I have blogged before now, and undoubtedly will again, on the subject of Jersey’s most famous daughter, Lillie Langtry, the Jersey Lily.
Born in Jersey in 1853 she, by her sheer beauty and presence, swept through the London society of the day before taking to the stage. Though not as naturally talented as her contemporaries Sarah Bernhardt and Helen Modjeska she was the leading figure of her day in the theatre.
She travelled extensively, and she herself was sure that, by the time she retired, she had played in every city, town and hamlet in the United States. Mostly she travelled by train in her own custom-built luxury car the Lalee.
Judge Roy Bean was appointed Justice of the Peace in Vinegaroon, Texas in 1882. He, like many, was an admirer of the Jersey Lily and re-named the town Langtry* in her honour. She was unable to accept his invitation to visit the town in 1883. It was many years later, after his death in 1903, that she was finally persuaded to visit Langtry.
The South Pacific Railroad now passed through Langtry which is only a few miles from the Mexican border. The railway company accommodated Mrs Langtry’s wish to stop there, but for half an hour only.
She tells in her own words how the train suddenly stopped in the middle of the Texas desert. Looking out from the Lalee she could see no sign of habitation. As it transpired the Lalee, being the last car of the train, had stopped well down the line from the tiny town.
Then, in a cloud of sand and dust a large throng of citizens made their way along to greet her. She was introduced to the present Justice of the Peace Dodd, Postmaster Fielding and Stationmaster Smith. Then a group of cowboys in their finest leathers were introduced followed by the young ladies of the town, then finally the wives.
Time being short Lillie was unable to visit the town but happily the Jersey Lilly (sic) Saloon was nearby and everyone trudged over to it through the sagebrush and cactus. And indeed here it was that Judge Bean had administered justice and ‘Law West of the Pecos.’
It is said that Bean, having arrested a man for killing a Chinese, checked in his law book for the appropriate punishment. He found there to be a penalty for killing a white man, a lesser penalty for a black man, but – with no mention of yellow skin the killer went free.
On another occasion he inspected the corpse of a traveller that had recently died. Finding a revolver in one pocket and 40 dollars in the other he fined the corpse 40 dollars for illegal possession of a firearm, thus augmenting town funds.
As Lillie went to re-board the train the people tried to present her with a live bear, but the creature escaped. She shortly afterwards received from JP Dodd a pistol, duly engraved, which had formerly belonged to Judge Bean.
Today Langtry is isolated. The railway has gone, the highway moved to the north, but you can still visit the Jersey Lilly Saloon!
*Edit Apr 2016. Much more likely the town was named for George Langtry, the railway engineer.