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Roy Bean

AKA Phantly Roy Bean, Jr.

Born: c. 1828
Birthplace: Mason County, KY
Died: 16-Mar-1903
Location of death: Langtry, TX
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Buried, The Whitehead Museum, Del Rio, TX

Gender: Male
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Judge

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Law West of the Pecos

Roy Bean left home at about 15 years of age with his older brother Sam, and operated a trading post in Chihuahua, Mexico until he killed a local man and fled. He came to San Diego and tended bar at a saloon owned by another brother, Joshua, but fled San Diego after wounding another man in a duel. Bean next surfaced in New Mexico, where he worked as a bartender and smuggled guns from Mexico past the Union blockade to supply Confederate troops during the Civil War. He later married a Mexican teenager and moved to San Antonio, where he earned a hardscrabble income as a trader in stolen goods, and where the neighborhood he lived in is still called Beanville. Charged with beating his wife, Bean fled again and came to the dusty town of Vinegaroon, Texas, where he ran a tavern out of a tent.

The nearest courthouse was several days' ride away, and though Bean's only legal experience was on the wrong end of the law he somehow convinced locals to make him a Justice of the Peace in 1884. Suddenly and mysteriously flush with funds, Bean built his famed Jersey Lilly Saloon in the nearby town of Langtry, and held court in his tavern under a sign proclaiming himself "Law West of the Pecos". Jurors were selected from among the bar's customers, and all who appeared before the court were expected to imbibe during court recesses. The town lacked a jail, so penalties were enforced through fines, which went directly to Judge Bean's pocket. Among his famous rulings, he once found a dead man guilty of carrying a concealed weapon and fined him $40 (which happened to be all the money in the corpse's wallet), and in another matter he acquitted a man of murder, stating, "I find the law very explicit on murdering your fellow man, but there's nothing here about killing a Chinaman. Case dismissed."

Boxing was illegal in Texas, but Bean had a lucrative side business as a fight promoter, circumventing the law by scheduling bouts on an island in the middle of the Rio Grande, which he maintained was Mexican land. His legend as a "hanging judge" has been wildly exaggerated -- he sentenced just two men to death, one of whom escaped before meeting the rope. Larry McMurtry's novel Streets of Laredo has Bean shot dead by an outlaw on the steps of his saloon, but in truth Bean went on a drinking binge on 15 March 1903 and died in his sleep early the next morning. His brother, Joshua Bean, was the first Mayor of San Diego, and during his term illegally "sold" City Hall to himself and his business partner. Walter Brennan won an Oscar playing Roy Bean in the 1940 film The Westerner, and Paul Newman starred in the heavily fictionalized The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean in 1972.

Father: Phantleroy Roy Bean (b. circa 1779, d. Nov-1835)
Mother: Anna Henderson Gore Bean (b. 11-Mar-1792)
Brother: Joshua Bean (Mayor of San Diego, b. circa 1817, d. 7-Nov-1852 murder)
Sister: Sarah Bean Williams (b. circa 1820)
Brother: James Bean (b. circa 1821)
Brother: Samuel Bean (Sheriff of Dona Ana County NM, b. 1829, d. 29-Oct-1903)
Wife: Maria Anastacia Virginia Chavez de Bean (b. 2-May-1848, m. 27-Oct-1866, sep. 1881, div. 1882, d. 26-Nov-1922)
Son: Roy Bean (b. 1869)
Daughter: Laura Bean Mellor (b. 1871)
Daughter: Zulema Bean Voss (b. 1873)
Son: Sam Bean (b. 1875)
Son: John Bean (adopted)

    Duel: Pistols

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