The West Texas towns of Langtry and Pecos showcase the legacy of a legend.
Cataloguing the Character of Judge Roy Bean
West Texas is more than a place—it’s a spirit, a worldview and a way of life. And while its inhospitable beauty may captivate the imagination here and abroad, West Texas also owes its charm to the frontiersmen, prospectors, Native Americans, rancheros, laborers, traders, explorers and outlaws who made this region their own.
One of the most well known (and notorious) in this cast of characters is Judge Roy Bean. Originally from rural Kentucky, Bean led a tumultuous and colorful life during the late 1800’s—often fleeing the law between California, Mexico and New Mexico before settling permanently in Texas.
Today, Roy Bean is colloquially known as the “hanging judge.” In fact, neither aspect of that moniker is true. During his life in Texas, Bean was self-proclaimed and widely known as “The Only Law West of the Pecos,” but served as an eccentric and unorthodox Justice of the Peace out of his tent saloon in Vinegarroon, Texas. And while ‘Judge’ Bean was known to hand out strange, often illegal rulings (such as fining a cowboy’s corpse for concealing a weapon in order to pocket the $40 found on the body), he only sentenced two people to be hanged.
After only several months in Vinegarroon, Bean relocated to Langtry where he set up his Jersey Lilly saloon & courtroom in 1883. As far as institutions go, it’s an interesting combination where jury members were expected to buy a drink during recesses and after sentencing. The Jersey Lilly stands to this day for visitors to see and enjoy, adjacent to the Roy Bean Visitor Center in Langtry.
An active Judge for the rest of his life (even after his position was formally dissolved by the state government), Bean’s reputation expanded far outward beyond his courtroom saloon in Langtry. Those eager to learn more about the history and heritage of West Texas (including Judge Bean) should consider visiting the West of the Pecos Museum located in Pecos, TX. Inaugurated in 1963, this historically recognized landmark houses three full floors of exhibits displaying artifacts and lore curated from around West Texas—including a variety of Bean’s personal belongings.