Like the page about the Duluth! speech, this one is taken from a book published in 1944 titled "A Treasury of American Folklore" by B. A. Botkin. It is a compendium of stories, ballads and traditions and credits many other sources. The first part, Roy Bean, seems to be by the author of the book. The next part, "necktie justice", has the following credit: "From Vinegarroon, The Saga of Judge Roy Bean, "Law West of the Pecos", by Ruel McDaniel, pp. 83-89, 1936". The variant that follows has this credit: "From Roy Bean; Law West of the Pecos, by Myron W. Tracy, Straight Texas, Publication of the Texas Folklore Society, Austin, Texas, 1937"
The June 1998 issue of Smithsonian Magazine included an article about Judge Roy Bean: "Hang'em first, try'em later".
The thin and shifting line that separated law enforcement from lawbreaking in the West permitted not only a peace officer like Wild Bill become known as a "killer" but also a comic scalawag like Roy Bean to become known as the "Law West of the Pecos." A Kentuckian by birth, he counted the art of bluff as part of his backwoods heritage; and in his late fifties, after knocking about California, New Mexico, and Texas, playing for small stakes as adventurer and jack-of-all-trades -saloon keeper, ranger, bull-whacker, blockade-runner, wood merchant- he gave up fortune-hunting and sought the limelight. In the lawless waste of the Trans-Pecos country he followed the construction of a new line on the Southern Pacific Railroad as camp saloon-keeper, first at Vinegarroon and then at Langtry, where in 1883 the tracks were joined and Bean moved in a squatter on the railroad right of way. With some 8,000 workers on their hands, the railroad contractors learned the truth of the saying that "West of the Pecos there is no law" and called in the Texas Rangers to help counteract crime. On August 2, 1882, Roy Bean got himself appointed justice of the peace, on a hunch that it might be doubly profitable to preside over both the barroom and the bar of justice. From then until his death 1903, he held court in the "Jersey Lily" saloon, named, like the town, for the English actress, whom Bean never met but who visited the place after his death.
The judge who specialized in finable cases and kept most of the fines was not uncommon in the West, but Roy Bean was the most famous example of the type. In fact, even during his lifetime his legend reached such proportions that his brother Sam wrote of him: "You may have graduated at Yale or Harvard and carry a number of diplomas, but if you have not seen or heard of Judge Roy Bean of Texas you are groping in darkness and there yet remains a large space to be filled in your classical head."
There was plenty of precedent for Roy Bean in the usual Western "Law" or sheriff, who was "judge, jury, and executioner" all in one, and in frontier vigilantism. In fact, he had had first-hand knowledge of the latter when he narrowly escaped from hanging for killing a rival in a love affair in California. And the many anecdotes of his shady business dealings before he became the "Law West of the Pecos" testify to the native shrewdness and bluster which enabled him to dispose of cases in his own way. At any rate, the red rope-burn that he wore about his permanently stiff neck, usually hidden by a bandana, was his only diploma, and his only law book was the Revised Statutes of Texas for 1876. But he inspired respect for the law with his two six-shooters and such bizarre punishments as the use of the bear-and-stake method for sobering up drunks, while the stories of his weird decisions and judgments entertained the newspaper public and have become classics of the Southwest bench and bar. In his comic role of fining-judge Roy Bean rivals the famous "hanging judge" of Fort Smith, Arkansas, Isaac C. Parker.
"Hear ye! Hear ye! This honorable court is now in session, and if anybody wants a snort before we start, step up to the bar and name your poison."
"It is the judgment of this court that you are hereby tried and convicted of illegally and unlawfully committing certain grave offences against the peace and dignity of the State of Texas, particularly in my bailiwick, to wit: drunk and disorderly, and being Law West of the Pecos, I fine you two dollars; then get the hell out of here and never show yourself in this court again."
"Hear ye! Hear ye! This honorable court's now in session; and if any galoot wants a snort afore we start, let him step up to the bar and name his pizen. Oscar, serve the gentlemen." Thus did Judge Bean open court to try one Carlos Robles, an opening typical of his original procedure.
"Carlos Robles," he said solemnly after witnesses and hangers-on had downed their liquor, "it is the findin' of this court that you are charged with a grave offense against the peace and dignity of the law West of the Pecos and the State of Texas, to wit: cattle-rustlin'. Guilty or not guilty?"
Not being able to speak or comprehend English, Robles merely grunted.
"Court accepts yore plea of guilt. The jury will now deliberate; and if it brings a verdict short of hangin' it'll be declared in contempt. Gentlemen, is yore verdict ready?"
The twelve nondescript citizens cleared their throats in unison. "It is, your honor," several spoke.
"Thank you, gentlemen. Stand up, Carlos Robles, and receive yore sentence. You got anything to say why judgment shouldn't be passed on you in this court~"
Of course Carlos had not, in view of the fact that he had only the vaguest idea of what was transpiring.
"Carlos Robles," Judge Roy continued, his voice almost quaking with the solemnity of the occasion, "you been tried by twelve true and good men, not men of yore peers, but as high above you as heaven is of hell; and they've said you're guilty of rustlin' cattle.
"Time will pass and seasons will come and go; Spring with its wavin' green grass and heaps of sweet-smellin' flowers on every hill and in every dale. Then will come sultry Summer, with her shimmerin' heat-waves on the baked horizon; and Fall, with her yeller harvest-moon and the hills growin' brown and golden under a sinkin' sun; and finally Winter, with its bitin', whinin' wind, and all the land will be mantled with snow. But you won't be here to see any of 'em, Carlos Robles; not by a dam' sight, because it's the order of this court that you be took to the nearest tree and hanged by the neck till you're dead, dead, dead, you olive colored son-of-a-billy-goat!"
The Law West of the Pecos could be cruel in administering his brand of justice; but he was cruel only when he deemed the accused and the crime fully warranting such cruelty. He more frequently tempered justice with his own peculiar brand of mercy, especially if there was any means by which he could profit by that mercy.
One afternoon several ranchmen brought in a twenty-year old boy accused of horse-stealing. They demanded that he be tried and dealt with according to the enormity of the crime.
Judge Bean duly opened court. He appointed six men as jurors, the actual number meaning nothing to him and depending entirely upon men available. He would not appoint just any citizens to jury duty. They must be good customers of the liquid bar at the other end of the shack during intermissions, or their services as jurors no longer were desirable or acceptable. Every transaction must be made to return the utmost in profit, and non-drinking jurors were strictly dead timber.
"Hear ye! This honorable court is again in session. Anyone wishin' a snort, have it now. This here prisoner is charged with the grave offense of stealin' a horse and Oscar, where are the witnesses?" the Law West of the Pecos opened. He appreciated his own sense of humor in varying his court openings to relieve the monotony; but he seldom varied to the extent of omitting the invitation to participate in a snort at the other bar.
"We caught him in the act of stealin' the animal," the ranchman testified. "He admitted his intentions."
"That right, young feller? You was stealin' the cayuse?"
The young prisoner dropped his head, unruly red hair tumbling down over his high forehead. "Yes, your honor," he mumbled.
"Gentlemen of the jury," His Honor instructed, "the accused pleads guilty to horse theft. You know as well as I do the penalty. I'm ready for yore verdict." And it was promptly forthcoming.
Gravely the judge passed sentence. "If there's any last word, or anything, I'll give you a few minutes," he told the pale Easterner, thus extending an infrequent favor.
"I would like to write a note-to my mother back in Pennsylvania," the doomed prisoner mumbled with obvious emotion. "Thank you."
"Oscar, fetch the prisoner a piece of wrappin' paper and a pencil. I think we got a pencil back there behind that row of bottles." Bean gently handed the convicted thief these writing facilities, got up and tendered him the beer barrel and rickety table from which sentence had just been passed. Then he took a position directly behind the boy so that he could watch over his shoulder at what he wrote.
The victim wrote at length in apology for the grief and trouble he had caused his mother and earnestly sought her forgiveness. "In small part perhaps I can repay you for the money I have cost you in keeping me out of trouble. Enclosed is $400, which I've saved. I want you-."
Judge Bean started, cleared his throat, cut in at this point. "By gobs!" he exclaimed, "gentlemen, I got a feelin' there's been a miscarriage of justice, in this case. I hereby declare it re-opened. Face the bar, young man."
The prisoner removed himself from the beer keg and stood erect in front of the judicial bench, befuddled at this sudden turn.
"After all, that wasn't much of a cayuse the lad tried to steal; and be didn't actually steal him. So I rule it's a finable case. I hereby fine the accused three hundred dollars and get to hell outer this country afore I change my mind!"
The boy gladly enough paid three hundred of his four hundred dollars and assured the court that the next setting sun would find his brow well beyond El Rio Pecos.
Practically every cattleman and law-abiding citizen of the Bean bailiwick had an indefinite appointment as deputy constable to the Law West of the Pecos. Thus any citizen who apprehended any person in the act of committing a crime or suspected any of crime had authority to bring him on forthwith for trial. Bean consistently encouraged such co-operation, for the more business they brought before the court, the greater the financial returns for the whole establishment. Naturally it was understood that arresting constables did not in any manner participate in the fee accruing from such cases created by them. This doubtless was the only justice court in the State of Texas wherein only one official received all the fees collected by the office.
Under authority as deputy constable, Reb Wise, Pecos rancher, brought in a cattle rustler on a hot August afternoon when business at the refreshment counter was exceptionally brisk. It was all both Roy and Oscar could do to handle the trade. Consequently Bean looked up with sour expression when Deputy Constable Wise approached the bar and informed the judge that a prisoner was awaiting attention at the bar of justice.
"What's he charged with, Reb?" Roy asked, opening another foaming bottle of Triple-X beer.
"Cattle-rustlin', yuhr honor," Reb replied.
"You positive he's guilty, Reb?"
"Positive? Say, Judge, I caught him with a runnin' iron on one of my finest calves!" the rancher replied with emphasis.
For the first time Roy glanced up at the scowling prisoner. He noticed blood dripping from his left ear. "Who plugged his ear?" he inquired.
"I did, yuhr honor, when he wouldn't stop."
"You ought'n shot at his head, Reb. You could 'a' killed him; and that would 'a' been bad, because he wouldn't have been saved for the punishment he deserves. You real shore he's guilty?"
"Didn't I say, Judge, I caught him runnin' a brand on my stuff?"
"All right then," the judge said. "What'll it be for you, feller?" to a newcomer at the bar," . . . All right then. The court finds the accused guilty as charged; and as there ain't no worse punishment I know of right handy, I hereby sentence him to be hung. Reb, I'm busy's hell here. You and some of yore compadres take him out and tie his neck to some handy limb - some place where his cronies'll be positive to see him; and that's my rulin'. Court's adjourned and what'll it be for you down there, Slim?"
"What is the prisoner charged with?" Roy Bean asked.
"You sure about it?"
"Caught him at it."
"Who nicked his ear?"
"I did when he didn't stop."
"Poor shot, Jack, but if you had got him he would not have been properly finished as becoming a horse thief. It's my ruling that the prisoner is guilty. The rest is your business, Jack. You'd better buy him a drink before you string him up. Court is adjourned."
"The next prisoner I took before Judge Bean," said the sheriff, "was a man that everybody had for a long time known to be a rustler but that nobody bad been able to pin the evidence down on."
"What is this galoot charged with?" asked the judge.
"Running stolen cattle across the Rio Grande down at Painted Cave."
"Sure this is the man?"
"Caught him in the middle of the ford driving the cattle."
"Then what did you bring him here fer when I am so busy? In a case like that always give the galoot what he deserves. Take him away and string him up.'
"Then turning to a line of men at the bar who had been listening, Roy Bean asked, 'Well, boys, what are you going to have?"
Judge Roy Bean on his horse.
Roy Bean and the Chinaman
It is time now to talk about Roy Bean's affair with the Chinaman. The earliest and shortest version of the story appeared in the El Paso Daily Times for June 2, 1884.
Here is the latest on Roy Bean:
Somebody killed a Chinaman and was brought up standing before the irrepressible Roy, who looked through two or three dilapidated law books from stem to stern, and finally turned the culprit loose remarking that he'd be damned if he could find any law against killing a Chinaman.
That is the core of what has become, after fifty years, one of the best known anecdotes ever to come out of the Southwest. The time must have been about the beginning of 1883 (the ends of track were joined in January). From the west hundreds of Chinese laborers were building. From the east came the Irish and other brawny sons of Europe. The white laborers hated the Chinese for their willingness to work for low wages, their saving ways, their squeaking gibberish, and their love of peace. More killings than one occurred when the gangs from east and west got close enough to rub elbows and cut throats, and there were many narrow escapes. For example take the night in 1882 when the Irish, who had built almost to the east side of the Pecos, got involved in a celebration and decided their lives would be wasted unless they crossed over to where the Chinese were camped on the west bank and cut off a few pigtails. They knew that a Chinaman did not like to fight and would not fight under ordinary provocation, but would give a satisfactory performance if his pigtail were cut off. So these drunk and joyful Irishmen organize themselves and were all ready to start out when the foreman interfere and averted a race riot by a very slim margin.
Even so, many Chinamen lost their lives by one means or another an were buried where they fell. Later the bones of many of them were collected and sent back to the west coast by Chinese friends who came in for the purpose.
Usually the Americans concerned themselves very little about whether a Chinaman lived or died, but somehow the historic case under discussion was brought to Roy Bean for judgment and he turned the Irishman loose as most Americans in West Texas would have been glad of an excuse to do. On account of the feeling between the Chinese and the other laborer it would have been easy to start a race riot just then, and Roy knew it. Besides, as he once said, there were about two hundred of the toughest white men in the world around the saloon and they might have lynched him if he hadn't let the Irishman go free. His decision was merely his own peculiar way of preserving law and order, at the same time protecting the health of Judge Bean, but the ruling had the real gamy Western tang and stuck in men's minds. The story not merely lived; it grew. By 1899 it was getting into the newspaper exchanges this way:
At Langtry, Tex., says the San Francisco Wave, Squire Roy Bean, who administers justice and keeps the leading saloon, had to sit in judgment on a railroad clerk who had killed Ah Ling, a laundry man for, as he claimed, insulting him. The man was arrested and brought before magistrate Bean, who listened to the evidence, which was given by the accused himself, and then proceeded to turn the pages of the revised statutes: "This here book, which is a Texas law book," he announced, "says that hommyside is th' killin' of a human, male ur female. They is many kinds of hommyside --murder, manslaughter, plain hommyside, negl'gent hommyside, justifiable hommyside an' praiseworthy hommyside. They is three kinds of humans - white men, niggers, and Mexicans. It stan's to reason thet if a Chinym'n was human, killin' of him would come under th' head of praisworthy hommyside. The pris'ner is discharged on condition that he pays f'r havin' th' Chinee buried."
In print and out of print the story went around, gathering details and variations. In the last ten years it has been reprinted a dozen times, and every fresh book about the old days in the Southwest tells it a new way. In 1934, F. H. Bushick put out this version in his book Glamorous Days:
Some cavalry soldier in passing through that way, it was thought, had lost his sabre. One of the bridge gang found it. When it was brought into camp nobody wanted the old corn cutter except this Irishman who took a shine to it because he had once been a soldier himself. He ground up the old blade and kept it as a handy weapon, he being a storekeeper of iron supplies, a responsible sort of job.
This Irishman was in the habit of now and then stealing a pie from the cook. The chink got to missing his pies and finally lay for the Irishman and caught him red handed. Armed with a big butcher knife, the Chink attacked the Irishman, who ran and got his old sabre and returned to the fray. He made just one pass at the chink with his sabre and cut off his head as clean as if the Lord High Executioner of China had done the job.
A ranger arrested the Irishman and took him before Judge Bean.
The most remarkable variation of all appeared in 1931 in Tom Rynning's book GunNotches. Tom was an old cavalry man and peace officer who knew Roy, and this is the way be tells it:
Once Roy's son shot and killed a Chinaman because he charged too much for his laundry or something serious like that, and of course young Bean was tried before his old man. Naturally Roy wanted to give his boy as easy a deal as the law would allow, but be was a square-shooter and if his son turned out guilty of a misdemeanor or anything like that, it was a cinch he'd wrap it to him just like he was a stranger.
So the judge opened court with the usual formalities, throwing out a couple of drunks who wouldn't quit snoring during the proceedings, and started the justice mill to grinding. On account of his own kin being up for trial, and all the customers watching him more interested than usual, he went about things mighty careful and legal-like.
As a rule he give his decisions right out of his deep knowledge of the law, for he'd been a J. P. for a year or more then; but this time he figured he had to dig into the Unabridged Statutes of 1846, or somewheres round that date.
He hooked his spectacles onto his handsome big red nose and begun reading the law book out loud so's everybody could see he wasn't keeping any ace in the hole. And damned if he didn't read those Texas statutes from cover to cover, cussing every cowpuncher awake that went to sleep on him and refusing to let any of them go to the bar for a drink during that long spell of court.
When he'd waded plumb through the Texas law from murder to cow brands, in about two hours or so, those cowpunchers and rustlers had got a darned sight more legal knowledge screwed into their skulls than lots of the tin-horn lawyers of the state ever knew. In fact, they was a plumb nuisance after that, some of them spouting their information about Texas law by the hour every time they got drunked up and could get some unfortunate dogie to stand hitched long enough to pour it into him by the gallon.
"And there she is, gentlemen," says Roy Bean, when he'd got through. "That's the full unexpurgated law of the great State of Texas up to 1813, and it ain't noways likely there's been any fundamental changes run into since.
"The complete statutes of this here state from the Alamo on ahead, and there ain't a damned line in it nowheres that makes it illegal to kill a Chinaman. The defendant is discharged."
You can ask anybody over forty in West Texas, and many a man under forty, if he knows anything about Roy Bean, and you will get another edition of this same tale. It is already a part of American folklore.
The man who shot the Chinaman and started all this story-telling may still be alive. Uncle Bill Jones, who has kept a bar at Reserve, New Mexico, since 1886, says he is, and Uncle Bill was at Langtry when the trial happened. Bill doesn't think he should talk too much about the man, however. "I am not permitted to tell his name," he says. "The last time I heard of him he was tending bar. He is a pleasant sort of person and very agreeable."
Well, people do change!
External link: Wikipedia