular hatred for the black state policmen who were given the almost impossible task of keeping law and order in mostly white towns and cities during the Restoration.  He was arrested several times and escaped jail, and was even hanged by a posse of lawmen, but the rope frayed and he fell from the hanging tree and survived.

   The crime that finally led to his second, and fatal, hanging was the callous shooting of man whom Longley suspected of killing his cousin.  He accosted the man plowing in his field and gut shot the farmer.  When the mortally wounded man asked why he’d been shot, Longley replied, “Just for luck.”

   Four thousand people gathered to watch Longley hang.  Shortly before his death he wrote an open letter from the Giddings jail, saying, “And now, boys, remember the road Bill Longley had travelled in disobeying his parents, and when you start to do wrong remember that a very small wrong always leads to still greater ones…My first step was disobedience, next whiskey drinking, next carrying pistols, next gambling and then murder, and I suppose the next will be the gallows.”

   It was reported that he smoked a cigar on the scaffold and commented to the sheriff that the gallows’ stairs seemed unsteady.   One of his last comments was, “Look out, the steps are falling.  I don’t want to get crippled.”  Then he laughed.

   Next week, I’ll post on one of his partners in crime, and fellow mankiller, Cullen Baker.

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4 comments on “Mankillers

  1. Your research must be fascinating! As much as the current generation wants to believe that we are exceptionally violent in today’s society, it has seemed to me that we’re quite tame compared to many earlier times. Will enjoy the novel when it’s released!

  2. Sounds great, looking forward to the new book. I always thought that the violence in western novels was just a part of the genre and written for the audience. Then I read some works by local historians on violence in this area and realized that it is historical fact. Which is your favorite Cormac McCarthy book? ( I’m one of the Paris girls, by the way).

    • Hi, Sydney: So good to hear from you—I felt so welcomed by the Paris group! I treasure all of Cormac McCarthy’s books, but All the Pretty Horses was one of those books that left me in awe of his talent as a writer. I then quickly read The Crossing and Cities of the Plains. When I had
      finished all 3 books, I was left bereft, as though I’d suffered the loss of some good friends. I’ve since reread the border trilogy twice more. What’s your favorite? KK

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