The Dance .44 Challenged Colt’s Dragoon
By Tom Murphy
Born October 6, 1851 on Mill Creek in Austin County, Texas, William Preston Longley was always large for his age. He stood six feet tall when he killed his first man at age 16. He went on to lead a life of murder and mayhem throughout Texas and up as far as Leavenworth, Kansas; finally being arrested for the murder of one Wilson Anderson on March 31, 1875. It seems as though Anderson had killed Longley’s cousin back in 1874, and his uncle, Caleb Longley, had asked Bloody Bill to return the favor.
Bill Longley went to trial September 3, 1877 in Giddings, Texas for this murder. He claimed self-defense, and stated he had no attorney; nor was he given a chance to procure witnesses for his defense. He was tried anyway. The following day the jury got the case. After a 90 minute deliberation found him guilty, to be hanged by the neck until dead, as they used to say.
Appeals and other technicalities delayed the sentence, but on October 11, 1878 (at age 27), Bloody Bill Langley was led from the Giddings jail to the gallows where a large crowd watched him take a 12-foot drop.
However, the hanging rope slipped on the crossbeam, and he landed on his feet — very much alive. The sheriff and a deputy were kind enough to seize Bill’s legs and lift him high enough so the rope could be retied. Eleven minutes later, three doctors pronounced him dead.
The Dance .44 revolver resembled a Colt Dragoon married to a Colt
Navy. J.H. Dance & Brothers began manufacturing firearms in 1862.
Bloody Bill Longley was said to carry a pair, and knew how to use them.
The Dance .44 doesn’t have a recoil shield behind the cylinder.
The flat frame of the gun is obvious in this right side photo.
This one still has a couple of lead balls in the cylinder.
Longley was purported to carry serial number 4.
Aged 27 at his execution, this photo was reportedly taken
after his final arrest.
Bloody Bill’s Guns
Bill Langley had used a number of different guns during his career as a killer. He was quite fast with a pair of Colt Dragoons, but he killed Wilson Anderson with a shotgun loaded with birdshot. However, his gun of choice was said to be the Dance .44 caliber cap and ball revolver.
J.H. Dance & Brothers of Columbia, Texas manufactured approximately 350 of these Colt Dragoon-style revolvers for the Confederate army around 1864, during the American Civil War. This revolver was described as a Colt Dragoon on a Colt Navy frame. The iron frame was flat with a brass trigger guard and backstrap. Most of these had no recoil shields giving them a unique, flat-sided form. The Dance .44 sported an 8″ barrel and weighed three pounds, six ounces.
Toward the end of hostilities, the brass backstrap and trigger guard were replaced by iron as brass became scarce in Texas. The last shipment of Dance .44 revolvers left the factory April 18, 1865 for shipment to the Houston Depot of Supplies.
Civil War Dance Brothers firearms are highly valued by collectors. Their rarity and craftsmanship compared to Colt and Remington, help to keep their values high. One was listed in a 2013 Rock Island Auction with an estimated sale price of between $120,000 and $180,000.
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