Friday, August 24, 2007

Roy Bean and the Atascosa Milk Cows

Most folks have heard stories about Judge Roy Bean, the "Hangin' Judge" who referred to himself as, "The Law West of the Pecos," from his days as Justice of the Peace along the Rio Grande, but he had established quite a name for himself long before those days, right here in South Texas.

He was born Phantly Roy Bean in c.1825 in Mason County, Kentucky. At 15 Roy left home, with his two older brothers, Sam and Joshua. He and Sam traveled by wagon train to New Mexico, eventually setting up a trading post in Chihuahua, Mexico. Later, Roy fled to California after killing a local man, and stayed with his brother Joshua, who had become the first mayor of San Diego. There he worked as a bartender. In 1852 he was arrested after wounding a man in a duel. He escaped and headed to New Mexico, where Sam had become a sheriff.

When the civil war broke out Roy began running the Union blockade, bringing goods from the Mexican border into Texas. In 1866 he married Virginia Chavez, the 18 year old daughter of a fine San Antonio family. Roy would have been about 40 at the time. Roy provided a meager existence for his wife and four children, going from one scheme to the next. He peddled firewood poached from another man's land, and paid local kids $5 to bring him stray horses and cows, selling the horses and butchering the cows to sell the meat. His notorious business practices earned his San Antonio community the nickname Beanville.

At one point Roy decided to go into the dairy business. He struck a bargain with a farmer in Atascosa County who wanted to sell his herd. Roy had acquired a couple of lots and a small house, and the farmer wanted the property. They agreed to trade the property for 30 cows. Roy asked for a trial period to make sure the cows would produce. Feed was scarce that year and the cows began to show signs of being undernourished. The milk production fell off and profits went down. The cows began to die.

When the owner came to take possession of the real estate, Roy told him the deal was off. "I only took them on trial," said Roy, "and they proved to be worthless as milkers." In the beginning, when the cows were producing, business was good and Roy had difficulty meeting the demand for milk. Apparently, Roy used to dilute the milk a little.

One day a well-known San Antonio judge knocked on Roy's door. He said, "If it's all the same to you I'd like to have my milk and water in separate vessels". "What's wrong?"asked Roy. "Well, he said, "we found a minnow in the milk yesterday." "By God!" said Roy, "that's what comes of watering them cows at the river." Roy later admitted that he kept a bucket and dipper down by the bridge and sometimes stopped and replenished his supply.

In 1882, the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railroad hired crews to link San Antonio with El Paso. Roy fled his marriage and Beanville heading for Vinegaroon to become a saloonkeeper. Desperate to establish some sort of local law enforcement, he was appointed Justice of the Peace. Roy Bean's dispensation of the law wasn't complicated by legalities. The rest, as they say, is history.

Bibliography: C.L.Sonnichsen, Roy Bean, Law West Of The Pecos

1 comment:

Enid said...

I love this one.