Roy Bean was for ten years in the young days of Texas justice of the peace and coroner of the town of Vinegar Roon, being, as he expressed it, “the law of Texas west of the Pecos.”
He is still living in the town of Langtry, 300 miles west of San Antonio. No man know whence he came. The railroad builders found him away out there on the great desert plains, and when the gamblers and toughs and tenderfeet came along with the first trains and at once proceeded to run the country according to their own notions old Roy Bean declared himself a justice of the peace and boldly announced, “I am the law of Texas west of the Pecos.” It is highly probable that a few people who were in favor of law and order invited the strange character to assume the judicial position and that on account of his desperate courage and fearless judicial demeanor he afterward was appointed to fill the office of justice of the peace.
Early one morning it was reported in the town of Vinegar Roon that a man had fallen from a bridge near the place and that his dead body was lying on the ground close to the water. Roy Bean, as justice of the peace and exofficio coroner, at once summoned a jury. There was no testimony to be taken. The man was a stranger, and it was not easy to determine the cause of his death. He might have fallen from the bridge or he might have been murdered. The coroner searched the dead body, and when he found a pistol in one pocket and $50 in the other he turned to the jury and informed them that in this matter their services were of no value, since it would be necessary for the court to render a verdict without their aid. The court fined the dead man $50 for carrying a pistol and took possession of the money, since the fees of the coroner amounted to just $50, and the body was buried on the lonely prairie at the expense of the county.
Vinegar Roon was named after the most poisonous little reptile that infests the western plains, says the New York Press. It can sting a Gila monster to death in the twinkling of an eye and then turn about and chase a rattlesnake from his den. Chain lightning whisky is no antidote for the poison of the vinegar roon. Roy Bean named the place, and while acting justice of the peace he divided his time between the judicial bench and a roomy saloon and gambling house, where there was none to dispute his authority, for he was sole proprietor.
One fine day a gambler, while in an unusually hilarious mood, sent a pistol ball crashing through the brains of a Chinaman. When the citizens of Vinegar Roon had ceased to celebrate the exit of the Celestial and the funeral solemnities were an affair of the past, the killer was honored with a request to appear at the bar where liquids and justice were dispensed alternately.
The sage who was “the law of Texas west of the Pecos” had evidently devoted some spare moments to the study of his first murder case, for the judgment that was rendered and entered on the docket is certainly without a parallel.
“I have carefully examined the criminal statutes of Texas,” said Roy Bean, “and I find that there is plenty of law to punish one white man for another, but there is no law to punish a citizen of Texas for shooting a Chinaman. In fact, the Chinese are not mentioned in the statutes. The gentleman at the bar stands charged with having shot and killed a Chinaman by the name of Ah Foo. Mr. Ah Foo was unfortunate. He should have remained in his own country. Texas is the land of the free and the home of the brave. It is no place for Mr. Ah Foo or Mr. Ah Sin or Mrs. Ah Sin. Our wise legislators have failed to make laws for the protection of pigtails. Therefore the defendant is discharged, and the costs of this case are assessed against the deceased, Ah Foo, and in case the same cannot be collected in full by the sale of the goods and chattels of the said Ah Foo, or some other Chinaman, it is the order of this court that a copy of these proceedings be made and forwarded to the United States minister in China, and by these presents he is authorized to collect said costs from the emperor of China. The defendant is discharged.”
One day a man with an immense sombrero above his long, tangled hair and an arsenal at his belt appeared at Vinegar Roon, declaring that he had just stopped over to have a little recreation.
“I have been spending a few weeks in San Antonio,” he said, “and my shooting irons were getting rusty.”
After taking a few drinks at the bar he began to berate the mild and feeble qualities of the liquids offered for sale in the infant city.
“Give me a little tarantula juice with a real vinegar roon floating around in it!” shouted this Arizona terror.
“All right,” calmly replied the old behind the bar. “I think we can accommodate you, but you will have to wait a few moments.”
“Well, get up the beverage,” roared the terror, “and I’ll amuse myself during the delay by dropping a few bullets around promiscuously among the lamps and bottles and sich things.”
“As you please,” suavely replied the old man. “I like to see a stranger enjoy himself.”
The terror glanced at the polite barkeeper rather suspiciously, but he never once dreamed that he was talking to old Roy Bean.
Fairly chuckling with suppressed merriment, old Roy went out on the plains only a few steps from his saloon and after turning over two or three rocks he got a big tarantula and a monster vinegar roon. After mashing the heads of the poisonous reptiles he returned to the barroom, entering the door just as the terror with a wild Comanche yell began to rain lead among the bottle and glasses.
As the patrons of the house started through the doors and windows in confusion, old Roy shouted:
“Keep your seats, gentlemen. This infant cyclone will be of sort duration.”
The next instant the terror found himself standing on his head and his weapons were falling upon the floor. Mr. Bean held the amazed man in that position until an accomplished bartender had filled a large beer glass with pure alcohol, and then he reversed the terror as if he had been handling a toy.
“Now, look here, stranger,” said Mr. Bean, in tender but deceptive tones, “you have been finding fault with the quality of my whisky and you have seen proper, to satisfy your fastidious taste, to order a peculiar drink which I have taken the trouble to prepare for you.”
The terror turned his white face toward the bar, and when he saw a tarantula and a vinegar roon floating about in a tumbler of alcohol he uttered a groan of distress and his knees began to tremble.
“There is the peculiar drink and trimmings that you ordered, young man, and my name is Roy Bean,” said the old man, as he pushed the trembling terror toward the bar.
The amazed and thoroughly alarmed stranger found voice enough to beg for mercy.
“Drink every drop of it or I will break your neck,” said Judge Bean.
The poor devil gulped down the awful mixture and with a scream of terror sprang out into the street. He “hit the earth a-running,” and he never slackened his speed until the town of Vinegar Roon was far behind him. It is supposed that the man’s stomach instantly rejected the fearful poison, for he lied to tell of his experience in Vinegar Ron, though he said there was not gold enough in the world to hire him to revisit the place.
Newark Daily Advocate (Newark, Ohio) Oct 6, 1900
What the Newspapers Throughout Texas Are Talking About.
The Uvalde News says:
Last Monday Harry Webb, one of the Southern Pacific barge men, to amuse himself brought crackers to feed Judge Bean’s immense bear. The animal would come to the end of the chain, receive a cracker and turn a somersault, to Mr. Webb’s infinite amusement. Judge Bean finally remonstrated, telling the man to go out and “monkey with the donkeys,” as they wouldn’t hurt him. Mr. Webb bought another dollar’s worth of crackers and fed the long-eared animals for a time, but protested there was no fun in that and returned to Bruin, who, no doubt, was feeling injured. Finally a cracker was dropped and Webb stooped over to pick it up. The bear thought he intended taking it away from him and reached over with his mighty paw, caught the man back of the head, and pulled him into the ring. He tore the man’s scalp off, from neck to crown, as cleanly as an Indian could have done it, and was proceeding to further deeds of destruction when Judge Bean, attracted by the victim’s frantic yell, uttered a war whoop and landed directly on the bear’s back. The animal knew his master and cowed instantly.
Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) Jul 27, 1891
A Judge Arrested for Smuggling
SAN ANTONIO, Tex., Aug. 24. — Judge Roy Bean, of Langley, has been arrested for smuggling. It is alleged that he has been concerned in running horses from Mexico into the United States. He is one of the most celebrated characters of the frontier, and has been justice of the peace for many years. He has been accustomed to enforce his ruling with the six-shooter. Once when justice of the peace in Bexar county he sentenced a man to death by hanging for horse stealing, and the criminal would have hanged if not for the intervention of the officers from San Antonio. Bean is 60 years old and wealthy.
Mitchell Daily Republican (Mitchell, South Dakota) Aug 24, 1891
JUSTICE OUT WEST
Judge Roy Bean Disposes Of a Big Docket.
Langtry, Tex., May 19. — Judge Roy Bean, chief justice of the district of Vinegaroon and the hero of many a thrilling border experience in court and camp, has recently been entertaining Judge Falvey of El Paso, whom he enlightened as to the practical and effective methods of dealing out justice in his jurisdiction. Judge Bean had no long before had as a guest Hon. H.C. Carter of San Antonio, to whom Del Rio lays claim because he embarked upon his professional career there and was at one time county attorney, making a splendid record as a successful and able lawyer.
When Judge Falvey came down from El Paso, Judge Bean met him not far from the seat of justice at Vinegaroon, escorted him to town and invited him to occupy a seat on the bench with him as he was about to open court. Judge Falvey accepted the invitation with expressions of pleasure, and court was opened in due and solemn form.
The first case called was one in which a man had made an affidavit charging another with shooting at him with a pistol, the bullet missing affiant’s head barely an inch. Judge Bean remarked that he had seen the two men drinking together during the morning with every indication of good will toward each other and asked:
“You are friends, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” replied the man who had made the affidavit.
“Then I fine you $50 each,” firmly announced the judge.
“But, my dear judge,” interrupted Judge Falvey, “this man is charged with a penitentiary offense.”
“That’s all right,” responded the court.
“All we can do with these fellows here is to fine them. IF I was to send them up to Fort Stockton it would require a journey of 200 miles by rail and 60 miles more by land and it would bankrupt the county to feed them. The fine assessed by this court will stand.”
The next case was that of a man brought in by Sergt. Lindsey, charged with having “rolled” another. Judge Bean, thinking perhaps Judge Falvey would not understand the expression “rolled” called on the sergeant for an explanation. The sergeant gave it, saying that the term “rolled” meant that a man caught asleep or too drunk to take care of himself has his money and valuables taken out of his pockets or off his person. It was the border term for theft from the person. The prisoner in this case, he said, had taken two $20 bills and some silver from his victim’s pockets and the bills were produced and laid on the judge’s table as incriminating evidence.
Judge Bean demanded of the prisoner to tell what he had done with the silver and the latter replied that he had spent it on the guard.
“Then,” said the cort, “I fine you both $10 a piece and if I catch you around here within two hours I will feed you on bread and water and chain you to a stake.”
“This man is also guilty of a penitentiary offense, judge,” said Judge Falvey, who had listened closely to the proceedings.
“I can’t help that,” returned the chief justice, “that is all the way this court can be run.”
While Judge Falvey was sitting with Judge Bean he saw some 15 or 20 cases disposed of in like manner and when he told the people there, referring to his visit at Vinegaroon,
“Gentlemen, you have the right man in the right place.”
It is said that in reading closely Judge Bean’s famous decisions is to be attributed in a large degree the success achieved by Attorney Carter in his profession and by the way, it is said, note of these decisions has ever been reversed. Though, possibly that is due to the fact that the dispenser of justice at Vinegaroon never allows appeals from the decisions of his court.
Judge Falvey asked Judge Bean if the report was true that he allowed no appeals and the answer given by Judge Bean was that no appeals were granted because all the contractors in that vicinity were transients; all their personal effects and chattels were mortgaged and they could not give a solvent bond as required by law when appeal is taken.
When the evening’s session was over, Judge Bean escorted his guest to Eagle Nest, a string band leading the way and enlivening the journey with soft music. That night the judge gave a dinner at his saloon at Eagle Nest in honor of his visitor and things were made pleasant all around.
THE SAN ANTONIO DAILY EXPRESS (San Antonio, Texas) May 21, 1899
TEXAS LANDMARK FAST CRUMBLING
Once Proud Seat of “Law West of Pecos” is Now Crumbling Ruins.
WHERE JUDGE BEAN PRESIDED
Town’s Name, Eagle’s Nest, Vanishes From Map and Only Memory Remains of the Judge and His Rulings.
San Antonio, Tex. — With its foundation posts wobbling like old men’s legs, its floors showing ugly gaping holes, its porch roof shorn of the last lingering board, scraggy bits of what was once white paint hanging to the outer walls, and its door banging to a single rusty hinge — at Langtry, Tex., once known as Eagle’s Nest — what remains of one of Texas’ most famous old landmarks is succumbing to wind and rain.
It is the once proud seat of the “Law West of the Pecos” — the old home and saloon and throne where, not so many years ago, Judge Roy Bean lived and reigned supreme as dispenser of justice and red eye liquor, and dared the world to interfere with his game.
But since Judge Bean went away there had been a great change. Perhaps it is just as well that he “cashed in” — as he himself probably would express it — before the days when nowhere in the whole of Texas can the traveler find a drop to drink.
In the “Good Old Days.”
Many humorous and many semi-tragic stories regarding Judge Bean have been handed down by friends and relatives, many of whom are living in or adjacent to San Antonio today. It was in a day when enforcers of the law were few and far between, and when the men with the quickest trigger finger and the steadiest nerve were monarchs of a large portion of what they surveyed.
Bean was justice of the peace of precinct No. 6 and the ranking representative of the law for hundreds of miles north, south, east and west of him. Equipped with a copy of the statutes of Ohio of the vintage of 1885, a sense of fair play, and a strong conviction of what the law should be even though it were not so written down in the books, he put up his sign:
Judge Roy Bean,
Justice of the Peace,
Law West of the Pecos.
In addition to being chief magistrate over everything “West of the Pecos,” Judge Bean conducted a thirst-quenching emporium typical of the day. The saloon was in the hall of justice, and from behind the bar came the voice of authority backed by a brace of perfectly good six-shooters.
Judge Bean’s “Law.”
Two Mexican men and women walked into Judge Bean’s court one day and informed him that they wanted a change; that they wanted to swap helpmeets. The judge made diligent inquiries of each of the four, found all to be of the same mind, charged each of the men $15 and a dozen bottles of beer and called it done.
When a state official from Austin on a flying visit to “Eagle’s Nest” complained to Judge Bean that he was exceeding his authority, explaining that divorces should be passed up to a higher court, Bean alleged to have retorted:
“Why, say! Have I ever butted into your affairs? These people wanted to sway, they paid me for changin’ ‘em around, they’re livin’ together pu’fectly happy, an’ nobody ’round here has complained. You go on back to Austin an’ handle your courts like you want to, but this is out o’ your jurisdiction.”
THE IOWA CITY DAILY CITIZEN (Iowa City, Iowa) Dec 22, 1919
To J.W. Schofield, city salesman of A.B. Frank % Company, belongs the distinction of having served as clerk in “Judge” Roy Bean’s court when “Law west of the Pecos,” had application to all classed of cases, civil and criminal, and the “Judge” power to render judgment extending all the way from the imposition of a petty fine, to the pronunciation of the death penalty.
The honor is not to be lightly construed. Mr. Schofield is the only person known to have officiated in the dispensation of justice in the most unique court in the history of judicial procedure. It was in every sense a high honor, for Judge Roy Bean, as was becoming his unusual prerogative, alone and unaided administered the “law” of his court. But the case under consideration was one in which the defendant threatened an appeal in the event the case went against him. Under the circumstances Judge Bean thought best to comply with the wishes of the attorney for the defense and Mr. Schofield was appointed to act as clerk.
Business Rivalry Cause.
The case was the result of the rivalry which existed between Judge Bean’s saloon and that of J.P. Torres.
In the spring of 1893, Mr. Schofield visited Langtry in the capacity of drummer of one of the San Antonio houses. D. Hart, a prominent sheepman of West Texas was preparing at the time, to pay off 200 or more sheep shearers who had been engaged to shear the animals. In anticipation of reaping some of the benefits of this spurt of prosperity, Judge Bean had laid in an extra stock of beer and whiskey. His rival was no slow to follow his lead.
The Mexican shearers arrived, and went in droves to the “Jersey Lily,” Judge Bean’s saloon. Satisfaction spread over his face as he looked over at the almost empty place of his rival.
Stealing a March.
But Torres was not easily outwitted. He had a partner running a saloon with a dance hall in connection at Flanders, the point where the railroad gang engaged in the construction of the Pecos bridge was camped. Torres dispatched a messenger to him with instructions to bring the dancing girls at Flanders to Langtry, accompanied by the orchestra. The move was not known to Judge Bean, if it had been, an injunction restraining Torres from bringing the women and the music to his place would have been issued immediately.
Soon after the arrival of the dancers, strains of music issued from Torres’ place to the accompaniment of shifting feet. The crowd of Mexicans in Judge Bean’s saloon, one by one, raised their lips from the glasses, and in crowds departed to the scene of revelry.
Judge Bean scratched his head and called for his friend, Mr. Schofield.
Not in Accord With Law.
“Now look here, Schofield, it ain’t in keeping with justice that all this amount of beer I have imported for this occasion should go to waste,” he said. “It ain’t economy, and it ain’t accordin’ to the statutes of the State of Texas.”
“I’ll just pull Torres for conducting a disorderly house. There are more ways than one of doing business,” he said, while deputizing several cowpunchers to arrest Torres, and bring him before the honorable court of the law west of the Pecos.
Following the arrest of Torres, his place was closed down, and the shearers returned to the “Jersey Lily,” while the case of the State of Texas versus J.P. Torres, was duly docketed and called for trial.
Mr. Cunningham, inspector of customs, stationed at Langtry, appeared for the defendant, and demanded a jury. He also informed Judge Bean that in the even the case went against his client in the lower court an appeal would be taken. He was in turn informed that the decisions of Judge Bean’s court were conclusive and final and no such thing as a appeal had even been heard of. Mr. Cunningham insisted that the appeal would be taken, and Judge Bean called on Mr. Schofield for assistance.
In making the appointment, Judge Bean said, “I’ve got to have you for a clear, because there ain’t anyone around here can write.”
While Mr. Schofield agreed to serve as clerk, his intentions were to leave on the night train. Just as he was in the act of boarding the train, however, a ranger stepped up to him and asked if he had not been appointed to act as clerk. Mr. Schofield admitted that such was the case. Upon this the ranger then told him that he had better remain and perform his duties. Mr. Shofield agreed with the ranger when he caught sight of two bit six-shooters that looked like business.
In the morning the case was called for trial.
Mr. Cunningham, having a smattering of law, got the best of the argument, and put Judge Bean to rout on several legal points. Whenever the judge was unable to reply to the sallies of Mr. Cunningham, he would hold up the only law book he had, which was a statute of the state, and say:
“If what you say is the law, and is in the book, and ain’t a good law, then I’ll tear it out of the book.”
Mr. Schofield who was busily engaged in performing the usual duties of the clerk, in addition to taking and subscribing testimony, realized that the case was going against the judge. In the end the jury disagreed and it being impossible to secure another, the case was dropped for the time being.
A year later Judge Bean, on a visit to the city, met Mr. Schofiled, who naturally, was still greatly interested in the case.
Judge Bean Won.
“Well I finally got the best of Torres,” he told him.
“A jack-leg lawyer turned up in Langtry broke some time ago, and in discussing the case with him, I found out that Cunningham had no right to practice law. The lawyer told me if he did not have a license he had no right to defend Torres. After that things looked easy. I called on Torres and told him that I had him. The thing I sprung on him was, that I had discovered that Cunningham did not have a license to practice law, and therefore his action in defending him was illegal and contrary to the constitution of the state and the United States, and if he wanted to plead guilty, it would cost him $25, but if he did not, then I would try him again and stick him the limit. Torres came across and paid the $25.”
Judge Bean had at this time run afoul of the real law, by giving divorce degrees to two Mexican hombres in order that they might exchange wives. In discussing the case, Judge Bean gave expression to an axiom which he alone has ever been able to understand, “Law,” he said to Mr. Schofield, “is the true dispensation of justice.”
Hitting a Snag.
“The two Mexicans,” he explained, “appeared before me and secured a license to marry. I issued the license and married them. About four months later the same men came to me again and said they wanted to be divorced so that they could exchange wives. They said that in marrying they had married the wrong women, and had now concluded that their difficulties could be solved by being divorced and re-married. I granted the divorce, and swapped the wives around for them.
“It was not long after this that the county judge at Fort Stockton got wind of the proceedings and called on me at Langtry.
“He informed me I had exceeded my authority, and that he would be compelled to arrest me and take me to the jail at Fort Stockton. I finally succeeded in getting the judge to remain over night in Langtry, and knowing he was fond of playing poker, I sent out for some of my boys.
“The judge had about twenty dollars with him, which he soon lost. Of course, I supplied him with money from time to time, and when daylight came the judge owed me about $500.
“He called for his horse and rode away without mentioning anything more about the criminal proceedings against me for granting the divorce, and I did not remind him of the money he had borrowed from me. After he had gone, the boys came around and gave me back my money.”
“Texas certainly lost a unique character by the death of Roy Bean, some three or four years ago, ” said Mr. Schofield.
THE SAN ANTONIO LIGHT (San Antonio, Texas) Nov 26, 1911
Famed Pecos Judge Shocked S.A.
By RAY WARD
For 20 years before he became law west of the Pecos, the famed Judge Roy Bean shocked San Antonio with sensational scandals and gave his name to part of the south side.
South of Concepcion park along Flores, where the colorful adventurer played Robin Hood to his friends and reveled in comic glory, became known as Beanville.
His escapades kept the courts busy but his legal footwork was so expert he was never convicted on any charge brought again him. Finally, a harried friend paid him to leave town and stay away.
The portly man with a heavy black beard came to San Antonio during the Civil was and made a quick fortune running the union blockade by smuggling cotton to Mexico.
Deciding German and American society was too formal for him, Bean donned a sombrero and moved to the west side in 1866, squatting in a shack on San Pedro creek.
After a run of bad luck his creditors attached his hauling equipment and the sheriff prepared to sell it. Feeling the pinch in his pocketbook from lack of wagons, Bean simply stole his equipment back and the case was closed without further action.
REFUSED TO PAY
Bean’s unwilling landlord then ordered him to pay back rent for the shack or move out. Bean refused and went to court again. After months of legal stalling, the owner gave in and compromised by moving Bean’s belongings to another house, giving him a jug of whisky and paying him $3000 for inconveniences.
Bean then moved to S. Flores and the area took the name of Beanville. Pundits called it Dogtown because of the extreme poverty of the residents and because all the curs on the south side were starving to death.
The temporarily wealthy Bean next created a society sensation by marrying Virginia Chavez, a descendant of on of San Antonio’s original Canary island families. He settled down to a quiet married life for a few months, but was soon back in court.
ACCUSED BY WIFE
In 1867 his wife charged him with assault. She said he came home drunk, took a flaming stick from the fire, chased her out of bed and burned her backside severely.
The case rocked society and Bean got a change of venue to Boerne. At the trial he demanded his wife show the jury her scars, and when she refused the judge dismissed the case.
Bean next turned woodsman. He was hired to keep poachers off a lumber mill’s property, but made more money selling to a competitor on the side.
When the deception was uncovered, he became a dairy farmer. He bought a herd of milk cows on approval, but because of a drouth they starved to death.
Butchering was his next vocation. Bean hired boys to steal stray horses and cows and peddled the meat from door to door. He opened a saloon on the side and went broke in both enterprises.
His last venture was a return to freighting, but he killed a man in a duel in Mexico and closed shop again.
A posse of deputy marshals camped in Beanville in 1875 and convinced the 56-year-old man he should seek his fortune in the wide open west. He lacked the money to go, but a neighbor, who wanted to be rid of him, bought his worthless business just to get him to leave.
TOO MUCH LAW
As a parting gesture he made a southsiders promise to keep the name of Beanville and departed from San Antonio saying:
“They say there’s no law west of the Pecos. Well, there’s too much law around San Antonio.”
He settled at a railroad construction camp called Vinegarroon and opened a tavern which he advertised widely in south Texas. In 1882 he was made a justice of the peace and began his climb into legend as a judge, a sportsman and platonic friend of Lily Langtry.
SAN ANTONIO LIGHT (San Antonio, Texas) Oct 24, 1954
THE STORY OF JUDGE ROY BEAN
Law West of the Pecos
By EVERETT LLOYD (excerpt from chapter two)
Contrary to general belief, Roy Bean was not personally acquainted with the celebrated English actress, Lillie Langtry, and she did not visit the town supposed to have been named in her honor until after Bean’s death. That he had a long-distance admiration for her, and even wrote to her and received a reply, we know from the statements of the famous beauty in her autobiography.
The most plausible explanation of Bean’s admiration for Lillie Langtry is that at the time she was a world celebrity; her picture and stories of her triumphs and love affairs were in every newspaper; and the station of Langtry having already been named, it is more than probably that Bean in a spirit of levity and partly as a hoax, informed her that he had named his town in her honor, and it was natural that she should feel flattered. A few years later when the opportunity came during one of her American tours, the citizens of Langtry being aware of Bean’s fancied or pretended acquaintance with the great actress, and having heard him read her reply to his letter, invited her to pay the town a visit on her way to California and she accepted.
Amarillo Daily News (Amarillo, Texas) Aug 1, 1940
Famous people in the photo above include Judge Roy Bean, Wyatt Earp, Butch Cassidy and Teddy Roosevelt.