Myth-busting librarians debunk rumors about Texas' Wild West laws

Sun Jan 12, 2014 7:37am EST
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By Jon Herskovitz

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Legend has it that the long arm of Texas law once extended to hotel balconies where the men with star badges would take into custody anyone who violated a state statute forbidding people to hunt buffalo from such a perch.

The legend ends at the Legislative Reference Library of Texas, where a small team of well-referenced librarians has gone through the records and sorted out fact from fiction when it comes to the laws of the Lone Star State.

"The ideas of the history of Texas capture the imagination with those stories of cattle drives and the old West. People want to still think it is like that and those laws are on the books," said Catherine Wusterhausen, the library's assistant director.

There was never any state law forbidding buffalo hunting from the second floor of a hotel. But a person who fired a weapon in those circumstances would probably face other violations of criminal law.

The library has received a steady stream of requests from the public and lawmakers to see if a certain statute is still on the books or whether it existed at all. It recently sorted through claims for an exhibit at its home in the state capitol building.

One claim is that a couple can be married in Texas by publicly introducing a person as one's husband or wife three times.

This seems to have grown out of common law marriages that were common about a century and a half ago, when a trip to a county seat in the state's wide open spaces was too long a journey for many couples.

Texas law does allow for "marriage without formalities" and recognizes those that are registered or from couples who agree to live together as husband and wife and represent to others that they are married.   Continued...