Historical Archaeology

, Volume 28, Issue 3, pp 94–112 | Cite as

Search for the grave of the hanged Texas gunfighter, William Preston Longley

  • Brooks B. Ellwood
  • Douglas W. Owsley
  • Suzanne H. Ellwood
  • Patricia A. Mercado-Allinger
Research Notes and Comments


The hanging and burial of the notorious Texas gunman William Longley in Giddings, Texas, in 1878 has been believed by some to be a hoax, and it has been rumored that Longley may have lived for 43 more years in Louisiana. Evidence including comparisons of handwriting and computer-based photographs of the individual suspected of being Longley support this belief and suggest that a rock-filled or weighted coffin was buried in place of the body after a forged hanging. One test of the hoax hypothesis would be to find the grave and expose the remains. While it is known that the Longley grave is within the Giddings cemetery, owned by the city of Giddings and designated 41LE132, its exact location is unknown. In an attempt to find the grave, resistivity and magnetometer surveys were performed in areas where historical research indicated the Longley grave might be found. Anomalies were probed and cored, leading to the identification of areas for excavation. Several transects were scraped, using a backhoe, to test the geophysical results. Scraping was also performed in other areas suspected to contain the grave. The unique combination of these methods resulted in the discovery of 34 unmarked burial shafts, 21 of which were excavated. Even though the site is not ideal for remote sensing applications, the results still demonstrate that the methods employed are effective in pinpointing graves. Problems included high clay concentrations in the soil, a multitude of modern burials distributed throughout the search area, and a half meter of fill over part of the site. Unfortunately, researchers were unsuccessful in locating unambiguous evidence of Longley’s grave, leaving his story one of the unsolved mysteries of the Old West.


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Copyright information

© Society for Historical Archaeology 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brooks B. Ellwood
    • 1
  • Douglas W. Owsley
    • 2
  • Suzanne H. Ellwood
    • 1
  • Patricia A. Mercado-Allinger
    • 3
  1. 1.Center for Geoenvironmental and Geoarchaeological StudiesUniversity of Texas at ArlingtonArlingtonUSA
  2. 2.National Museum of Natural HistorySmithsonian InstitutionWashingtonUSA
  3. 3.Texas Historical CommissionAustinUSA

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