Judge Roy Bean Justice West of the Pecos.

Judge Roy Bean True West
Judge Roy Bean

When a passenger train pulled into the little town of Langtry to take on water the passengers had about twenty minutes to flock to the Jersey Lillie and wet their whistles. Bean advertised ice cold drinks but the saloon had no ice so he’d put large chunks of clear glass in them to provide a tinkling sound. It’s assumed the noise provided the desired psychological effect.

When the conductor shouted “All aboard,” Bean would deliberately linger when giving the passengers their change. Most gave up and rushed to board the moving train. The judge considered it gratuity and stuck it in his pocket.

However, the judge had little tolerance when the shoe was on the other foot. When a local restaurant owner who owed him some money didn’t pay up Bean waited until his café was full one evening then stood by the door and acted as cashier. When enough money was collected to satisfy the debt he kept on collecting, considering the excess as interest owed.

Judge Bean had no problem exceeding his authority as justice of the peace either when it came to marrying couples. He defended that by declaring he was saving his constituents the cost of having to travel to the county seat at Del Rio.

He also granted divorces justifying that by declaring he’d married them and he had a right to rectify his error. Once two couples came in the saloon requesting divorces. Divorces, like marriages cost two dollars each. As they headed for the door he noticed they’d swapped partners. He called them back to court, informed them fornication outside the marriage was illegal and he’d have to fine them or perform two more marriages. This time he charged them five dollars each.

Sometimes this business of divorce got complicated. One evening he stopped by Mrs. Dodd’s boarding house to eat. “You look awfully tired Judge,” she opined, “what’s been happening?”

“I’m tired” he replied. “I divorced two couples today then swapped ‘em around and remarried them. Then I spent the rest of the day dividing up the children.”

What do you think?

Marshall Trimble

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian, board president of the Arizona Historical Society and vice president of the Wild West History Association. His latest book is Arizona’s Outlaws and Lawmen; History Press, 2015. If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or e-mail him at marshall.trimble@scottsdalecc.edu