Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Please come to the Opera House, Langtry

Out in Texas on a road-trip, I drove west as far as Langtry, as far as I dared before I had to turn again to reach Austin in time. It was a dot on the map next to the Rio Grande. And when I got there, here's what I found.

At the end of the 19th century, Langtry was ruled by Judge Roy Bean. 'I am the law west of the Pecos River', declared Judge Bean to the rest of the USA. His courthouse doubled as the saloon bar, dispensing hooch and justice. When the US banned a heavyweight boxing match, Judge Bean stepped in and hosted the bout in Mexico, literally yards over the border on a sand-bed. He made money and a name for himself, cock-snooker.

There's a story about how the town came to be called Langtry. This story may not be true, but I want it to be so and that's more important.

It had been called Vinegaroon, after a scorpion-like creature called the Vinegaroon, that when startled does not have a sting in its tail but rather squirts a cloud of vinegar at its attacker. Handy if you're making salad dressing.

Judge Bean changed the name to Langtry because he was obsessed with English music-hall star Lillie Langtry. Certainly, he hung her photo over the bar. He probably dreamt of her. He christened his house the Opera House so this cock-snooker west of the Pecos River could write to invite her to the Opera House, Langtry.

Lillie Langtry did visit the town that was her namesake.

But not until a year after Judge Bean had died.



The Opera House

Lillie above the bar

Police Gazette report on the bout

Old house

Rio Grande

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