Year
1903
Month Day
March 16

Judge Roy Bean dies

Roy Bean, the self-proclaimed “law west of the Pecos,” dies in Langtry, Texas.

A saloonkeeper and adventurer, Bean’s claim to fame rested on the often humorous and sometimes-bizarre rulings he meted out as a justice of the peace in western Texas during the late 19th century. By then, Bean was in his 50s and had already lived a life full of rough adventures.

Born in Kentucky some time during the 1820s, Bean began getting into trouble at an early age. He left home in 1847 with his brother Sam and lived a rogue’s life in Mexico until he shot a man in a barroom fight and had to flee. He next turned up in San Diego. Again he shot a man during a quarrel and was forced to leave town quickly. He fell into the same old habits in Los Angeles, eventually killing a Mexican officer in a duel over a woman. Angry friends of the officer hanged Bean in revenge, but luckily, the rope stretched and Bean managed to stay alive until the woman he had fought for arrived to cut him down. Bearing rope scars on his neck that remained throughout his life, Bean left California to take up a less risky life in New Mexico and Texas.

For about 16 years, Bean lived a prosperous and relatively legitimate life as a San Antonio businessman. In 1882, he moved to southwest Texas, where he built his famous saloon, the Jersey Lilly, and founded the hamlet of Langtry. Saloon and town alike were named for the famous English actress, Lillie Langtry. Bean had never met Langtry, but he had developed an abiding affection for the beautiful actress after seeing a drawing of her in an illustrated magazine. For the rest of his life, he avidly followed Langtry’s career in theatre magazines.

Before founding Langtry, Bean had also secured an appointment as a justice of the peace and notary public. He knew little about the law or proper court procedures, but residents appreciated and largely accepted his common sense verdicts in the sparsely populated country of West Texas.

Bean was often deliberately humorous or bizarre in his rulings, once fining a dead man $40 for carrying a concealed weapon. He threatened one lawyer with hanging for using profane language when the hapless man referred to the “habeas corpus” of his client.

By the 1890s, reports of Bean’s curmudgeonly rulings had made him nationally famous. Travelers on the train passing through Langtry often made a point of stopping to visit the ramshackle saloon, where a sign proudly proclaimed Bean to be the “Law West of the Pecos.”

Bean fell ill during a visit to San Antonio. He returned to Langtry, where he died on March 16, 1903. Lillie Langtry, the object of Bean’s devoted adoration, visited the village named in her honor only 10 months after Bean died.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Bear Stearns collapses, sold to J.P. Morgan Chase

On March 16, 2008, Bear Stearns, the 85-year-old investment bank, narrowly avoids bankruptcy by its sale to J.P. Morgan Chase and Co. at the shockingly low price of $2 per share. With a stock market capitalization of $20 billion in early 2007, Bear Stearns seemed to be riding ...read more

American journalist Terry Anderson kidnapped

In Beirut, Lebanon, Islamic militants kidnap American journalist Terry Anderson and take him to the southern suburbs of the war-torn city, where other Western hostages are being held in scattered dungeons under ruined buildings. Before his abduction, Anderson covered the Lebanese ...read more

First liquid-fueled rocket

The first man to give hope to dreams of space travel is American Robert H. Goddard, who successfully launches the world’s first liquid-fueled rocket at Auburn, Massachusetts, on March 16, 1926. The rocket traveled for 2.5 seconds at a speed of about 60 mph, reaching an altitude ...read more

TDIH-My-Lai

Vietnamese villagers killed by U.S. soldiers in My Lai Massacre

On March 16, 1968, a platoon of American soldiers brutally kills as many as 500 unarmed civilians at My Lai, one of a cluster of small villages located near the northern coast of South Vietnam. The crime, which was kept secret for nearly two years, later became known as the My ...read more

U.S. Military Academy established

The United States Military Academy—the first military school in the United States—is founded by Congress for the purpose of educating and training young men in the theory and practice of military science. Located at West Point, New York, the U.S. Military Academy is often simply ...read more

Motown soul singer Tammi Terrell dies

Over a span of just 12 months beginning in April 1967, the duo of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell enjoyed a string of four straight hits with some of the greatest love songs ever recorded at Motown Records. Sadly, only the first two of those four hits were released while Tammi ...read more

"The Scarlet Letter" is published

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story of adultery and betrayal in colonial America, The Scarlet Letter, is published. Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1804. Although the infamous Salem witch trials had taken place more than 100 years earlier, the events still hung over the ...read more

Actor Robert Blake acquitted of wife’s murder

On March 16, 2005, after a three-month-long criminal trial in Los Angeles Superior Court, a jury acquits Robert Blake, star of the 1970s television detective show Baretta, of the murder of his 44-year-old wife, Bonny Lee Bakley. Blake, who was born Mickey Gubitosi in 1933 in New ...read more

18-year-old woman murders her lover

Francisco “Chico” Forster is shot to death on downtown Los Angeles street by his jilted lover, eighteen-year old Lastania Abarta. The forty-year old Forster was the son of wealthy Los Angeles land developer and considered one of the city’s most eligible bachelors despite his ...read more

President Reagan orders troops into Honduras

As part of his continuing effort to put pressure on the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua, President Ronald Reagan orders over 3,000 U.S. troops to Honduras, claiming that Nicaraguan soldiers had crossed its borders. As with so many of the other actions taken against ...read more

James Madison, "Father of the Constitution," is born

On March 16, 1751, James Madison, drafter of the Constitution, recorder of the Constitutional Convention, author of the Federalist Papers and fourth president of the United States, is born on a plantation in Virginia. Madison first distinguished himself as a student at the ...read more

Fighting on Iwo Jima ends

The west Pacific volcanic island of Iwo Jima is declared secured by the U.S. military after weeks of fiercely fighting its Japanese defenders. The Americans began applying pressure to the Japanese defense of Iwo Jima in February 1944, when B-24 and B-25 bombers raided the island ...read more