Out Now!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Roy Bean

Sunday August 1st

We reached Langtry, Del Rio, home of the famous Judge Roy Bean. There we learnt about unrequited love. An Old West legend had a thing for Lily Langtry - star of English Music Hall.

Some spoil sports suggest that Langtry was named after an obscure railway engineer, but why spoilt a good story? What is true is that the saloon from where he operated his own peculiar form of justice was named in her honour, ‘The Jersey Lily.’

It is a very small saloon, dusty and hot and smelling of past times. Strange, the past has a smell and the future doesn’t. Scope for an entrepreneurial perfumer perhaps.

There seemed little to Langtry. One dirt road led to a ruined house, then desert and sage brush. Little seemed changed since 1880. Time to wander about and find out more.

What can you tell from a face? The photo stared back at me, equally puzzled. What memories lay hidden beneath behind those eyes?

Like all tourists I grasped and retained the bizarre and most interesting: How he used to sell milk and increased his profit margins by diluting it with creek water. A nice scam until customers started complaining about the minnows swimming in it, an even nicer reaction from Roy Bean who pretended equal surprise. ‘By Gobs, I’ll have to stop them cows from drinking in the creek.’

What fired my imagination the most was that his life exemplified everything I’d ever dreamt about as a child in a hospital bed. He was born in Kentucky – so almost a neighbour of Davy Crocket - around about 1825.

When only fifteen he followed his two older brothers west, seeking adventure. He joined a wagon train into New Mexico, crossed the Rio Grande and set up a trading post in Chihuahua, Mexico. There he killed a man and fled just in time to California, where he stayed with a future mayor of San Diego (In fact the first mayor of San Diego) his brother Josh.

Josh believed in family. He appointed Roy a lieutenant in the state militia, and bartender of his Headquarters the family saloon. There, Roy lived the Wild West life. He drank and bragged, gambled on cockfights, and in 1852 was arrested for wounding a man in a duel.

Never mind, Roy had another brother – Sam – and so Roy fled again and took refuge in Sam’s saloon where he smuggled guns from Mexico through the Union Blockade. The only moment of domesticity he seems to have enjoyed (for a time at least) was when he married a Mexican teenager and settled in San Antonio, where, in quick succession he propagated five little Beans.

When the railroad came to Texas he seized his chance, deserting his family and in 1882 settled in Vinegaroon.* The railway was to link San Antonio with El Paso and crossed 530 miles of scorching desert. There, Roy Bean served railroad workers whisky and shade from his tent, and was often as drunk and disorderly as those he served.

Which says something about the Texan Rangers.

In 1882 they appointed him Justice of the Peace for Pecos because in their opinion he ‘had what it would take’ to bring law ‘West of the Pecos’.

With the nearest courtroom a week's ride away, the Rangers might have been more pragmatic than wise, and Roy Bean ‘just crazy, or drunk enough to accept.’

Bean was no Solomon. His justice, like those who’d appointed him was pragmatic, brutal, and sometimes eccentric. When an Irishman was brought to him, accused of murdering a Chinese worker, Bean was surrounded by an angry mob of workers demanding the accused be acquitted. Others threatened to burn down his saloon if he didn't.

Bean scanned through the one law book he possessed and delivered his ruling: 'Gentlemen, I find the law very explicit on murdering our fellow man, but there’s nothing here about killing a Chinaman. Case dismissed.'

Bean enjoyed the reputation of ‘the hanging judge’ though he hanged few if any, and made little use of the penitentiary. He preferred instead to find ‘work’ for them in the locality, and when there was none, staked them out for a time in the sun.

His kindness he kept hidden. Many of the fines he gave to the poor and destitute but never advertised the fact. Even some of the profits from the Jersey Lily bought medicine for the sick and poor in the locality. His rationale was prosaic and real. ‘Well…I haven’t been any gol-dang angel myself and there might be a lot charged up to me on Judgment Day, and I figure what good I can do -the Lord will give me credit when the time comes’. The rationale of a Norman warlord.

This photo was made, about 1900, and shows Judge Bean holding court, trying a horse-thief. Left of the picture is the stolen horse. On horses, guarded by officers are the two other horse thieves, supposed partners of the one on trial.

Roy Bean died on March 19th 1903 following a heavy drinking spree in Del Rio. He returned home at 10 a.m. and died that night at 10.03. It is said that he’d simply lost the will to live, that he felt out of place in a West he no longer recognized.

What precipitated that final binge was the construction of a power plant on the Pecos River. He claimed more than once that times were changing, and he was being left behind.

Bicycles are bad enough but a goddamned power plant!

If only he’d held on that little bit longer. Roy Bean and Lily Langtry never met despite his many letters to her. She is supposed to have written back, even sending him two pistols which he treasured like the Old West romantic he was.

Ten months after his death the train stopped at Langtry and Miss Lily herself stepped out. Enroute to San Francisco, she’d decided to take up the old Judge on his invitation to visit him. Unfortunately her most ardent admirer was dead. Instead she visited the saloon named in her honor and listened to the stories. ‘It was a short visit, but an unforgettable one’ she wrote in her diary. Tactful, but no doubt true.

Hmm, a mighty fine decolletage

*Apparently named after the scorpions that infested the place. When stepped on they emitted a vinagary smell. Almost a ready-made snack food.

Friday, 21 January 2011

My Doggies have been wailing since I sang my latest song

I've included this picture because it's the only good thing about this post. It's a derelict building just across the road from the saloon of Judge Roy Bean. I loved the C18th 'feel' to it, and its isolation. Far more interesting than Roy Bean's saloon, authentic though it's supposed to be. Whether the cottage still stands, I don't know.

The context to this song is very simple, much like the lyrics. A multinational group, with unlimited beer set themselves the challenge of writing the ultimate cliched country and western song - each of us had to contribute a line - some discarded - and then as the beer flowed the verses were refined and sung with gusto. I still remember the flames of the fire, golden sparks and the immensity of desert and sky as we howled to the moon.

My Doggies have been wailing since I sang my latest song

I was a lonely orphan down yonder by the old corn patch.
My tobbaccy’s wet and mouldy, and I ain’t got no match.
Sammy Jo milked the cow while her skirt was swaying.
Mama and the preacher man were inside busy praying.
But the preacher man was playing hard to catch.


Mama loved too well, too long and got me for a song
Me and my guitar have been so lonesome since you’ve been gone
My honey rolled the dice and lied
She said she loved me as she rolled the dice and smiled
She’s the only one I need
Yippee Yay Tumbleweed.

My cow she was in labour while old Doris did the washing
My heart was torn between the cow and watching Doris washing
Well honey kiss my grits and howdy do
For my cow has had a calf called Betty Lou
But calf love don’t fire a cowboy’s passion.

Chorus etc

I left the farm and broke my heart to ride them country roads
Sammy Jo, the cow and Ma reckoned up the rent I owed
The preacher-man then gave these parting words:
‘You can be a cowboy, son without ever wearing spurs.
So off I went to the land of the long horned toad.


Sitting high in the saddle whilst the sun sets sweet and low
I moseyed on down to Calico to meet my future beau
Biscuits and gravy make my heart go boom
Saloon girls, liquor – but not a single room
A girl named Maria saved me from the snow.


Maria was like a desert rose blooming once a year
Don’t shoot me with that gun she cried so I drowned her in my beer
Oh Baby you went and let me down
I like blue eyes but yours were truly brown
Virginia sat on a cactus and got the prick of her life…oh dear.


One empty bottle, one broken heart, time for a brand new start
I left Maria for my pardner’s wife and the ire of one-eyed Bart.
Oh, I don’t care that I’m still single
Cos I’ve got spurts that jingle jangle jingle
And I’m with my pardner’s wife behind the cart.


But I keep thinking about my babe, way home on the mountain range
Doris, Virginia and Ma can go hang, cos I’m going back to my cow again
It’s been so lonesome out here on the prairie
And I can’t stop thinking about a cow called Mary
Wimen and cows they aint just built the same.

The last line of the sixth verse was when it all began to go wrong - if it was ever right. I think that was the Australian contribution :)

Friday, 14 January 2011

No mermaids in Carlsbad

At Carlsbad we crashed out and slept till midday. In the afternoon we explored the Caverns

During the last ice age this desert was covered with dense pine forest.

This is the Chihuahuan Desert in Southeastern New Mexico and West Texas. We walked gingerly having been told that immediately below the surface were more than 300 known caves of gigantic size. It was the unknown caves we were worried about.

It was hard to believe that a mere 250 million years ago this had been an inland sea dominated by a 400 mile long reef bursting with sponges, algae and seashells. Maybe, too, mermaids with Raquel Welch figures…and tails

Only scientists tend to get excited over more prosaic marine fossils, ammonites, crinoids, snails, nautiloids, bivalves, brachiopods and the occasional trilobite. I say they haven’t looked hard enough!

But the tour guide wasn’t interested in my theories. He wanted to tell me about the passing of the Permian age, when the reef was covered by thousands of feet of newer sediments, burying it for tens of millions of years. Stresses in the earth’s crust, especially over the past 20 million years, uplifted these reef sediments almost ten thousand feet. Wind, rain, snow and time eroded away the overlying younger sediments and now the ancient reef is exposed once again as the Guadalupe mountains and deep caves below the desert floor.

We explored.

Duly impressed

And afterwards went back to camp and drank beer. There, a most unusual event occurred. Beneath the stars, and influenced by good beer, we wrote a song – essentially Eurovision Country and Western. The idea was to utilize every Country and Western cliché as seen through French, German, British, Australian, Dutch and Spanish eyes. Everyone there contributed a line or two. There was a tune there too, of sorts…and a mouth organ.

The song was called:

My Doggies have been wailing since I sang my latest song, but the lyrics will have to wait for a subsequent post.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Checking my toes in Santa Fe

Friday 30th

Santa Fe is a beautiful little town. One thing that did strike me were the Indians selling costume jewellery. They were so impassive they might have been a sleep, or dead.

What struck me was how different they were from their Moroccan counterparts. In Morocco the whole business of selling was operatic, the haggling and bartering both subtle and vivacious: a moment of wheedling, followed by mock offence at a more than reasonable offer and then gathering excitement as more and more offers are included in the mix. Eyes, hands, shoulders and flashing teeth - all come into play - and just to sell a rug.

These poor buggers looked asleep, past caring. Temperament? A different history. Or maybe they’d just sussed us out as unlikely to spend much.

Because I have a head that doesn’t suit a hat I spent a lot of time searching for one in every state I passed through. So far to no effect. In Santa Fe I tried again, in a shop with that fine western name ‘Babushka’s.’ Failure was compensated by a lone walk to the Mexican suburbs, and a drink in a really nice bar.

Then it was off to the Coronado State Monument – where I learnt more about the history, and where I took a picture of a rattlesnake. Only afterwards was I told these snakes can leap their own length and I’d gotten far too close. Its rattle warned me to make a tactical retreat.

The Pueblo ruins were evocative, the story bleak. After one rebellion Spanish
Conquistadors had chopped off the right foot of every male in the village; a medieval punishment reminiscent of the Twelfth Century, or Sharia law. The mind recoils. Drought and harsh requisitions made by Coronado’s expedition to Kansas saw the final extinction of the village.

Their descendents now sell beads with little enthusiasm.

Later, back in camp, a travelling theatre group put on a really crude anti-Russian – pro-Polish play about Madame Curie. Poland might have been an unwilling member of the Tsarist Empire, but for the most part they retained both their left and right feet.

That night there was disagreement in the camp. Most wanted to stay on site – money was running low and had to be conserved, but our tour leader believed that her enjoyment of disco was universal. Disagreement was futile because she'd arranged the bus to leave from where the disco was held. So, with considerable disgruntlement we went. I drank, watched wall to wall rock-video, every so often checked my feet.
There followed an all night drive to Carlsbad