Apr 05 2016
Historians writing of William B. Longworth create a villain from cloth provided by his opponents. In their description, like a phantom, he appears in the Cibolo Valley, exacts his revenge on the planters, inflicts his incompetence on the freedmen and then disappears. Characterizations by former slave masters of Longworth’s avarice and venality associated with “low breeding” are accepted and repeated unchallenged. In scant biographical references, Longworth is described in pejorative terms as “lawyer Longworth”, a litigious scalawag, born in New York or Canada, who came to Texas with some furniture to raise hogs and sheep.
Compiling a biography of William B. Longworth over 125 years after the events that defined him, revealed a man destined to be a controversial figure in Reconstruction Texas. In the light of a broader context that includes his origin and experience, Longworth’s attitudes and actions as subassistant commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau and Wilson County official, become understandable, predictable and to some admirable.
As defined by his opponents, Longworth’s motives to serve, without pay, as subassistant commissioner of the Freedmen’s Bureau are questioned as suspicious and self-serving. His pleas for support to unresponsive superiors are used to indict him as a zealot. Longworth’s refusal to compromise with the defeated slave masters in their efforts to continue control of African freedmen and their children is criticized as unreasonable.43
Longworth’s dealings with the former slave master James L. Dial are used as examples of his zealotry. Dial’s arrest in April 1866 is described as Longworth’s reaction to James Dial’s letters disparaging him to the Texas governor.44 Dial’s long history of vigilante action against freedmen is largely ignored. His behavior that caused a “mob” of freedmen to descend on the community of Lavernia to move one of their own from vigilante custody to legal authorities is not mentioned.45 The accusation by former slave masters that Longworth was a “stranger” and “arbitrary, vindictive, and unjust” as well as corrupt is repeated without challenge.46