Roy Bean Biography

(Justice of the Peace & Saloon-keeper)

Born: 1825

Born In: Mason County, Kentucky, United States

Roy Bean was an eccentric saloonkeeper, adventurer and judicial officer. His claim to fame rested on the rulings he meted out as a justice of the peace in western Texas during the late 19th century. Leaving home at an early age he dodged the law-enforcers and the several people he cheated and finally arrived in Vinegaroon. Here, he set up a bar which was frequented by rail road workers. There was much lawlessness prevailing in the area that the desperate County Commissioners appointed him Justice of the Peace of the Pecos County. When he moved from Vinegaroon to Langtry, he continued to dispense justice becoming ‘The Law West of the Pecos’. His rulings were humorous, bizarre, and based on his own sense of right and wrong. It was not complicated by legalities. His customers served as jurors and decisions were made without delays and appeals. He would refer only to the Revised Statutes of Texas. In legend, he is often called "The Hangin' Judge." Although he threatened to hang many, he never did. One or two were sentenced and taken to the gallows, but were allowed to escape. His cases were mostly minor ones and dispensed with promptly. The boxing bout that he organized made him notorious, and he eventually became part of Texas folklore.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Phantly Roy Bean Jr.

Died At Age: 78


Spouse/Ex-: Virginia Chavez

father: Phantly Roy Bean Sr.

mother: Anna Henderson Gore

siblings: Joshua Bean, Sam Bean

Judges American Men

Died on: March 19, 1903

place of death: Langtry, Texas, United States

U.S. State: Kentucky

Childhood & Early Life
Born in 1825, Phantly Roy Bean Jr. was the son of Phantly and Ann Bean. He had four siblings- Sarah, James, Joshua, and Samuel. The name Phantly Roy was a modification of the name Fauntleroy.
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Roy Bean left home at sixteen in 1841 for New Orleans hoping to find work there, but got into trouble and fled to his brother Sam in San Antonio, Texas.
In 1848, the two brothers opened a trading post in Chihuahua, Mexico. He shot dead a Mexican desperado while protecting a white non-Hispanic man. The brothers had to escape to Sonoro in Mexico.
In 1849, he joined his older brother Joshua in San Diego, California. Here, he was jailed after getting into a shooting-duel with a Scotsman Collins to impress the local lasses.
He was a ladies’ man, and among the many gifts he received from female admirers was a knife which he used to dig through the prison wall and escape to San Gabriel in California.
In San Gabriel, he served drinks at his brother Joshua’s saloon, known as the Headquarters Saloon. After Joshua was murdered, he took over the saloon. There, he fell in love with a Mexican girl.
He migrated to New Mexico to live with Sam who had been elected the first Sheriff of Doña Ana County. In 1861, the two brothers ran a merchandise store and saloon in Pinos Altos.
In 1862, he stole money from his brother's safe, and joined the retreating Confederate army. For the rest of the war, he towed cotton from San Antonio to British ships near Matamoras, Mexico, and brought provisions.
For twenty years, he lived in San Antonio working as a hauler, peddling stolen firewood, running a dairy business and working as a butcher.
In the late 1870s, he began a saloon in Beanville. He prepared to go west, after selling his possessions to a storeowner who was happy to get rid of the unscrupulous character.
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By 1882, he established a small saloon in Vinegaroon. With 8000 railroad workers in the vicinity and the nearest court being 200 miles away, it became a hub of illegal activities.
A Texas Ranger requested that a local law jurisdiction be set up in Vinegaroon, and on August 2, 1882, Bean was appointed Justice of the Peace for the new Precinct 6 in Pecos County.
In 1890, he stopped the special train carrying Jay Gould and his daughter and invited them for a drink at his bar. Gould was a wealthy robber baron, railroad developer and speculator.
He was re-elected to the post of Justice of the Peace until his defeat in 1896. Even after that he refused to surrender his seal and law book and continued to try cases.
A law unto himself, he let go horse thieves if the horses were returned. He granted divorce, which only district-courts were empowered to do, pocketing $10 per divorce. He charged only $5 for a wedding.
Towards the end of his life, he used a major part of his profits to help the poor of the area, and ensured that the schoolhouse had free firewood in winter.
Major Works
Roy Bean ran the Jersey Lilly Saloon in Langtry, in 1882. He administered ‘justice’ from his tavern - asserted himself as "Law West of the Pecos". He collected fines and kept the money for himself.
He became well-known in 1896, when he staged the Fitzsimmons-Maher heavyweight championship on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, where Texan rangers had no jurisdiction. Boxing was illegal in Texas and Mexico.
Personal Life & Legacy
Roy Bean married 15 year-old Virginia Chavez in1866. They had four children- Roy Jr., Sam, Laura and Zulema. They also adopted a son named John. They divorced a decade and half later.

He died peacefully in his bed, after a bout of heavy drinking in San Antonio to celebrate a new power plant’s construction. He is interred at the Whitehead Memorial Museum in Del Rio.
In 1940, Walter Brennan received an academy award for his portrayal of Roy Bean in the film, ‘The Westerner’. The movie gives the judge an entirely fictitious death scene.
The 1972 Western film, ‘The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean’, directed by John Huston, and starring Paul Newman was loosely based on the real-life of this self-appointed frontier judge.
Marriage ceremonies solemnized by this Judge always ended with the same pronouncement used when condemning men to death: "May God have mercy on your soul."

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