Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Judge Roy Bean--Law West of the Pecos (and a Giveaway)

Hello, everyone! Jennifer Uhlarik here. I thought it would be fun, since I shared about becoming a lawyer in the Old West last month, to share about a larger-than-life Western judge this month. Many of us have probably heard of Judge Roy Bean, the only “Law West of the Pecos.” But beyond the interesting moniker for which he was known, who was he and how did he become a judge?

Judge Roy Bean
Roy Bean was born in Mason County, Kentucky somewhere around 1823. His parents were poor, uneducated hill folk, and they had a hard time providing for Roy and his two older brothers, Sam and Josh. Both of the elder Beans left home, Sam heading to Mexico, Josh to California. When Roy became a teenager, he pulled up stakes and headed to Mexico to find his brother, Sam. The pair ended up in Chihuahua in 1848, but Roy’s time there was short. Soon after arriving, young Roy got in a barroom brawl and another man pulled a knife on him. He shot the man in the head. The witnesses disagreed on whether it was self-defense or murder, and Roy ended up having to flee Mexico.

He next went to his brother, Josh, in California, where he held a variety of jobs, from working for his brother (who was mayor of San Diego), to running a saloon, and working as a California Ranger. When Josh was murdered in 1852, Roy left there, headed for New Mexico. One account I read said that he killed a man here in a duel on horseback, and that was why he fled. Another account says that was a tale Roy told in his later years. He is also fabled to have gone to Los Angeles, where he was reported to have stolen a Spanish girl away from her Mexican boyfriend. As the story goes, Roy was caught by the Mexican man and his cohorts, who lynched Bean. However, as the story goes, the rope stretched, allowing Roy to stay alive until his girlfriend arrived and cut him down. It’s been said that he carried scars of the rope around his neck for the rest of his days.

During the Civil War, Bean and his friends created a guerilla band who stole cattle and other valuables from wealthy landowners in order to help the Confederate cause. They were little more than a nuisance, but little real help to the cause.

After the war, Bean went to San Antonio, and for the next eighteen years, he led a fairly uneventful life. Always looking for the next “get rich quick” scheme, Bean tried his hand at lots of things. Butcher, freighter, saloon-keeper, and dairy operator among them. During this time, he was in and out of the San Antonio courts, pressing claims, which he mostly lost. But he spent so much time in and around the courthouse that this man with no formal education learned quite a bit about the law. It was during this span of time that he married a child bride, had four children, and was left by his bride when she saw what a washed-up nobody he was.

Lily Langtry
Bean moved on with the railroad once his wife left, and as he worked his way across the great state of Texas, his friends recommended he become a Justice of the Peace and Notary Public, due to his seemingly extensive knowledge of the law. Eventually Bean landed in Langtry, Texas. Some accounts say he founded and named the town. Others say it existed before he arrived, and he made up the account. According to Bean, he named the place after actress Lily Langtry, whom he developed an infatuation for after seeing a beautiful drawing of her in a magazine. He was so smitten with her that he kept the article and picture of her until the day he died.
 
 
 

The Jersey Lilly. Judge Bean sits on the front porch
wearing a sombrero as he presides over court.
In Langtry, Bean opened his own saloon called the Jersey Lillie, named after the famed actress.
However, the sign outside the establishment was misspelled by a drunken, illiterate sign painter. Other signs that hung outside the saloon read, “Judge, Roy Bean, Notary Public,” “Justice of the Peace,” and “Law West of the Pecos.” He also had one which advertised his establishment’s ice beer. Inside the establishment, he had half the room set up as a saloon, and half as a courtroom.

As a judge, Roy Bean relied heavily on his own common sense, though many of his judgments were outrageous and, in some cases, outright objectionable. Before big cases, he would recommend everyone buy a drink to “liven up the proceedings.” Once, he found a corpse with gold and a pistol in the pants pocket. He fined the deceased $40 for carrying a concealed weapon, and pocketed the money. In another case where a white railroad worker was accused of killing a Chinese worker, Bean thumbed through the only law book he owned, then tossed the tome aside, stating that there was a single law in it that said it was illegal to shoot a Chinaman. He dismissed the defendant without further ado. He was also known to fine any drunken patron who fell asleep on the courtroom side of his establishment, rather than on the saloon side.

By the turn of the century, Bean’s reputation had grown to the point that easterners would board the train just to come to Langtry to see Judge Bean sit on the porch of his saloon. If they could witness him presiding over some matter of law, even better.

Bean passed away on March 16, 1903, after a trip to San Antonio the previous day. He’d witnessed a cockfight while there, and the bloodsport had gotten him so stirred up that he drank himself into a coma and died the next day. The dream of his life, to meet Lily Langtry was nearly realized. Just months after his death, Miss Langtry came to town to meet Bean and tour the establishment named in her honor. She was saddened to learn of his death, but the townsfolk gave her Bean’s pistol, which she took back to England with her, to remember the “strange little man in America.”

 
 
It’s your turn. Had you heard of Judge Roy Bean? Was he a hero or a villain? Leave me a comment, including your email address, to be entered in a drawing for my first published novella, which is including in the Oregon Trail Romance Collection.
 
 
 
Jennifer Uhlarik discovered the western genre as a pre-teen, when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has won five writing competitions and finaled in two other competitions. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers and lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, teenaged son, and four fur children.

47 comments:

  1. I'd heard of Judge Roy Bean, but I didn't know what a character he was. I also didn't know that he spent time in my state of California. Interesting!

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    1. Yes, he certainly was a character, Keli! And he seemed to make his way around several parts of the West. Thanks so much for commenting!

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  2. I had heard of Judge Bean, but didn't really know anything about him. Sounds like quite a character.
    bcrug(at)myfairpoint(dot(net

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Connie! Yes, he was definitely colorful, to say the least.

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  3. No, I haven't heard of Roy Bean, but I enjoyed learning about him in your post. History is very interesting to me, and I love learning about the past. Thanks for the giveaway. I know the book is wonderful!
    susan in NC
    susanlulu(at)yahoo(dot)com

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    1. I'm glad I was able to introduce you to a new character from history!

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  4. Hi Jennifer, yes, I'd heard of Judge Roy Bean. He really was a character. Today, he'd be on TV.

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    1. ROFLOL. Yes, Margaret, I believe you're right. He'd have led "The People's Court" or something similar. Oy!

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  5. I had only known about Judge Roy Bean from a television show from the 50s. We must have seen it on Sky Angel television in the late 90s. What a difference between how Edgar Buchanan played the part from the real person! On the television show he is a slightly eccentric but kind, moral judge.

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    1. Hi Sandy, I think many of the shows from the '50s had a rather whitewashed view of the Old West. Not that we need to fill our heads with half the things we do today, but I like a balance between the two.

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  6. Wow! What a character and to live so long . . . even survive a hanging! : / I have heard of him but wouldn't have been able to make up such a story! Thanks so much for sharing it. chris_davebures@bellsouth.net

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    1. Hi Chris, he did live a very long life, especially given the rocky youth he had. Thanks for stopping by.

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  7. Very interesting topic today.. I have heard of the Judge. I think he was an outlaw turned judge. I've watched a few movies with the Judge in them and his infatuation with Miss Langtree..
    dkstevensneAToutlookD oTcOM

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    1. I can certainly see why you'd say he was an outlaw turned judge. Interestingly, many Old West lawmen were outlaws before they became keepers of the law (if you could actually call them that). LOL

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  8. Hello Jennifer, I am very familiar with Judge Roy Bean. I live in the neighboring county of Mason County, KY (about 20 miles away) so he is often mentioned in newspaper articles about their historical citizens. I also remember that Paul Newman portrayed him in a movie.
    Thank you for shining light on this Kentucky native!
    Connie
    cps1950 at gmail dot com

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    1. How interesting that you live near Roy Bean's birthplace, Connie! Do they have historical sites relating to his early life near where you live?

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  9. I've just heard his name before, but didn't know his story. With judges like him, no wonder the "wild west" was so lawless!

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    1. I agree with you, Donna. Most certainly, the outrageous, larger-than-life characters like Bean made the Old West quite a place.

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  10. I have not heard of him before this. How very interesting! I really am not sure if I would call him a hero or a villain - perhaps both...lol
    bettimace at gmail dot com

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    1. I'm so glad I was able to introduce you to a new historical figure, Betti.

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  11. I love learning about new bits of history here! Thanks so much for sharing and for the giveaway!

    colorvibrant at gmail dot com

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  12. Thank you, Jennifer for sharing this most interesting post. I have always heard of Judge Roy a Bean but I certainly didn't know all the great facts you revealed.

    mauback55 at gmail dot com

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    1. So glad you enjoyed it, Melanie! Thanks for stopping by.

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  13. Jennifer: Fascinating post! I think Judge Roy Bean was a flawed human like most of us. However, he had also the usual Old West legends and stories surrounding him, making it tough to sort out fiction from fact. Such a fascinating character who fits so well in western novels and movies set in his time....

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    1. Thanks so much, Janet! Yes, there are definitely differing opinions on what was truth and what was fiction in his life. I used three sources (two books and a website) in researching this character, and between the three, two would say an event truly happened where the third said that was a fiction he invented to make himself more interesting.

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  14. Wow this is neat. My uncle lived in Del Rio and told us about Judge Roy Bean. We have pictures of my grandparents visiting there.

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    1. How interesting! Thanks for sharing that piece of your history with me. ;)

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  15. What a life! No, I had never of Judge Roy Bean, whose morality seemed to change with each decade of his life. How interesting. I would love to read more. rmaney(at)firstarpchurch(dot)org.

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    1. I'm glad I piqued your interest, Rebecca. I'm sure there's a slew of information about him out there, should you decide to look for more.

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  16. I'm excited to have the book for my trip in April

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    1. Hi Linda, please leave your email to be included in the drawing.

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  17. I hadn't heard of Judge Bean, either. Sounds like he made judgments according to what suited him. Quite a life he had!

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    1. I think you're absolutely right, Joan. Judge Bean ruled by whatever wind blew that day. LOL

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  18. Have heard of Judge Bean. Wow what a character. I think he was half hero and half villian but leading more towards the villian side. momtr3@yahoo.com

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    1. Hi Bonnie, Thanks for stopping by. You could be right that he was half and half. Definitely a character, either way!

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  19. Jennifer, thanks for the post and the giveaway! There's a combination saloon and burger joint in our town called "The Jersey Lilly." Judge Roy Bean lives on! ;)

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    1. That's so interesting, Ann. Are you in an area where Roy Bean once lived or made some history?

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    2. No, as far as I know he never got to Oregon. Guess the owners of the establishment just wanted an Old West vibe. :)

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  20. As someone obsessed with the western genre, I'm semi-familiar with Judge Roy Bean. I was introduced to him through the 50's TV show and the Gary Cooper movie, The Westerner. The conflicting portrayals prompted me to do a bit of research.

    And, your novella sounds wonderful! Thanks for offering a chance to win it!! :D
    jennifersauer73(AT)gmail(DOT)come

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    1. Roy Bean was definitely an outrageous enough character to be a staple in many western programs. Thanks so much for stopping by, Jennifer!

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  21. Thank you all for your wonderful responses yesterday! The winner of my giveaway is Connie R. Congratulations! Please look for an email from me very soon. Everyone else, please check back on my futures posts, as I will be doing further giveaways in upcoming months.

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  22. I had heard of Judge Roy Bean, many times, in school and in movies and television. But I did not know many facts about him, and it was interesting to learn more of the "facts" about him. I always enjoy doing that, learning about something that I normally would not do, on an everyday basis. Thanks so much for all the information and have a wonderful, blessed day!!!

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    1. My email address is cavallofrances@yahoo.com.

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  23. Sounds like Judge Roy Bean dramatically broke the law wherever he went, so I'll call him a villain. He used the law as a cover for whatever he felt like doing. love to win and read The Oregon Trail Collection. sm wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

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  24. I have never heard of him! I am wanting this book very bad! If I don't win I will be buying it when I can! Thanks for the opportunity! grandmama_brenda(at)yahoo(dot) com

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