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Roy Bean Before His
‘Law West Of The Pecos’ Days


“What you didn’t know about Judge Roy Bean”

by Lois Zook Wauson
Auther's Note: My mother always told us that Judge Roy Bean was one of her ancestors. I have been searching the archives of his early life, and Ancestry.com - and can’t find any thing to prove this. But somehow that story was told to me even in the 1930’s. I did find out that he lived in San Antonio from about 1865 to 1881. It was in the area what is now W. Theo Ave, Conception Park and where Hwy 90 and IH 35 connect. But none of my mother’s relatives lived in San Antonio at that time. It is a mystery. They did come to Texas in the late 1890’s.

He certainly led an interesting life! This is taken from all the websites I have looked at, taking bits and pieces to make a story. If you like history, as I do, you will like it! - Lois Zook Wauson
Judge Roy Bean
Roy with beard next to cyclist
Old postcard
Phantly Roy Bean was born west of Shelbyville in Shelby County, Kentucky prior to 1835 (some say as early as 1825). He was the son of Phantly R. Bean and Ann H. Bean. He had four brothers and sisters, they were: Sarah H. Bean, James C. Bean, Joshua H. Bean, and Samuel G. Bean. It is said that the name Phantly Roy, was a variant of the name Fauntleroy. The location of his birth is now a grove of locust trees.

His older brother Samuel Bean went off to fight in the Mexican war. When Samuel Bean returned from the Mexican War he only stayed a short time before he left home for good in May of 1845. Roy set off a short time later to join him, perhaps when he was between 13 and15 years of age. The two brothers got a job driving a team of six yokes of oxen in a wagon train from Independence, Missouri, through Sante Fe, New Mexico, and down to Chihuahua, Mexico.

In Chihuahua, Roy got crossways with a local bad man, who hated gringos, and Roy killed him. This was a common reason for people to "move on" in the west. Roy set out for California, to find his other older brother.

Joshua provided his brother with room, board, and fine clothes, the pockets of which he kept full of spending money. An 1850 census for San Diego shows Roy living in a boarding house with his brother Josh. So this much of the story appears to be true.

Joshua Bean was the last alcalde (an alcalde was the mayor of a Spanish town and also a judge) of the pueblo of San Diego, and after the city was incorporated, was the first mayor in 1851.

Joshua Bean had been appointed as a Major General in the state militia. Joshua took Roy under his wing when he arrived. Roy took advantage of having a brother who was so highly regarded, and busied himself with such activities as gambling, cock fighting, horse racing and fandangos. General Joshua Bean secured for Roy a position as Lieutenant in the state militia. Roy’s appearance was described as "handsome as Adonis" with a fair and rosy complexion and silky black hair.

Unfortunately, Roy got in trouble with the law in February 1852. Roy’s pistol duel with a man named John Collins was heralded as a social event with a large crowd in attendance. Both men were evidently on horseback, and Collins fired two hasty shots at Roy who returned fire, hitting Collins in the leg with his first round, and hit his horse with the second. Both men were arraigned in Judge Ames court, being fined and jailed. A San Diego newspaper reported the events on March 27, 1852, and referred to Roy as P. R. Bean, and that was the last time Roy was ever referred to using the name Phantly, or even with the letter P. in his name. From then on it was just Roy. Roy spent just a month in jail before escaping. From there, he followed the footsteps of his brother Joshua, who had moved on to San Gabriel, just outside of Los Angeles.

Joshua had established himself as the owner of the Headquarters Saloon in San Gabriel. Unfortunately, Joshua Bean was waylaid and killed one night on the way home from his saloon in November of 1852. Roy, who by this time had cleared up his legal problems in San Diego, inherited the saloon. Evidently Roy was relishing his roll as a saloon proprietor. This description of Roy was left by Major Horace Bell in "Reminiscences of a Ranger":

" I rode up to Headquarters and was met by a very handsome black bearded young man by the name of Roy Bean, brother and successor of General Josh Bean. The General had been proprietor of the Headquarters, the first grog shop of the place. Roy was dressed in an elegant Mexican costume, with a pair of revolvers in his belt, while a bowie knife was neatly sheathed in one of his red-topped boots."

Roy managed to run the business into the ground, apparently due to the fact that he was his own best customer. Deep in debt and on the verge of losing the saloon, Roy got into a romantic entanglement over a Mexican maiden. He fought and won a duel for her affection. But the friends of the dead suitor took his death so hard that they strung up Roy and left him dangling from a tree limb.

Either the branch was too low or the rope stretched allowing the lucky victim to stand on his tiptoes until a passerby cut him down. The close call left Roy with a permanent crick in his neck that forced him to rotate his shoulders in order to look from side to side.

Deciding a quick change of climate would be good for his health, Roy went back east to New Mexico, around 1860 in search of his surviving brother. Sam, like deceased Josh had done right well for himself, becoming the wealthiest member of a frontier community in New Mexico and was the county sheriff to boot. Never one to wait for an invitation, Roy moved right in. It was Old Mesilla, New Mexico. Roy arrived broke and in rags, but Sam took his younger brother in. Samuel and Roy both operated the business, and were dealers in merchandise, liquors, and had a fine billiard table. Roy and Samuel were Confederate sympathizers. Roy organized a Confederate band called the "Free Rovers" which was known to others as "the Forty Thieves."

Roy committed himself body and soul to the Confederate cause. In this thrilling fantasy, he cast himself as spy and scout from the ill-fated invasion of New Mexico by Rebel Texans and accompanied them back to the former Lone Star State after the bold gamble went bust.

While Roy’s war record is open to question, his arrival in San Antonio at the height of the conflict is a documented fact. After the Battle of Glorietta Pass, on March 1862, the Texans began retreating to San Antonio. After first taking money from his brother's safe, Bean joined the retreating army. For the remainder of the war, he ran the blockade by hauling cotton from San Antonio to British ships off the coast at Matamoras, Mexico, then returning with supplies.

For the next twenty years, Bean lived in San Antonio, working nominally as a teamster. He attempted to run a firewood business, cutting down a neighbor's timber (in other words peddling stolen firewood). He then tried to run a dairy business, but was soon caught watering down the milk, and later worked as a butcher, rustling unbranded cattle from other area ranchers. (Didn’t this man have one honest bone in his body?)

On October 28, 1866, he married sixteen-year-old Virginia Chavez. She was the daughter of a respected San Antonio rancher named Leandro Chavez. Roy and Virginia lived on the Cavez land at what later became Beanville, which now is the 400 block of Glenn Ave. in San Antonio. (I checked and this is right off of S. Flores St. by Burbank High School. There is a Blue Moon Café nearby, which I want to check on and see if I can get a flavor of the area).

Within a year after they were married he was arrested for aggravated assault and threatening his wife's life. Despite the tumultuous marriage, the two had four children together, Roy Jr., born the year Roy and Virginia married, Laura or also called Adelaide, born 1872, Zulema born 1874, and Sam born 1875. The 1880 census showed also, some one named John Toney, listed as an “adopted son”.

By that time, Bean was operating a saloon in Beanville. Several railroad companies were working to extend the railroads west, and Bean heard that many construction camps were opening. A store owner in Beanville "was so anxious to have this unscrupulous character out of the neighborhood" that she bought all of Bean's possessions for $900 so that he could leave San Antonio.

Roy Bean left San Antonio alone to go to West Texas. He put his children with a couple named Mr. & Mrs. Simon Fest, Jr. In the 1880 census Roy Bean said he was “widowed”. He was not widowed, but his wife obtained a divorce and probably left him because of the abuse. Some say she remarried later and had more children. It is not known if the children ever lived with her again.

Bean followed the railroad, the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railroad (also known as the Sunset Route) which was pushing westward from New Orleans, across western Texas, toward El Paso, across miles of scourching Chiuahuan Desert, infested with bobcats, rattlesnakes and scorpions (local called Vinegaroons by local Texans) and new railroad towns were prospering. By spring of 1882, Roy knew an opportunity to make lots of money lay in the railroad towns. By then, Bean was gray bearded, portly, fond of beer and whiskey. Fleeing his marriage and illegal businesses in San Antonio, Roy headed to the tent city known as Vinegaroon Roy Bean opened a tent saloon in Vinegaroon in 1882. He served railroad workers whiskey from a tent. As his own best customer, he was often drunk and disorderly.

Thus began his most notorious life, when he was appointed the Justice of the Peace, in Vinegaroon, Texas. Vinegaroon changed to Langtry, Texas and Roy Bean became The Law West Of The Pecos.
"They shoe horses, don't they?"
August 2, 2010 Guest Column
© Lois Zook Wauson

Lois Zook Wauson's book "Rainy Days and Starry Nights' (2004) is a collection of her stories about growing up in South Texas during the 1930s and 40s.

More on Judge Roy Bean:

  • Ten Things You Should Know About Judge Roy Bean by John Troesser
  • Ten More Things You Should Know About Judge Roy Bean by John Troesser
    The Jersey Lilly: Where 'sidebar' has a very literal meaning
  • “Law West Of The Pecos” by Murray Montgomery
    The Moulton Eagle – March 21, 1924
  • Langtry: A West Texas Love Story by Michael Barr
  • Roy Bean Before His Law West Of The Pecos Days by Lois Zook Wauson
  • Langtry, Texas

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    More about Judge Roy Bean:
  • Ten Things You Should Know About Judge Roy Bean by John Troesser
  • Ten More Things You Should Know About Judge Roy Bean by John Troesser
  • “Law West Of The Pecos” by Murray Montgomery
    The Moulton Eagle – March 21, 1924
  • Langtry: A West Texas Love Story by Michael Barr
  • Langtry, Texas



































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