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LANGTRY, TX

LANGTRY, TEXAS. Langtry is on Loop 25 off U.S. Highway 90 just north of the Rio Grande and eight miles west of the Pecos River near the southwestern corner of Val Verde County. In 1882 the Southern Pacific line established a grading camp near the Eagle Nest crossing of the Rio Grande to facilitate joining with the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway at the site of Langtry. The camp, at first called Eagle Nest, was renamed in honor of George Langtry, an engineer and foreman who had supervised a Chinese work crew building the railroad. Cezario Torres, one of the original commissioners of Pecos County, and his Torres Manufacturing and Irrigation Company owned most of the land beside the railroad right-of-way in Langtry, but a tent-saloon operator named Roy Bean arrived from another camp and squatted on part of the railroad land. Torres's unsuccessful attempt to keep Bean out precipitated a long-running rivalry between Bean and Torres's son Jesús. Nonetheless, Bean's establishment immediately attracted numerous railroad workers, and disorder mounted in Langtry. Bean was justice of the peace of Langtry for nearly twenty years, and dozens of legends still circulate about him. One story has it that he named the town in honor of a beautiful English singer, Emilie (Lillie) Langtryqv, after he fell in love with her picture in the newspaper. Though he could not have named the town, Bean did call his saloon the Jersey Lilly in honor of the singer.

After the east and west sections of the railroad joined in January 1883, the depot kept business brisk by supplying a constant flow of customers to local saloons and by furnishing a shipping point for agricultural products and supplies. In 1884 the Langtry post office opened, and the town's business interests expanded. W. H. Dodd, a resident and future justice of the peace, reported that by 1892 Langtry had a "population of possibly 150, who lived mostly in tents," as well as Dodd's store, two saloons-one operated by Bean and the other owned by Torres-and the railroad depot and refueling station. Bean later opened an opera house in anticipation of a visit by Lillie Langtry, who in 1904, only a few months after Bean's death, did actually visit the town. In 1896 the world-championship boxing match between Peter Mahar of Ireland and Bob Fitzsimmons of Australia took place near Langtry through the secret machinations of Roy Bean. Because the state and Mexican governments had prohibited the fight, Bean arranged to hold it on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, knowing the Mexican authorities could not conveniently reach the site. The spectators arrived aboard a chartered train; after a profitable delay contrived by Bean, the crowd witnessed Fitzsimmons's defeat of Mahar.

By 1900 Langtry had become the commercial center for ranching in the area, but soon after Bean's death in 1903 the town began to decline, when the commissioner's court moved the highway slightly north for a more direct route. In 1923 the new owner of the Jersey Lilly discovered that it rested partly on the railroad right-of-way and in 1934 deeded the building-erected after fire destroyed the first one in 1897-to the state. By 1926, when the Southern Pacific moved the railroad tracks, depot, and water tank a half mile away, Langtry's population had dwindled to fifty. In 1939 the Texas Highway Department restored Bean's old saloon-courtroom, and by 1945 Langtry's population had climbed to 100. By the early 1970s the number of residents there had dwindled to around forty, and most of the town, with the exception of the state-owned Judge Roy Bean Visitor Center, was put up for sale by the Dodd family, then residing in San Antonio and Del Rio. Apparently it never sold. Tourism is the town's major industry; in 1981 the Judge Roy Bean Visitor Center in Langtry welcomed its one-millionth visitor, and Langtry continues to attract thousands of visitors each year. In 1990 and in 2000 the population of Langtry was reported as 145.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

T. Lindsay Baker, Ghost Towns of Texas (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1986). Grace Barnes and Beth Gault, So This Is Langtry (Boerne, Texas: Toepperwein, 1946). Everett Lloyd, Law West of the Pecos (San Antonio: University Press, 1931; rev. ed., San Antonio: Naylor, 1967). Roy Bean Scrapbook, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. San Antonio Express, February 16, 1936. Jack Skiles, "Judge Roy Bean," Texas Highways, August 1982. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin (Roy Bean; Langtry, Texas; Val Verde County).

Lea Anne Morrell

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Lea Anne Morrell, "LANGTRY, TX," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hll17), accessed September 01, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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