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Roy Bean stages a prize fight

February
21
1896

On this day in 1896, colorful lawman Roy Bean staged a heavyweight championship fight on a sandbar just below Langtry, on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande. Bean, known as the "Law West of the Pecos," was appointed justice of the peace for Pecos County in 1882. He settled at Eagle's Nest Springs, which acquired a post office and a new name, Langtry, in honor of the English actress Lillie Langtry, whom Bean greatly admired. Bean soon became known as an eccentric and original interpreter of the law. When a man killed a Chinese laborer, for example, Bean ruled that his law book did not make it illegal to kill a Chinese. And when a man carrying forty dollars and a pistol fell off a bridge, Bean fined the corpse forty dollars for carrying a concealed weapon, thereby providing funeral expenses. He intimidated and cheated people, but he never hanged anybody. He reached his peak of notoriety with his staging of the match between Peter Maher of Ireland and Bob Fitzsimmons of Australia. The fight was opposed by civic and religious leaders such as Baptist missionary Leander Millican, and both the Mexican and the U.S. governments had prohibited it. Bean arranged to hold it on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, knowing the Mexican authorities could not conveniently reach the site, and that Woodford H. Mabry's Texas Rangers would have no jurisdiction. The spectators arrived aboard a chartered train; after a profitable delay contrived by Bean, the crowd witnessed Fitzsimmons's defeat of Maher in less than two minutes. Among the spectators was another somewhat disreputable lawman and boxing promoter, Bartholomew "Bat" Masterson.

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