In the small town of Langtry, Texas, in the dusty desert among the creosote and prickly pear, is an old saloon once called the Jersey Lilly. This humble building was the jurisdiction of the infamous Judge Roy Bean during the late 1800s.
While Bean was known as a hanging judge, he actually never hanged anyone, though he would at times stage hangings to scare would-be criminals. Generally, he would get those he convicted to work in the town. If there was no work to be done, he would tie them to a stake to take in the hot sun. He appeared to administer rough Wild West justice, though in reality he had a charitable heart and looked after the people of Langtry.
Before moving to Texas, Judge Roy Bean was accused of killing a military officer in San Diego, California, where he was rounded up and hanged by the man’s friends. Fortunately for him, the rope was too long and a woman (supposedly the woman he had fought the officer over) cut him loose. He fled to Texas and eventually landed in Langtry.
Although the town is named after the engineer George Langtry, Bean had seen the British actress Lilly Langtry (coincidentally having the same name) in a magazine and fell in love. While he never would meet her in his lifetime, he named his saloon the Jersey Lilly.
While Bean may have been a notary public, he wasn’t exactly qualified to be a judge. He enjoyed dispensing justice as he saw fit. In one case, he fined a dead man $40 for carrying a concealed weapon (though it was later suggested the $40 was to pay for the man’s burial). In another case, Bean threatened a lawyer for using profanity, “habeas corpus,” when referring to a client.
Today, Bean’s Jersey Lilly is a visitor center with a beautifully maintained desert garden. The center is air-conditioned and houses interesting artifacts relating to Bean. There are dioramas with holographic reenactments of Bean’s life, a cactus garden, and a historic, well-maintained windmill. If visiting during the fall, you will likely see monarch butterflies as they migrate south.
Know Before You Go
The Visitor Center is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., except on major holidays. The center provides free maps and travel literature. The restrooms are only open during operating hours. Wireless Internet access is available.