Roy Bean: The Hangin' Judge
Around the age of 15, Roy Bean left Kentucky and sought adventure out West, developing a colorful past of murder and gun smuggling before eventually founding a saloon along the Rio Grande River in a part of the desert in west Texas. The saloon he called Jersey Lily, after the beautiful British actress Lillie Langtry.
He was appointed as a judge for lack of any other law in the area and decorated the Jersey Lily saloon with signs proclaiming "Ice", "Beer", and "Law West of the Pecos". He was elected in 1884 and re-elected many times after.
His sort of justice was a unique justice. Judge Roy Bean knew very little about the law actually and sort of made it up as he went along. In one story, for example, a case was brought before him where an Irishman had killed his fellow Chinese railroad worker. The Chinese man was found dead with a gun and $40 in his pocket. Reportedly, Judge Bean declared that since he knew of no law against killing a "Chinaman", he proceeded to fine the dead man $40 for carrying a concealed weapon.
Legend has it that Judge Roy Bean was a "merciless dispenser of justice", for which he earned the nickname "The Hangin' Judge". In his book "Judge Roy Bean Country," Jack Skiles says that although Bean threatened to hang hundreds, "there's no evidence to suggest that Judge Roy Bean ever hung anybody."
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(Special thanks to Ken Downing for the lead on this story)