Langtry, Texas is a small community located in the western part of the state, near the border with Mexico. If you are a fan of Westerns you have probably heard about this town and antics of Judge Roy Bean. In this post, we will explore some of the facts and fictions surrounding Judge Roy Bean and his connection to Lantry, Texas.
Fact: Langtry, Texas, was a stop on the railroad.
Langtry, Texas, was founded in the late 1800s as a stop on the Southern Pacific Railroad. The railroad brought new settlers and commerce to the area, and Lantry quickly became a hub for the surrounding ranches and farms. You can still see the impact the railroad had on this area. Old train lines and unused tunnels dot this region. It felt like we had stepped back into the old West. I felt like I should have been riding a horse instead of driving a car. There is a lot of history of the Chinese workers who labored on this part the the railroad expansion. There are some great photos in the museum.
Judge Roy Bean was not a native Texan. He was born in Kentucky. His family moved to Louisiana and it seems after some trouble he moved to Texas. He fought with the Confederates during the Civil War. By the late 1800s, he had already established his own “court” in nearby Langtry, saw an opportunity to expand his influence in the region and moved to Langtry.
Fiction: Judge Roy Bean was the “Law West of the Pecos.”
Judge Roy Bean is often portrayed as a wild and lawless judge who dispensed justice with a six-shooter. However, the reality is somewhat different. While Bean did indeed operate a “court” in Langtry, his jurisdiction was limited, and his legal authority was often questionable. Bean was known for dispensing his own brand of justice, which often included hefty fines and public humiliation, but he was not the sole authority in the region. The docent told us that he never actually hanged anyone. Since he would have to wait for a judge to come from San Antonio that he would chain the prisoner to a tree (loosely) and that person would disappear by morning.
Fact: Judge Roy Bean was a colorful character.
Judge Roy Bean was a larger-than-life figure who captured the imaginations of people across the country. He was known for his flamboyant personality, his colorful language, and his love of alcohol. Bean was also a shrewd businessman, and he capitalized on his notoriety by selling souvenirs and promoting his own brand of “justice.” Bean’s court was a popular tourist attraction, and he often held public trials to entertain visitors. Those public trials were held in his bar where the defendant might have to buy everyone in the bar a round of drinks as part of their sentence.
Fiction: Judge Roy Bean was a hero of the Old West.
He was not a lawman, and he did not fight for justice in the traditional sense. Bean was a showman who capitalized on his notoriety to make a living. While he was certainly a memorable figure, his legacy is more complicated than the simple hero/villain dichotomy often portrayed in popular culture. He seemed to have an eye for the Senoritas. It is rumored that he got himself into trouble more than once with the ladies across the border.
Fact: His love for Lillie Langtry. Fiction: The town is named after her.
Bean had a love for the singer Lillie Langtry. He wrote her letters stating that he name the town after her. It seems that the town probably got its name for one of the railroad executives whose last name but Langtry. She was moved by his letters but by time she came to Langtry the old Judge was dead. She was presented flowers by a young girl in town but she did not disembark.
Langtry, Texas, is still a small community with a rich history, including the legendary figure of Judge Roy Bean. While Bean is often portrayed as a wild and lawless judge, the reality is somewhat different. Bean was a Justice of the Peace. Everything else he created to make money. Nevertheless, Judge Roy Bean remains a colorful and memorable figure in the history of the Old West, and his connection to Langtry, Texas, is an important part of the town’s heritage.