Phantly Roy Bean, Jr.
(c. 1825 – March 16, 1903)
was an eccentric U.S. saloon-keeper and Justice of the Peace in Val Verde
County, Texas, who called
himself "The Law West of the Pecos". According to legend, Judge Roy Bean held
court in his saloon along the Rio Grande in a desolate stretch of the Chihuahuan Desert of southwest
was born in 1825 in Mason County, Kentucky, the
youngest of three sons of Phantley Roy Bean, Sr., and the former
Anna Henderson Gore. The family was extremely poor, and at age
sixteen Bean left home to ride a flatboat to New Orleans. There, he found himself in trouble and fled
to San Antonio,
His brother Samuel G. "Sam" (1819-1903) had
previously gone to Independence, Missouri, and was a teamster and bullwhacker hauling freight
first to Santa
Fe and then on to Chihuahua, Mexico.
After Sam fought in the Mexican–American War
freighted out of San Antonio where Roy joined him.Thrapp, Dan L.
(1991). - Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography: A-F
Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. - p. 80. - ISBN
9780803294189. In 1848, the two brothers opened a trading
post in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.
Soon after, Bean shot and killed a Mexican
desperado who had threatened "to kill a gringo". Mexican authorities
wished to charge Bean with murder, so he and his brother fled west
spring of 1849 Bean had moved to San Diego, California, to live with his older brother Joshua, who was elected the first mayor of the
city the following year.
Bean was considered young and handsome and competed for the
attentions of various local girls. A Scotsman named Collins
challenged Bean to a pistol shooting match on horseback. Bean was
left to choose the targets, and decided that they would shoot at
each other. The duel was fought on February 24, 1852, ending with
Collins receiving a wound to his right arm. Both men were arrested
and charged with assault with intent to murder. In the
two months that he was in jail, Bean received many gifts of
flowers, food, wine, and cigars from ladies in San Diego. His final
gift included knives encased in tamales
Bean used the knives to dig through the cell wall. After escaping on
April 17, Bean moved to San Gabriel, California, where he became a bartender for his
brother's saloon, known as the Headquarters Saloon.
Bean's brother was murdered in November, Bean inherited the
In 1854, Bean courted a young lady, who was kidnapped and forced to
marry a Mexican officer. Bean challenged the groom to a duel and
killed him. Six of the dead man's friends put Bean on a horse and
tied a noose around his head, then left him to hang. The horse did
not bolt, and after the men left, the bride, who had been hiding
behind a tree, cut the rope. Bean was left with a permanent rope
burn on his neck and a permanent stiff neck. Shortly after that,
Bean chose to leave California and left for New Mexico to live with Sam, who had become the first sheriff
of Doña Ana County. In 1861 Samuel G. and Roy Bean had a
merchandise store and saloon on Main Street in Pinos Altos (just
north of Silver
City) in present day Grant County, New Mexico that advertised liquor and "a fine billard
belonging to Roy
Bean, sat in front of this store, for show, it was used to repel an
Apache assault on the town. It is not known whether Roy Bean was
actually present during the Battle of Pinos Altos but he probably was.
Move to Texas
During the Civil War
, the Texas
army invaded New Mexico. After the Battle of Glorieta Pass in March 1862, the Texans began retreating to San
After first taking money from his brother's safe,
Bean joined the retreating army. For the remainder of the war, he ran the
blockade by hauling cotton from San Antonio to British ships off
the coast at Matamoros, then returning with supplies.
For the next
twenty years, Bean lived in San Antonio, working nominally as
a teamster. He attempted to run a firewood business, cutting down a
neighbor's timber. He then tried to run a dairy business, but was
soon caught watering down the milk, and later worked as a butcher,
rustling unbranded cattle from other area ranchers.
On October 28, 1866, he married eighteen-year-old Virginia Chavez.
Within a year after they were married he was arrested for
aggravated assault and threatening his wife's life. Despite the
tumultuous marriage, the two had four children together, Roy Jr.,
Laura, Zulema, and Sam. The family lived in "a poverty-stricken
Mexican slum area called Beanville".
By the late 1870s, Bean was operating a saloon in Beanville.
Several railroad companies were working to extend the railroads
west, and Bean heard that many construction camps were opening. A
store owner in Beanville "was so anxious to have this unscrupulous
character out of the neighborhood" that she bought all of Bean's
possessions for $900 so that he could leave San Antonio. At the
time, Bean and his wife were separated. Bean left his children with
friends as he prepared to go west.
Justice of the peace
With his earnings, Bean purchased a tent, some supplies to sell,
and ten 55-gallon barrels of whiskey. By the spring of 1882, he had
established a small saloon near the Pecos
in a tent city he named Vinegaroon. Within a stretch of
the tent city were 8,000 railroad workers. The nearest court was
away at Fort
Stockton, and there
was little means to stop the illegal activity. A Texas Ranger requested that a local
law jurisdiction be set up in Vinegaroon, and on August 2, 1882
Bean was appointed the Justice of
the Peace for the new Precinct 6 in Pecos
His first case had, however, been heard on
the 25th of July 1882 when then Texas rangers brought him Joe Bell
to be tried
One of his first acts as a Justice of the Peace was to "shoot[...]
up the saloon shack of a Jewish competitor". Bean then turned his
tent saloon into a part-time courtroom and began calling himself
the "Law West of the Pecos." As a judge, Bean relied on a single
lawbook, the 1879 edition of the Revised Statutes of
. If newer lawbooks appeared, Bean used them as
Bean did not allow hung juries or appeals, and jurors, who were
chosen from his best bar customers, were expected to buy a drink
during every court recess. Bean was known for his unusual rulings.
In one case, an Irishman named Paddy O'Rourke shot a Chinese
laborer. A mob of 200 angry Irishmen surrounded the courtroom and
threatened to lynch Bean if O'Rourke was not freed. After looking
through his law book, Bean ruled that "homicide was the killing of
a human being; however, he could find no law against killing a
". Bean dismissed the case.
By December 1882, railroad construction had moved further westward,
so Bean moved his courtroom and saloon to Strawbridge. A competitor
who was already established in the area laced Bean's whiskey stores
. Unable to attract customers,
Bean left the area and went to Eagle's Nest, west of the Pecos
River. The site was soon renamed Langtry.
The original owner of the land, who ran a
saloon, had sold to the railroad on the condition that no part of
the land could be sold or leased to Bean. O'Rourke, the Irishman
Bean had previously acquitted, told Bean to use the railroad
right-of-way, which was not covered by the contract. For the next
20 years, Bean squatted on land he had no legal right to
claim. Bean named his new saloon The Jersey Lilly in honor of
, who recounted how she
visited the area following the death of Roy Bean in her
autobiography. He sent for his children to live with him at the
saloon, with youngest son Sam forced to sleep on a pool
Langtry did not have a jail, so all cases were settled by fines.
Bean refused to send the state any part of the fines, but instead
kept all of the money. In most cases, the fines were made for the
exact amount in the accused's pockets. Bean is known to have
sentenced only two men to hang, one of whom escaped. Horse
thieves, who were often sentenced to death in other jurisdictions,
were always let go if the horses were returned. Although only
district courts were legally allowed to grant divorces, Bean did so
anyway, pocketing $10 per divorce. He charged only $5 for a
wedding, and ended all wedding ceremonies with "and may God have
mercy on your souls" (traditionally the end of a death sentence
Bean won re-election to his post in 1884, but was defeated in 1886.
The following year, the commissioner's court created a new precinct
in the county and appointed Bean the new justice of the peace. He
continued to be elected until 1896. Even after that defeat, he
"refused to surrender his seal and law book and continued to try
all cases north of the tracks".
In 1890, Bean received word that Jay Gould
was planning to pass through Langtry on a special train. Bean
flagged down the train
with the danger signal;
thinking the bridge was out, the train engineer stopped. Bean
invited Gould and his daughter to visit the saloon as his guests.
Goulds visited for two hours, causing a brief panic on the New York
Stock Exchange when it was reported that Gould had been killed in
a train crash.
Bean organized a world championship boxing
title bout between Bob Fitzsimmons
and Peter Maher on an island in
Grande because boxing matches were illegal in both
Texas and Mexico.
The fight lasted only 1 minute,
35 seconds, but the resulting sport reports spread his fame
throughout the United States.
As he aged, Bean spent much of his profits to help the poor of the
area, and always made sure that the schoolhouse had free firewood
in winter. He died March 16, 1903, peacefully in his
bed, after a bout of heavy drinking in San
Antonio over the building of a new power plant.
He and a
son, Sam Bean, are interred at the Whitehead Memorial Museum in
Films, books and television
- The Westerner
(1940), features Roy Bean, played by
Walter Brennan, as one of the main
characters. Although Brennan won an Academy Award for his performance, the movie
gives Bean an entirely fictious death scene.
- Edgar Buchanan (1903-1979)
portrayed Bean in a fictionalized 1956 syndicated television series entitled Judge Roy Bean. Jackie Loughery co-starred as Bean's niece,
Letty. Jack Buetel, who had played
Billy the Kid in the film The Outlaw, appeared as Jeff Taggert, and
series producer Russell Hayden appeared as Steve, a Texas Ranger.
- Le Juge by Morris
et Goscinny. Lucky Luke Belgian comic book from 1959.
- The Life
and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972) is a heavily fictionalized biopic of the
judge starring Paul Newman in the title
- Streets of Laredo
(1995), Judge Roy Bean, played by actor Ned Beatty, was killed by a
- Beyond Belief:
Fact or Fiction, in the 16th episode of the series,
featuring a segment inspired by an actual event where the ghost of
Judge Bean and his dog clean out a cheater's money.
- At Six Flags in Arlington, TX, a ride is named after him, the
"Judge Roy Scream".
- Davis (1985), p. 158.
- Davis (1985), p. 159.
- Anderson, George B., (1907). - History of New Mexico: Its
Resources and People. - Pacific States Publishing. - p. 565
and p. 726.
- Davis (1985), p. 160.
- Davis (1985), p. 163.
- Davis (1985), p. 161.
- American Frontier Lawmen 1850-1930, Charles M Robinson III,
Osprey 2005, page 54
- Davis (1985), p. 162.
- Davis (1985), p. 166.
- Davis (1985), p. 163.
- Langtry, Lillie. The Days I Knew (Hutchinson,
- Davis (1985), p. 166.
- Davis (1985), p. 167.
- Davis (1985), p. 165.
- Davis (1985), p. 169.
- Davis (1985), p. 170.
- Davis (1982), p. 172.
- Davis (1985), p. 173.
- C.L. Sonninchsen. Roy Bean: The Law West of Pecos.
1943. ISBN 0-8263-0846-5.
- Jack Skiles. Judge Roy Bean Country. Texas Tech
University Press. ISBN 0-89672-369-0.