of the ways Judge
Roy Bean made people respect his authority as the Law
West of the Pecos in the late 1800s, was to occasionally let them
answer to a beer-guzzling bear named Bruno for their crimes. Some
say Bruno's name was Sarsaparilla but the bear never expressed a preference
so we're going to call him Bruno because we think it's a more appropriate
name for a bear.
Bruno served as a tourist attraction at the Jersey
Lilly, Bean's saloon and courthouse in Langtry,
Texas. The saloon was named to recognize the alleged
judge's deep infatuation with actress Lillie Langtry, who was
nicknamed the Jersey Lilly. Langtry,
the town, was not named for the actress, as we might assume, but
for George Langtry, a railroad employee who helped bring the railroad
Bean did a brisk business at the Jersey Lilly, mainly because his
was the only saloon within a hundred miles. Thirsty train passengers
who stopped in Langtry
made tracks for the saloon's liquid libation and would soon meet the
acquaintance of Bean-and Bruno. Bean would toss Bruno a beer and Bruno
would catch it with his huge mitts, uncork it with his teeth, and
down the whole thing in a single swallow.
Passengers, enthralled and perhaps jealous of the bear's carrying
capacity, bought Bruno beer after beer. Judge Roy Bean kept the money
and Bruno kept the beer, at least for a while. We assume Bruno peed
a lot, and not necessarily outdoors, because Bean kept Bruno on a
long chain that allowed the bear to mosey around, looking for beer
to drink and a place to pee.
The Judge knew exactly how long the chain was, and he sometimes tied
passed-out drunken miscreants just beyond Bruno's reach. The drunks
awoke from their binges to see Bruno standing on his hind legs, teeth
bared and claws slashing inches from their no doubt terrified faces.
Bruno was the most effective bouncer the Old West ever saw.
hot July day a drummer (traveling salesman) named Sam Betters alighted
from the train in Langtry
and headed straight to the Jersey Lilly where the Judge charged the
outrageous price of one dollar for a beer. Betters paid with a twenty
dollar gold piece. While waiting for his change, he took a sip of
his the beer, gagged and almost spit it out. "Good God, don't you
keep your beer on ice?" he complained to the judge.
"Ice in July? Ha! That's a good 'un, tenderfoot. Haw!"
Betters waited in vain for change from his twenty dollars but it never
came. In fact, Bean seemed to have lost all memory of the recent past.
The engineer blew the train's whistle loud and long to let people
know the train was about to leave.
"Good God, man, aren't you going to give me change? Hurry up! The
Judge Roy Bean stared absently out the window at the shimmering beauty
of the Sierra Del Carmen Mountains in the distance, perhaps fantasizing
about Lillie Langtry.
Betters cussed Bean up one side and down the other. Bean was so offended
by the foul language and aspersions on his character that he fined
Betters twenty dollar for profanity and demeaning remarks to a judge
in his court of law. "But the beer's on the house!" he added cheerfully.
A minute later the train chugged out of the station with Betters hanging
on from the platform, shaking his fist at Roy Bean and vowing revenge.
The Judge waved back and tossed Bruno a beer.
flash forward a couple of years. Roy Bean is in El
Paso tending to some business and tossing 'em back like he was
Bruno. Betters happens to be there, too. He ambles up to Bean at the
bar and slaps him on the back.
"Howdy, Judge," Betters says, all friendly like. "That was quite a
little joke you played on me at Langtry. Well, I've got a great sense
of humor. No hard feelings, Bean. Let me buy you a drink."
Bean and Betters end up downing multiple concoctions, enjoying each
the other's company all the more as the evening progresses.
"Say, Roy," Betters says at one point. "I just come from your place.
That bear of yours is dead."
"What?!" the Judge screams. "That can't be. He was fine when I left
him a week ago!"
"Gone over the range, I tell you. I saw him laying there. Poisoned,
they told me."
Bean vows revenge on any scoundrel who would do such a thing to his
"Tell you what," Betters says. "Wouldn't you like to have him stuffed,
so you could still see him standing by the swinging doors and bringing
in customers, even in death?"
The Judge agrees that would be a fine idea.
"Why don't you send a telegram to forward his skin? I know a great
taxidermist. Cheap, too. We could have it done while you're still
Bean sent a telegram to his assistant, Oscar, who was stunned to hear
that the Judge wanted Bruno skinned, but he knew better than to disobey
an order from his boss, so he shot Bruno, skinned him and sent the
skin to El Paso.
Back in Langtry, with what was left of Bruno in tow, Bean described
to Oscar what he would do to the lowdown varmint who poisoned Bruno.
Poisoned? Oscar insisted that he shot Bruno, pointing out that a dead
bear is much easier to skin than a live one.
Just before Bean could do to Oscar all the terrible things he said
he'd do to the man who poisoned Bruno, the awful truth dawned on the
Judge. He'd been had.
story, first recorded by J. Marvin Hunter in Frontier Times
magazine in 1948 and recently retold in Tales From the American
Frontier by Richard Erdloes, is one of those stories that's just
"too good to verify." But another story contradicts it, whether we
want it to or not.
In this alternate ending, the Judge bequeathed an alive-and-well Bruno
to his heartthrob Lillie Langtry on his deathbed in March of 1903.
Ten months later, when the actress finally passed through Langtry
on the train, she found out that crazy old admirer of hers had left
her a bear.
"I saw the strange sight of a huge cinnamon bear careening across
the line, dragging a cowboy at the end of a long chain," she later
wrote in her autobiography while indicating that she had no use for
a bear. "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."
For years afterwards, cowboys swore they heard Bruno at night, roaming
the Trans-Pecos and howling ferociously for beer. Poor Bruno. He might
have lived out his final years as a free bear, but he probably died