The Law West of the Pecos

One of the most colorful characters to come out of the Old West was Judge Roy Bean, the self-proclaimed “Law West of the Pecos.” As Justice of the Peace, Bean had a reputation as a tough hanging judge. However, while he was known to occasionally stage hangings to scare away criminals, he never actually hung anyone.

Bean settled in Vinegaroon, Texas in 1881 at the confluence of the Rio Grande and Pecos Rivers where he set up a tent saloon to sell liquor at exorbitant  prices to railroad workers (mostly Chinese laborers.) Two years later with the construction of the Pecos High Bridge the rail lines shifted away from Vinegaroon and Bean relocated to the town of Langtry where he built the Jersey Lily Saloon and Judge Roy Bean’s courtroom on the railroad right of way.

Western legend holds that the town was named after the British stage actress, Lillie Langtry. Bean is said to have fallen in love with a portrait of the lady though he never actually made her acquaintance. Nonetheless, he followed her career, wrote her letters inviting her to visit the West Texas town, and even constructed an Opera House adjacent to his saloon in the hope that she would one day perform there.

As Justice of the Peace, Judge Roy Bean’s methods and rulings were often questionable, mainly carried out to line his own pockets. One of the more humorous judgments handed down was fining a dead man $40, the exact amount found in the deceased’s pockets! Judge Roy Bean died in 1903 after a particularly heavy drinking spree.

Lillie Langtry did visit the town six months after Bean’s death during a brief stop of the Sunset Limited on its way from New Orleans to Los Angeles. Among the gifts presented to the actress by the townspeople was Judge Roy Bean’s six-shooter. The Jersey Lily Saloon and the Opera House were sold to a wealthy Texas cattleman and later donated to the state of Texas.

Judge Roy Bean’s story has often been portrayed on the silver screen, most notably in William Wyler’s 1940 movie, “The Westerner” (Walter Brennan won an Academy Award for his portrayal) and in John Huston’s 1972 film, “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean” starring Paul Newman.


The Whip: My Review

Karen Kondazian’s debut novel is a historically accurate and  emotionally compelling look at the life of Charley Parkhurst, a famous stagecoach driver (Whip) for Wells Fargo in the 1800s.

The Whip Book Cover“One-Eyed Charley” drove passengers and payloads overland in California for over thirty years covering rugged terrain and encountering dangerous highwaymen along the way. He was remembered for always being on time, for his understanding and deft handling of the horses, his colorful language, dirt crusted and sunburned visage, taste for whiskey, chewing tobacco and cigars, a friendly demeanor that earned him respect and friendship, and nerves of steel that kept him calm in all circumstances. Everyone in the territory from Sacramento to San Jose to San Francisco knew Charley Parkhurst… or thought they did. When he died in 1879 from tongue and throat cancer, Charley’s well kept secret was finally revealed. He was a woman!

This is a fascinating book that reveals a part of the Old West that is seldom written about; there were a lot of women who assumed male identities in order to survive. Although it re-imagines the details of Charley’s secret life, it unfolds with amazing sensitivity and authenticity. The characters have real depth, and Charley’s path from orphan, to wife and mother, to widow with nothing but revenge driving her onward, to stagecoach driver, equality and freedom in a male dominated world, makes for compelling reading.

Karen Kondazian has not only captured the historical period in rich detail, but more importantly she reveals Charley’s inner thoughts and emotions that bear witness to the secret longings and loneliness that living such a life must have had on this remarkable woman.

Fact is often stranger than fiction, yet in this case the imaginative mind of Karen Kondazian takes what little is known of this historical figure, fills in the blanks, and writes a novel that the reader will find hard to put down. The Whip is thoughtful, often heartbreaking, yet in the end… triumphant!

Whether you are a fan of the western genre or not, this is a must read. Don’t miss it.