Judge Roy Bean is a popular, colorful figure in the history of the old West. Here are a few items of fact and fiction about Roy Bean:
Fiction: Roy Bean was a “hanging judge”. In fact, Roy Bean is known to have sentenced only two men to hang, and one of them escaped. By contrast, Judge Isaac Parker, from the western district of Arkansas, sentenced 160 men to death!
Fact: Roy Bean did hand out some sentences that could be called “unusual” at best. He once refused to give change to a customer at his bar for the 5-cent beer the man had bought and paid for with a 20-dollar gold piece. When the customer complained, Roy Bean fined him $19.95 for contempt of court. The man then took a train out of town.
Fiction: Roy Bean was a duly appointed judge in West Texas.
Fact: Roy Bean was appointed as a Justice of the Peace for Precinct 6 in Pecos County. After that, he proclaimed himself “Law West of the Pecos”, turning his tent saloon into a part-time courtroom. Jurors were expected to buy drinks during recesses.
Fiction: Roy Bean met and romanced actress Lillie Langtry.
Fact: While Roy Bean does seem to have been completely smitten with Lillie Langtry, the actress stated in her autobiography that she visited the town of Langtry only after Bean’s death. She did, however, send him a pair of Colt .45 pistols while he was still alive.
Additional Trivia: Bean used only an 1879 edition of the Revised Statutes of Texas lawbook as his legal reference. It is said that if any newer lawbooks came his way, he used them as kindling.