Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Law and Miss Lillie

Judge Roy Bean

In a state brimming with eccentric notables, few stand out more than Judge Roy Bean.  For twenty years, the “Law West of the Pecos” brought order to the remote, arid Trans-Pecos region.   His quirky sense of justice assures him an honored place in Old West lore and history.

Roy Bean’s beginnings go back to the mid 1820’s in the backwoods of Mason County, Kentucky.  Facing abject poverty at home, he left at fifteen, hit the Santa Fe Trail, and ended up running a trading post in Northern Mexico with his brother Samuel.  After getting into trouble with Mexican authorities, Bean fled to Southern California.  He worked at the “Headquarters Saloon” owned by his brother Joshua, who became the first mayor of San Diego, California.  Supporting a flashy vaquero look, young Roy Bean became something of a ladies’ man.  Such posturing led to altercations.  In one of the biggest social events in early San Diego, he took on John Collins in a pistol duel.  Like a Medieval joust, both participants dueled on horseback with Bean getting the upper hand.  He wounded his adversary in the leg and killed his horse.  In 1852, Joshua Bean was murdered and Bean took over his brother’s saloon.  His troubles continued after killing a man in a duel over a woman.  Avoiding the hangman’s noose, he left California.
Bean journeyed to Mesilla, New Mexico and the new home of his brother Samuel.  Elected Sheriff of Dona Ana County, Samuel also had a saloon.  It seems saloons were in the Bean family blood.  Mesilla was an enclave of Confederate support before the war.  When Union forces occupied New Mexico, Bean retreated with the Confederate Army to San Antonio.  He tried his luck in the freight business, but that proved more laughable than successful.  A Uvalde sheep rancher recalled, “Roy Bean’s freight outfit to haul my wool was the sorriest I have ever beheld.  The six wagons were rickety.  The teams to draw same were an equal number of jackass and emaciated horses that had seen better days.  The harness consisted of ropes, leather, and raw hide thongs, chains, and ill-fitted collars for the jackasses.”  When he wasn’t trying to coax an extra mile out of his badly worn animals, Bean courted a 15 year old Mexican girl named Virginia Chavez. Three years later they married and had four children. 

In 1882, the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railroad began laying track between San Antonio and El Paso.  Bean saw an opportunity.  Tired of married life and the freight business, he divorced his wife and headed west toward the railroad camps near the Pecos River. Upon arrival, he set up a tent saloon and started serving drinks to the railroad workers.  Railroad camps in the Old West were havens for gamblers, drunks, opium addicts, thieves, and murderers.  In the tent city of Vinegarroon, a boxing ring was set up where workers bet drinks while watching bare knuckle fights.  For food and sport, workers dynamited fish out of the Rio Grande.  Accidents were common, violence was rampant, and graves were unmarked.   Texas Rangers were dispatched to keep the camps in line and protect nearby residents.   In dire need of local law enforcement, the Rangers tabbed Bean for the job of Justice of the Peace.  Probably impressed with his commanding presence in the camps, the Commissioners of Pecos County officially appointed him.  Bean held the office (with interruptions in 1886 and 1896) from 1882 until his death in 1903.

The Jersey Lilly and Courthouse
In 1886, Bean moved to the town of Langtry, named after railroad foreman George Langtry.  He later claimed he named the town after Lillie Langtry, a stunning British stage actress Bean became infatuated with.  Bean built a saloon and named it “The Jersey Lilly” in her honor.  Proclaiming himself the “Law West of the Pecos,” Bean dispensed justice while dispensing whiskey in his saloon.  Lacking a jail, Bean kept drunken rowdies handcuffed to a mesquite tree.  Law was interpreted through a single book, the 1879 “Revised Statutes of Texas.”  Fees ranged from 5$ for weddings to 10$ for divorces.  All weddings ended with the death sentence passage, “and may God have mercy on your souls.” 

A popular story involved the murder of a Chinese railroad worker by one of the many Irish workers.  The worker was brought before Judge Bean while his fellow Irishmen threatened to riot if their friend wasn’t exonerated.  Bean carefully scanned his law book then declared, “It don’t say nothing in here about it being against the law to kill a Chinaman. Case dismissed.”  

Bean’s greatest achievement may not have been as Justice of the Peace, but as a fight promoter.  In February, 1896, a world title prizefight was to be held in El Paso between number one contender Bob Fitzsimmons and Irish champ Peter Maher.  Because both Texas and Mexico outlawed prizefighting, Bean came up with a novel solution.  Why not have the fight at Langtry in the middle of the nearby Rio Grande ?  The two fighters and paying spectators boarded a special train in El Paso for the fight in Langtry.  Spectators and residents swamped “The Jersey Lilly” while the fighters got dressed aboard the train.  A rickety footbridge had been constructed across the river to a sandbar and hastily assembled boxing ring.  Drunken fans watched Fitzsimmons knock out Maher within a few seconds from the opening bell.  Texas Rangers could only look on from the bluffs above the river; the fight was out of their jurisdiction.

Despite Judge Bean’s moodiness, revolting table manners and drunken tirades, he was basically a good soul that helped the poor and established a schoolhouse for the local children.  He never allowed children in the saloon.  Destitute mothers without a supporting husband were provided one of Bean’s rent homes free of charge.
                                                                                                                           Lillie Langtry
His obsession with Lillie Langtry never wavered.  In anticipation of a future performance, he built an opera house for the red-headed actress.  Bean wrote her a letter imploring her to visit the town he named after her.  The actress couldn’t make it but offered him a water fountain instead.  Bean later replied that it would be useless since the only thing the citizens of Langtry didn’t drink was water.  Unfortunately, the two would never meet.  Bean died on March 16, 1903 in his saloon.  He was buried at the Del Rio cemetery.

 Almost a year later, Lillie Langtry visited the town she thought was named after her.  While traveling from New Orleans to San Francisco, her train stopped for a short visit; the whole town turned out. A bugler and drummer provided musical accompaniment as Miss Lillie herself stepped off the train.  She visited the saloon and schoolhouse.  After being told about the school’s overcrowded condition, she donated fifty dollars to enlarge it.  Poker chips from the saloon, one of Judge Bean’s pistols, and of all things, a pet bear were presented to her.  Langtry recalled the bear presentation in her memoir, “The Days I Knew:”

 “They hoisted the unwilling animal on to the platform, and tethered him to the rail, but happily, before I had time to rid myself of this unwelcome addition without seeming discourteous, he broke away, scattering the crowd and causing some of the vaqueros to start shooting wildly at all angles.”

Lillie Langtry had a life that could be a guidebook for today’s Hollywood celebs.  She had a three year affair with the Prince of Wales, Albert Edward (Queen Victoria’s son and the future King Edward VII). The prince even constructed a retreat for the two of them called the “Red House.”  If that wasn’t enough, she had affairs with the Earl of Shrewsbury and Prince Louis of Battenberg (First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy) while still married to her husband Edward Langtry.  Lillie Langtry was one of the first actresses to be paid to endorse commercial products such as soap and cosmetics.  She also purchased the Langtry Estate and Vineyards in Lake County, California.  It is still in operation today and Langtry wines can be purchased online.  Lillie Langtry died in 1929 while living in Monaco.

Here is a favorite scene from the movie, “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean” starring Paul Newman as the Judge.  In this fictional scene, Judge Bean demonstrates the Texas solution to global terrorism on mad, Albino outlaw, “Bad Bob.” This guy is so crazy and scary-looking, I think he would have been shot back then for just being crazy and scary-looking.  Check out the movie and read Jack Skiles’ wonderful book, “Judge Roy Bean Country.”

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Texas Civil War Museum Hosts Traveling World War One Museum

Inside the traveling WWI gallery sponsored by Waddell and Reed
The financial planning firm of Waddell and Reed teamed up with the National World War One Museum to develop a superb traveling World War One museum.  The museum, contained within a semitrailer, is currently touring 75 cities in the United States.  On December 10, 2011, the Texas Civil War Museum hosted this special tour in its parking lot.  Free of charge, the museum featured weapons, tools, uniforms, and equipment used during one of the 20th century’s bloodiest conflicts. 

The war was fought from 1914 to 1918 between the Central Powers (Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire) and the Allied Powers (Great Britain, France, Italy, Russia, and the United States).  It was the first truly modern war that featured aerial bombardment, all steel battleships, machine guns, tanks, flame throwers, submarines, mega-size artillery pieces, and poisonous gas.   Because of these modern weapons, no side could gain the upper hand.  Like the U.S. Civil War, the tactics couldn’t keep up with the weapons.  For four years, the war was fought mainly from muddy, rat infested trenches. Thousands were slaughtered over a few mere yards.  The number killed was a staggering 15 million and led to the fall of four monarchies: Germany, Russia, the Ottoman Empire, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  The fall of the Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary led to a slew of new nations in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.  Iraq, where the U.S. toppled Saddam Hussein, was carved out of the Ottoman Empire.

Russia got the worst of it. They lost over 5 million fighting Germany, dropped out of the war, booted out Tsar Nicholas, suffered massive starvation, and then lost 15 million during a civil war fought between Communists and Anti-Communists.  After all that, the Communists formed a central government; the Soviet Union was born.

Here’s how it all began:

  1.  In June, 1914, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife Sophie were assassinated by a Serbian nationalist in the Balkan country of Bosnia.  When he wasn't being the Arch Duke, Franz Ferdinand was a big time game hunter that kept track of an incredible 300,000 kills in his diaries. All this guy did was travel the globe and shoot any animal that crossed his path. If the Serbs didn’t shoot him, wildlife conservationists probably would have.  Serbia is a Slavic, Eastern Orthodox country that hated the Catholic, Austro-Hungarians that once ruled Serbia.  They also hate the Muslims because they were also once ruled by the Ottoman Turks.

     2.      Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.

3.     Russia, which is also a Slavic, Eastern Orthodox country, was a close ally of Serbia.  They declared war on Austria-Hungary. Anytime you mess with the Balkans, the Russians aren’t going to like it.

4.    Germany, which was an ally of Austria-Hungary, declared war on Russia.

5.    France, which was an ally of Russia and hated Germany because of their defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, declared war on Germany.  It you’re totally confused at this point, it gets better.

6.     Italy, which had been a member of the Central Powers, wanted to seize some of Austria-Hungary’s turf.  It decided to switch sides. Feeling the Allies had the upper hand, they declared war on Austria-Hungary then declared war on Germany.

7.     In order for Germany to attack France, German troops had to go through Belgium.  This ticked off Great Britain which declared war on Germany.  Anytime you mess with the Low Countries (The Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Belgium), the British aren’t going to like it.

8.     Four years later, the U.S. declared war because German submarines sank U.S. merchant ships and the British ocean liner Lusitania which had American passengers on board.  Anytime you mess with U.S. ocean vessels, the United States isn’t going to like it (See the War of 1812, the Spanish American War, Pearl Harbor, the Gulf of Tonkin).  Also a German telegram to Mexico (known as the Zimmerman Telegram) was intercepted by the British.  It encouraged Mexico to attack the U.S. and regain territory it lost during the War with Mexico.  You can imagine how the U.S. public felt about that.

The war ended in November, 1918 when Germany, wracked with internal discord, labor strikes, and shortages due to a British naval blockade, signed a peace treaty.  The Treaty of Versailles ended the war but placed the blame squarely on Germany.  The Germans were forced to pay ridiculous reparation payments that weren’t paid off until 2010!  The United States Congress rejected the treaty.  Germany felt humiliated and wasn’t about to forget their defeat.  One German corporal, twice decorated during the war, certainly didn't forget.  His name was Adolph Hitler.

Here’s what we got out of World War I:

1.      A really bitter Germany that brought Adolph Hitler and the Nazis to power.

2.      The Soviet Union, World Communism and the decades long Cold War.

3.      A Spanish flu pandemic that killed over 50 million worldwide.

4.     Simmering ethnic hatreds between Muslims, Catholics and Orthodox Christians in the Balkans (remember all that mess in Bosnia during the 1990’s?)

5.      The first weapons of mass destruction.

6.      A horrific ethnic cleansing of Armenians by the Turks.

7.      An isolationist U.S. that turned a blind eye toward early German, Italian and Japanese aggressions during World War II.

8.      The rise of Israel and Arab Nationalism.  This led to the Arab-Israeli conflict that we still have today.

9.      A League of Nations, which the U.S. didn't join, that collapsed at the start of World War II.

Due to its manpower and industrial strength, the U.S. was a deciding factor in the Allied victory.  France was kept from being overrun.  Many Americans, however, felt the U.S. should have stayed out of the War.  A period of isolationism ensued that had big repercussions before the second world war.  Nevertheless, the contributions of the U.S. Expeditionary Force in World War One shouldn't be disregarded.

Be sure and see the new Stephen Spielberg movie “War Horse.” It takes place during World War One.  Also check out the film classics “All Quiet on the Western Front” and “Paths of Glory.”  Both are critically acclaimed and must see war movies. 

The best book on World War One is Barbara Tuchman’s Pulitzer Prize winner, “The Guns of August.”  This book should be required reading for all incoming U.S. Presidents.  President Kennedy loved this book so much he gave copies to foreign heads of state.