Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Judge Roy Bean and “Law West Of The Pecos”

We took a short two mile detour off Highway 90 to visit Langtry, TX. Langtry was where Roy Bean settled after a colorful stay in Mexico where he ended up being wanted for murder. He finally made his home in Langtry, a settlement formed to supply water to the steam locomotives of the day. He was soon to claim that he had founded the town, naming it after the British actress and entertainer Lilly Langtry, with whom Bean was fascinated and with whom he suggested he had a “relationship” but with whom he had actually never met.

Bean opened the Jersey Lilly, a saloon and billiard hall and was soon known as one of the most colorful characters in West Texas. He befriended some lawmen who were regular patrons and was soon appointed Justice of The Peace for the area even though he had no legal training. He adopted an old version of the Texas Statutes and would not accept any newer revisions. Whenever they sent him new law books he would use their pages to light the stove in his saloon.

Judge Roy Bean held trials in and on the porch of his saloon, calling himself “Law West Of The Pecos”. Jury members were chosen from amongst regular patrons of his saloon and were expected (required) to spend their jury pay at his bar during the many breaks in the trials. Langtry had no jail so Bean considered all offences fineable. If he was trying a horse thief he would say, “You are guilty of horse thievery! Sheriff, how much does this scum have in his pocket?” “Two dollars and seventy cents Your Honor.” “I herby fine you two dollars and seventy cents! Now get out of my territory and never come back!” Judge Bean refused to send these collected fines to the government, pocketing the proceeds instead. For really serious crimes or if the culprit had no money, he would be chained to a tree outside the bar for a number of days to serve his sentence. History has labeled Bean a “Hanging Judge” but this is a distinction he does not deserve. Bean only sentenced two men to hang, one of whom he later felt sorry for and allowed to escape.

Bean eventually married and had children so he built a house behind his saloon. He named his house the “Opera House” (photo), again in hopes of attracting Lilly Langtry, over whom he obsessed all his life and to whom he sent hundreds of letters, to visit him. She eventually did visit the town of Langtry on her way across the USA but unfortunately, two years after the Judge died at the age of 78 on the floor of his billiard hall the morning after an alcoholic binge.

The Judge settled down a bit in his later years, helping out the poor of the town and making sure the school always had a good supply of wood for it’s stove. He was truly one of the most colorful characters of the west!

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