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Judge Roy Bean: Law West of the Pecos

Roy Bean was one of the most colorful characters to inhabit the state of Texas, and he chose one of the state’s most Godforsaken places as his personal dominion—the empty, dusty plains west of the Pecos River’s junction with the Rio Grande, out near… well, not really near anyplace to speak of. Sandwiched between the banks of the Rio Grande and the Sunset Route of the Southern Pacific Railroad, Bean’s corner of the world began as a rough railroad camp and went downhill from there. Bean named his town Langtry, after the famous and beautiful English entertainer Miss Lily Langtry. Adopting her popular nickname, he dubbed his notorious saloon and pool hall the Jersey Lilly (spelling was not Bean’s greatest strength). The tales of his escapades are countless; Sonnichsen surely had to choose only the best to include in his book. Whether Bean was chaining a drunk to a half-tamed bear or claiming that the Jersey Lilly had a policy against making change (what you proffered, he kept), Roy Bean cut a wide swath through Texas folklore. It was his status as judge—or justice of the peace, to be more precise—that brought the greatest glory to Roy Bean. Should a bar patron complain of the no-change policy, Judge Roy Bean would announce himself the Law West of the Pecos and would fine the complainer, said fine being in the exact amount of the change claimed. And that was only the beginning. The stories go on and on; the reader will find dozens in the pages of this classic book.

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