“..and that’s my rulin’ ” were the final words often spoken by “The Hanging Judge” Roy Bean from his law office in Langtry, Texas. Most of his sentences were highly controversial and questionable.
After crossing Westward over the Pecos River Bridge, the highest highway bridge in Texas at 270 feet high and 1310 feet long, you begin to feel the heat of the desert. Driving through this desolate region of Southwest Texas, a little town appears along the banks of the Rio Grande River. Lillie Langtry Trading Post looks like a good place to get a cool drink here in the middle of all the sage and cactus in the Chihuahuan Desert. Surrounding the Judge Roy Bean Visiting Center nearby was a beautiful cactus garden with ocotillo, prickly pear and aloe plants..even some cactus in bloom.
The most illustrious resident of the town in the late 1800s was Judge Roy Bean. He had former business experience selling stolen fire wood, watered down milk and rustled cattle, and later running a tent saloon. His new saloon was called “The Jersey Lilly” after Lillie Langtry, a woman he admired in the entertainment industry. Although Judge Bean never met Lily, it is reported that he did write to her frequently, and she wrote back, even sending him two pistols, which he cherished.
He claimed the town was also named for her, when in fact it was named for George Langtry, a railroad supervisor. Judge Bean even built an opera house there in hopes Lily would come to perform, but she never visited the town until after Bean’s death.
No wonder that Roy Bean was called “The Hanging Judge” as his philosophy was “Hang ’em first, try ’em later.” But although he frequently talked about hanging the sentenced, there is no record showing that he actually hanged anyone. Perhaps this was because Roy Bean himself was really hanged at one time back in California, where he killed a Mexican official over a woman. Friends of the official didn’t taken too kindly to this, so they hanged Roy Bean and left him to die. However, the woman in question came to rescue him, but he was never able to move his head again after the hanging.
Court was held in “The Jersey Lily” where the sign out front says: Judge Roy Bean Justice of the Peace, Law West of the Pecos. Behind the bar was a tattered picture of Miss Lily and a large sign that said:
Now he had a ‘real’ office structure even though it still was mainly a saloon. He considered himself as the “Law West Of The Pecos (River).” From here he dispensed liquor, justice, and lots of tall tales.
Most of his time was spent sitting on the front porch of his saloon waiting for the next train to come through town. When it did, he would get up and serve drinks to those who stopped in, but took his time giving them change. When the train was ready to leave, customers were clamoring for their change and got rather disruptive. At this point Judge Roy Bean would fine the customer for the exact amount of the change they were to receive.Their angry words on the way back to the train would best not be repeated here.
Once he fined a corpse in his saloon courtroom when he discovered the dead man had $40 in his pocket and a six-shooter. He fined him for carrying a six-shooter and the fine was $40.
“I don’t abide giving killers a chance. If he wants a chance, let him go somewhere else,” said Roy Bean after shooting a Jackson gang member in the back. This kind of high-handed homespun law, outrageous humor and six-shooter justice makes this historic site where Judge Bean ruled an interesting stop…now that “The Hanging Judge” is no longer around.
Langtry, Texas is located on US highway 90 about 60 miles West of Del Rio. It is easy to find, as there is nothing else in the area!