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Hanging Judges

“Hang’em first, try’em later”

By Gobs! There was nothing judicious about Judge Roy Bean “Doffing his saloon apron, the grizzled barkeep dons a dirty alpaca coat,  sits himself down behind the bar, draws a pistol and bangs for silence using the butt as a gavel.   “Order, by Gobs!   This honorable court is now in session, and if any galoot wants a snort before we start, let him step up to the bar and name his pizen.” The good judge had never seen the inside of a law school.  His only law book was the 1879 Revised Statutes of Texas.  But the self-styled “Law West of the Pecos” knew how to hold court. There, in his Jersey Lilly saloon in the minuscule West Texas town of Langtry, Roy Bean doled out drinks and his own brand of justice for more than 20 years.” -Smithsonian Magazine June 1998

And so goes the legend of the infamous Judge Roy Bean! Movies, books, legends, and stories abound about the old judge. His old courthouse and his grave are items of interest in Texas sightseeing trips.

I live in the Placerville, CA, area which was known as Old Hangtown during the 1849 gold rush. I’ve always been interested in Judge Roy Bean because Placerville also had a hanging judge. In town the original tree used for hangings still stands inside the Commerce Building. Only parts of it are left, but it does remind one of a wild part of our history.


There is also a Hangman’s Tree Bar that has a dummy named George hanging from a post at the roof line. Image  It is told that if the judge didn’t like your looks or figured you’d do something worth hanging you for in the near future, he just hang you now instead of later. Out on Highway 50, not far from the Hangman’s Tree Bar, the first three men to be hanged are buried.  The legend does give Placerville, the name Old Hangtown is known by now, a sense of the wild west.     

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