Two saguaro cacti can be found in Langtry. Photos courtesy Sarah Rangel/illustration by Texas Highways

Like many Texas tales, this story begins in a Terlingua bar. My friends and I were three days deep into a camping excursion at Big Bend National Park when we stopped in at The Starlight Theatre Restaurant and Saloon to gorge on gorditas and enjoy a few Shiner Bocks. In between rounds, our bartender noticed my friend’s hat emblazoned with “Texas Saguaro Club” across it. The barkeep got the joke.

The joke being that the saguaro, the towering tree-like cactus frequently featured on Texas-themed maps, merchandise and Tex-Mex menus, doesn’t actually appear in Texas. This iconic plant’s natural state is nowhere near ours, and to see one you’ll have to travel to Arizona, Mexico or, heaven forbid, California.

Or so we thought.

According to our bartender, there was an exception to the rule. Two exceptions, in fact. And they could both be found in Langtry, home to possibly the only giant saguaros in Texas.

We were intrigued enough by the prospect to make a detour through Langtry on our drive back to Austin. The small Val Verde County town is home to a population of 12 and best known for being the one-time residence of legendary justice of the peace Judge Roy Bean. We pulled off of Highway 90 and saw the saguaros immediately. They were hard to miss, towering over either side of the town’s main road.

We parked our car and sauntered over for a photo op with the 50-foot succulents before entering the nearby Judge Roy Bean Museum that doubles as the town’s visitors center. There, we peppered employees with questions about how these puzzling plants arrived in Langtry. But that day, no one was sure—the saguaros had simply been there as long as they could remember. We were soon on our way back to Austin, our mystery unanswered.

But once home in Austin, the origins of those saguaros continued to poke at me. So much so that a few months later I returned to Langtry, vowing to solve this curious cacti case once and for all.


The saguaro outside Eddie Jean Billings’ home. Photo courtesy Sarah Rangel

The saguaro outside the Langtry Post Office. Photo courtesy Sarah Rangel

I arrived back at the Langtry Visitor’s Center where I met employee Sarah Rangel, a friendly, lifelong resident of the area who directed me to a woman who lived next door: Eddie Jean Billings, the saguaro’s owner.

I approached Billings as she was in the middle of a fence repair outside her quaint, well-maintained ranch house. I mentioned I had heard rumor that her saguaro was originally a gift from the governor of Arizona to the city of Langtry. Well, she informed me, that tale was taller than the giant cactus itself. The truth was much simpler: she planted it herself back in 1973.

“A man was selling saguaros door to door. I thought they were pretty so I bought one and planted it here,” Billings said. Half a century later, the towering specimen still stands. But it wasn’t the first saguaro in Langtry.

According to Billings it was the third. One was lost years ago after falling victim to harsh West Texas winds. Another saguaro still stands in front of the post office across the street, and before leaving Langtry I stopped by to speak to postal employee Eunice Romero about the town’s other colossal cactus.

Romero was happy to discuss the saguaros and told me she loved all the attention they bring to Langtry. “We see travelers from across the country stopping to get photographs in front of them,” she said. “I’ve met so many people because of those saguaros. I think they’re beautiful.”

Our state’s own Reverend Horton Heat once declared in song, “There ain’t no saguaro in Texas.” And while I typically don’t argue with a man of the cloth, in this instance, the Reverend is dead wrong. There are, yes, saguaro in Texas. And they can be found in Langtry. Along with a can’t-miss photo-op, a few friendly locals and a reminder that you never know what surprise might be waiting for you at the end of a Texas highway.

The June 2024 cover of Texas Highways: Treasures from the Coast

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