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In the 1890s, in Texas, outlaw Roy Bean arrives at the ramshackle saloon in Vinegaroon, a village of poor Mexicans. Because no law has jurisdiction west of the Pecos River, Bean hopes to be given sanctuary by outlaws living there, but the debauched fugitives, who spend their days drinking and whoring, reject Bean's request. Instead, they beat him, steal his money, put a noose around his neck and tie it to his horse. Then, they scare the animal into dragging him away. After Marie Elena, a young woman of the village, comes to his aid and gives him a gun, Bean returns to the saloon and shoots dead his adversaries. Soon after, Reverend LaSalle, a traveling preacher, encounters Bean guarding the saloon from a rocking chair outside the door and convinces him to bury the dead. After finding an old law book in the saloon, Bean declares himself a judge and promises the villagers a new era of peace and civilization, no matter who he has to kill. Bean gives the villagers the outlaws' horses, guns and land, but, shrewdly, they accept only the horses and name him their "patrone," placing themselves under his protection. Marie Elena, whom Bean calls his "angel," offers to live with him, but he settles her in a little shack next to the saloon, which he converts to serve as his residence and courthouse. He names the saloon "The Jersey Lily," after the famous actress Lily Langtry, whose poster he nails to the wall. Although he has never met Langtry, Bean loves her in a courtly manner and writes to her often. On the occasion that he receives an acknowledgment of receipt from Langtry's secretary, he cherishes it as if it were touched by Langtry herself. One day outlaw Big Bart Jackson and his gang ride into town. Normally Bean would try and hang them, but as they have money, he instead invites them to buy drinks at his saloon. Reasoning that a judge needs someone to prosecute, the men offer to find some outlaws for Bean to hang. Bean then recruits Bart and his gang members Nick the Grub, Fermel Parlee and Whorehouse Lucky Jim to be marshals. The fifth member, Tector Crites, becomes Bean's saloonkeeper. Agreeing to uphold the law "for Texas and Miss Lily," the marshals first round up Sam Dodd, who robbed and killed a Chinese man. Although Dodd says the law book does not mention "Chinamen," Bean, claiming to be an advanced thinker, hangs Dodd and takes the money he stole as fines. As Bean and his marshals play poker, a drunk, Snake River Rufus Krile, fires indiscriminately in the saloon. The marshals ignore Krile's outburst until he takes aim at Miss Lily's poster, after which they simultaneously shoot him dead. Discovering that Krile shot Miss Lily through the heart, Bean rules his death a justifiable homicide and fines the dead man all his money. The marshals arrest criminals of various misdeeds throughout the countryside and the executed men soon fill a cemetery outside the saloon. From the confiscated funds of the doomed men, Bean makes civic improvements and both he and the marshals prosper. He lavishes Marie Elena with clothes from the Sears Roebuck catalog, but otherwise keeps distant from her. When a traveling bordello rides into town, Bean banishes the pimp and, after matching each prostitute with one of his marshals, rules that the women spend a year in their protective custody. Although Bean takes one prostitute for himself, Marie Elena fires at them with a rifle, causing Bean to advise the woman to steal a fast horse and escape. Bean follows the angry Marie Elena to the edge of town. While gazing at the desert, he predicts a future of tall buildings, factories, a railroad station and a big granite courthouse. Bean promises Marie Elena that she can have anything, and when she asks for a music box, he suggests that it will play "The Yellow Rose of Texas." Although Marie Elena moves into the saloon with Bean, he continues to worship Langtry as an unattainable goddess but admits that Marie Elena, his "mortal woman," is dearer. One day, when the wagon of elderly mountain man Grizzly Adams breaks down outside of town, Grizzly, expecting to die soon, asks Bean to adopt his "son," the large, bear-swilling bear that accompanies him. Before leaving, Grizzly cuts the bear loose and threatens to haunt Bean if he mistreats the animal. Although at first annoyed, Bean and Marie Elena enjoy the bear's company and take him on picnics. Soon after, Bad Bob, an evil albino outlaw coveting Bean's authority and prosperity, gallops into town, shooting off his guns and scaring everyone. When Bob challenges Bean to a showdown, Bean, stationed in a nearby hayloft, shoots him dead from behind. Some time later, lawyer Frank Gass comes to town, claiming to have inherited the saloon from its previous owner. Bean tosses Gass in the bear's cage until the lawyer drops his claim, and then suggests a professional relationship, in which Gass will use his knowledge of the law to ensure that Bean will be the beneficiary of the estates of the executed criminals. Although Gass receives a percentage of the estates, he secretly holds a grudge against Bean for caging him and, some time later, hires an assassin to murder Bean during the night. Although the bear kills the assassin, it dies in the struggle, instilling a sense of foreboding in Bean. The prostitutes, who now consider themselves respectable, form an alliance with Gass to despose Bean and begin to gossip maliciously about the pregnant Marie Elena. When the wives demand that Bean desist from calling them "whores" and stop displaying the bodies of the men he hangs, Bean senses that he is becoming a pariah in his own town. Deciding to travel to San Antonio to see Langtry perform, Bean arrives in the city, looking out of place in top hat and tall boots. Upon discovering that the show is sold out, Bean falls victim to con men who, claiming that they can introduce him to Langtry, lure him into an alley, where they knock him unconscious and rob him. Returning home with a music box for Marie Elena, Bean learns that she is near death after giving birth to their daughter, who is named Rose after the song. Despite Bean's "ruling" that she survive, Marie Elena dies, and when an inebriated doctor arrives too late, Bean decides to hang him. The execution is stopped by Gass, who became mayor during Bean's absence through a political coup assisted by the prostitutes. Although the marshals offer to ignore Gass's claim to power and carry on as before, Bean, defeated, rides off into the desert. As Tector rears Rose in the saloon and regales her with tales of the old days, Gass brings in Eastern killers and hoodlum politicians. He fires the marshals, who take lowly jobs and are abandoned by the prostitutes. Gang wars erupt, oil is discovered and The Jersey Lily is dwarfed by oil rigs. To obtain the oil under the saloon, Gass evicts Rose and Tector. Although Rose, who is now grown to adulthood, wants to fight him in court, Tector explains that Gass has corrupt officials on his side. Just then, Rose looks up and sees the silhouette of a man on a horse, whom Tector identifies as Bean. That evening, Bean and his reunited marshals are ready to fight when Gass's men surround the saloon. A shootout commences, in which the town erupts in flame while Bean chases Gass to his death, and Rose and the marshals fight his henchmen. In the commotion, Rose sees Bean ride his horse into Gass's hotel, where, from the second floor balcony, he calls out, "For Texas and Miss Lily!" just before a burning oil rig falls on the wooden building. The Jersey Lily survives the fire, but the wells dry up and the criminals leave, allowing the desert to reclaim the land. After Rose marries an aviator who crash-landed his plane, Tector and Billy, the stationmaster, remain to run the saloon, which has been turned into a museum devoted to Bean and Miss Lily. Langtry is touring the country when her railcar, also called "The Jersey Lily," stops at the ghost town out of curiosity. Recalling the "funny old judge's" letters, Langtry listens to stories of Bean's devotion. When Tector gives her a letter he found in the old law book in which Bean writes about the honor of adoring her, Langtry wistfully acknowledges that Bean was "quite a character."