The Hanging of Judge Roy Bean in San Gabriel, California


Roy Bean arrived in San Gabriel in the spring of 1852 when California was wide open frontier and San Gabriel was on the lawless edge of Frontier California.

Roy Bean was reunited with his brother Joshua Bean. Since they had last seen each other Joshua had “married” Cristovala, a 12-year-old California girl and opened the first saloon in Glendale near the southwest corner of Mission San Gabriel.

Lieutenant Roy Bean Headquarters Bartender

Joshua gave Roy a job at his combination saloon, store, gambling hall, horse race track, cockfighting ring, bookie shop, brothel and vaudeville house: the Headquarters. Joshua appointed Roy a lieutenant in The California Volunteers, the State Militia; the criminal charges in San Diego were “resolved.”

On Sunday, November 7, 1852 following a typical Sunday of horse racing, gambling, cockfighting, drinking, brawling, circus acts and general revelry at the Headquarters, a drunken Joshua Bean wanted to have sex with his now 13 year old, post partum “wife.” Cristovala wanted to nurse their infant child. A domestic dispute occurred.

Militia Major General Joshua Bean is Murdered in San Gabriel

Cristovala fled into the night with her newborn child. There was an altercation between Mr. and Mrs. Joshua Bean on the street, in front of the residence of Jose Rico where the Insurrecto Joaquin Murieta was a guest.

Joaquin Murieta had lost a substantial amount to Joshua Bean’s horse book that night, Murieta heard a woman screaming and a man yelling, he grabbed his pistol and went outside to investigate. Joaquin Murieta saw Joshua and Cristovala and fired two shots; one struck Joshua Bean in the chest. Joshua pulled his Colt as he staggered toward the Rico house, firing three shots as he collapsed calling “Rico, Rico, Rico.” One of the balls he fired wounded Cristovala’s foot.

Joshua Bean died the next morning. Cristovala received medical attention, then left town with the baby. Joshua’s Colt pistol, serial number 1507, was never found.

Joshua Bean’s murder became an excuse for the murder by lynching of cobbler Cipriano Sandoval and two other Californios. It was also the instigation of a man hunt for the outlaw warlord Joaquin Murieta by the Los Angeles Rangers.

Roy Bean told of having ridden with the Los Angeles Rangers in pursuit of his brother’s killer. In the vast untamed wilderness of the California Frontier there were few written records kept of the loosely organized often fluid Ranger posses.

Lieutenant Roy Bean of the California Volunteers was known to be a skilled gunfighter and horseman. Horace Bell, who proudly earned the rank of Major in the Los Angeles Rangers, confirmed Roy Bean did ride with the Los Angeles Rangers in the hunt for Joaquin Murieta.

Roy Bean did not ride with the California Ranger Company under the command of Harry Love which brought back the head of Joaquin Murieta preserved in a barrel of brandy.

Roy Bean Cock of the Walk in San Gabriel, California

Roy inherited the Headquarters, the most popular and prosperous of the three saloons in San Gabriel. Roy Bean was the biggest frog in a growing pond and was at the top of his personal success.

On a spring morning in 1853 Horace Bell joyfully mounted a “fiery mustang,” and rode the nine miles from Los Angeles to San Gabriel past “at least 10, 000 head of horses” pasturing on the verdant California prairie.

Bell describes meeting Roy Bean, “I rode up to Headquarters and was met by a very handsome black bearded young man by name Roy Bean . . . dressed in elegant Mexican costume, with a pair of revolvers in his belt, while a bowie knife was neatly sheathed in one of his red-topped boots.”

The Hanging of Judge Roy Bean in San Gabriel, California

Roy Bean continued to run the Headquarters until late 1854. The easy pickings of the frontier were drying up. More settlers were bringing more civilization including laws enforced by vigilantes. America and California were in political turmoil from California joining the Union as a free state. Roy Bean was a known “Copperhead” slave sympathizer who considered any illegal act a blow for “the cause.”

Early in 1855 Roy Bean was hung in San Gabriel. Probably from the local “Hanging Tree” that was visible from the Headquarters at the southwest corner of Mission San Gabriel.

When Roy Bean talked about his hanging he told a romantic story of fighting a duel with a “Mexican Official” over the love of a “beautiful senorita” neglecting to reveal that the women at his saloon were mostly whores.

Roy Bean might have been hung by a loan shark wanting payment for chippies he sold Bean to pimp out of the Headquarters. Perhaps the attempted murder was over a gambling debt?

At about the same time Roy Bean was hung, Ranger turned renegade outlaw Dave Brown was hung by vigilantes. Maybe California Volunteers Lieutenant Roy Bean who ran a saloon that was a known hangout of predacious outlaws, vicious gamblers and diseased prostitutes was also strung up by vigilantes?

In the run up to the Civil War conflicts between “Union Men” and “Copperheads” were common. Maybe the lynching of Roy Bean was a political act?

Bean was known to ride the finest horses and California horsemanship was unsurpassed; One version of the hanging is that Bean was placed on his horse, Beans antagonists fired their guns and Bean was pulled off of his horse and left dangling with just his toes touching the ground.

Another version is that Bean was placed on his horse, the antagonists fired their guns and the horse did not bolt. At the time horses in California were trained to not bolt at the sound of gunfire. For an experienced horseman like Bean, who was familiar with the Vaquero school of dressage, skill could have saved his life and left the scar.

What is known is this near death experience left Bean with a ligature scar on his neck and injured vertebra for the rest of his life. Roy Bean left San Gabriel and Los Angeles County, probably with the encouragement of Sheriff James R. Barton, returned to wandering the frontier wilderness, maybe as far north as Canada, landing destitute in New Mexico.

In later life Roy Bean would tell stories of cannibalism that occurred during this wilderness period.