Saturday, January 19, 2008

Roy Bean and the Drive to Marathon

January 19, 2008 -- Marathon Motel and RV Park in Marathon, TX.

Just up the road about 20 miles from Seminole Canyon State Park is the town of Langtry, TX. Well, to call it a town is perhaps an overstatement. It's about a mile off US Hwy 90 and only a short walk from the Rio Grande River, and if it weren't for people like me, who like the 1972 John Huston film "The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean" (which starred Paul Newman), I don't think anyone would voluntarily slow down to make the turn into town.

In fact, there was a character by the name of Roy Bean who lived out in these parts during the 1880's and 1890's. It was a wild and rugged time with the main economic activity of the area involving the building and operation of the second transcontinental railroad -- The Southern Pacific. He was a store owner and saloon-keeper who was appointed justice-of-the-peace to help keep a little order in a largely lawless land.

Bean held court in his saloon and often employed bar patrons as the jury. He had no jail so all guilty sentences were resolved with fines -- fines that Bean kept. He charged $5 for a marriage and ended every ceremony with "and may God have mercy on your soul." There's something you gotta like about this guy!

During the building of the first railroad high-bridge over the Pecos River about 20 miles from Langtry, an accident caused 10 men to fall from the structure. Bean was called out for an inquest on the incident and ruled that all 10 had died even though 3 of the 10 had survived. He ruled the other 3 were going to die anyway, and he didn't want to make the long trip from Langtry a second time. In fact, the 3 survivors recovered and had a story to tell which added to the lore surrounding this colorful character.

Bean called his saloon and billiard hall the "Jersey Lilly", in honor of Miss Lillie Langtry, the actress and "Paris Hilton" of her day. Bean never actually met her, but was clearly infatuated with her. There's some dispute about the name of the town but evidence suggests that it was named after a railroad engineer with the last name of Langtry. Probably a coincidence.

The original "Jersey Lilly", which Bean did name for Lillie Langtry, still exists as does Beans last home which he called the "Opera House". After about an hour and a few photos for posterity, we were back on the road with Dar behind the wheel.

Our objective was Marathon but we had no reservation anywhere. In Marathon we could go south, into the Big Bend Park area, or west, to Alpine, a larger town with more RV Park opportunities, or we could stay right there in Marathon if we found something we liked.

As we plied west the land becomes more arid and desolate. Evidence of human activity becomes increasingly sparse. Didn't even see many cattle on the range. The 100 miles to our destination is almost all uphill -- we left Langtry at about 1400 feet and climbed to 4200 feet at Marathon. The bus' mileage suffered by the double whammy of the climb and a steady headwind.

At Marathon we found a wonderful little RV Park that co-exists with a small motel. The Marathon Motel and RV Park is a place that makes up with soul what it lacks in amenities. The people who own and operate the place are friendly and helpful. They have a wonderful small cafe that serves a great breakfast. They have an outdoor fireplace in a neat little courtyard and encourage patrons to come on down every evening and warm up by the fire while watching the sun set behind the Del Norte Mountains. We did just that and met another couple with an interesting story. Sitting at the fire, protected by the walls of the courtyard, it didn't feel like the 20f degrees it was when we finally retired to the camper.

We originally planned to stay here only one night and head down to Big Bend on Sunday. But the combination of friendliness, good internet connection, and cable TV so we can see the Packer game on Sunday night made it necessary for us to stay an extra day. We're now leaving for Big Bend on Monday morning.

Stay warm everyone.

T