SAN ANGELO, Texas (Concho Valley Homepage) — Old laws can give us a glimpse into what life was like not so long ago.
Texas statues have a long and sometimes complicated history. The first printed copy was made in 1854, according to the Texas A&M School of Law. New versions of the statutes were published in 1895 and 1911 to stay up to date with the time. By 1963, the Texas Legislature created the Office of the Code Revisor, which was tasked with cleaning up Texas’ statutes to remove and update old terminology and leave room for expansion.
As time has passed, some old Texas laws have been revised, while a few still sit on the books. Other so-called laws Texans talk about are just myths.
We took a look at some of the strangest laws supposedly on the books in Texas, to see which ones are real and which are fake.
#1. Selling your organs
This one seems like a “no brainer,” but according to the Texas Penal Code Section 48.02, it’s against the law to sell human organs, including eyes, hearts, kidneys, livers, lungs, skin and other organs or tissues. You are allowed to sell blood and hair, however.
Those who commit this crime are guilty of a Class A misdemeanor and convictions could result in up to a year in jail and/or fines up to $4,000.
Just on the off chance you were thinking about purchasing organs, this old Texas law still applies.
#2. Going barefoot in public
Although “no shirt, no shoes, no problem” may sound like a great way to live, certain businesses in Texas won’t allow walking around barefoot. This is usually because they want to maintain sanitation and the appearance of the business.
But is there any law against going barefoot in Texas? The barefoot community should not be too concerned. According to The Barefoot Alliance, there are no federal or state laws in the United States that prohibit you from going barefoot in public places.
However, individual businesses and governmental facilities also may set their own dress codes and reserve the right not to serve a person who doesn’t comply.
#3. Is it illegal to be in possession of the Encyclopedia Britannica collection?
We have all seen them on library shelves, or even flipped through the pages reluctantly, but did the state of Texas outlaw owning the Encylopedia Britannica books?
Urban legend says owning the encyclopedia set is illegal because one volume contains the recipe for making beer. While the thought is a little humorous, this particular Texas “law” is just a myth. It is unclear how or why it was started in the first place.
Currently, according to the law, one can homebrew only 200 gallons of alcoholic beverage per year. No license is required if the brewer complies with all the rules mentioned in the statute.
#4. Drinking more than three sips of beer while standing
Everything is bigger in Texas, but do you need to keep your sips small in the town of LeFors, where it may be illegal to take more than three drinks (sips or swallows) of a beer while standing up?
A few online articles say yes, but after scouring LeFors’ laws and ordinances, there is no mention of this supposed law. It is unclear how or why this rumor started, but it may have something to do with standing while intoxicated. Historical museums surrounding LeFors also had not heard of this “law” previously.
#5. Don’t eat your neighbor’s garbage…without permission
You read that correctly. Although there is not much context on why some places report this is illegal in Texas, we had to ask if it is really banned to “dig into your neighbor’s trash for food”?
This law would fall under any state or city ordinances regarding dumpster diving or trash picking. While we could not find a place where the law mentioned eating trash specifically, you can still be charged with trespassing and property theft for attempting to dig in your neighbor’s trash. Raccoons are asked to take note.
#6. No cheese on Sunday
Back in the day, you might have had to wait until Monday to make a charcuterie board in Houston and a few other cities, where it may have been illegal to buy or sell Limburger cheese on Sunday.
According to the The World on Cheese, in 1902 in Louisville, Kentucky, a ban on all Limburger cheese was declared. We could not find if the ban on this cheese reached Texas, but author Mark Twain once compared the cheese to a “decaying corps” in his book “The Invalid’s Story,” so you may want to leave Limburger cheese off the menu regardless.
#7. It is illegal to milk another person’s cow
If you are thinking of milking someone else’s cow, it is suggested you moo’ve along, as it is illegal in Texas. The Texas Penal Code states that doing so results in a fine of no more than $10.
A source note in the 1925 Penal Code indicates that the law was active in 1866, but was later removed in 1973. Today, milking another person’s cow is still illegal. The difference is that the current Texas law makes categorizes the act as a theft of personal property.
#8. Don’t shoot buffalo…from the second story of a hotel
The Legislative Reference Library of Texas has confirmed this law as a myth, but your hotel might not be happy with you shooting firearms out their window anyways. Plus, you’ll need a license if you want to hunt buffalo.
#9. Giving a 24-hour notice to the victim before you commit a crime
Those planning to commit a crime in Texas could have been required by law to provide their victims with 24 hours written or verbal notice. The law would have needed criminals to mention the nature of the crimes to be executed.
While Rep. James “Jim” Kaster tried to pass this into law in 1973, the bill did not pass and never became law.
You can find the proposed statute entitled “Failure to Warn Victim of Crime” in the LRL Legislative Archive System.
If you’re trying to land a partner in San Antonio, do you need to be careful how you show it? Flirting with the “eyes or hands” in public was rumored to be illegal in San Antonio, but it’s just a myth.
What is not a myth, however, is an ordinance out of Denton from 1916 in order to combat public harassment. The ordinance stated, “It shall be unlawful for any male person in the City of Denton, Texas, to flirt with or ogle any female person unknown to him, or to utter, make or produce any sound intended or calculated to attract the attention of such female person, or to annoy or embarrass such person.”
There’s no mention of this ordinance in Denton after 1948.
#11. Wedding bells
Wedding bells are not needed to get married in Texas. All that is needed for an “informal marriage” are two willing parties (who are over 18, unmarried and aren’t related) to proclaim publicly that they are married three times. Then, individuals who wish to be informally married still have to provide proof of the informal marriage according to Sec. 2.401. of the Texas Penal Code.
Texas is one of eight common-law marriage states (as of 2020). It is not suggested to propose like this to anyone with stage fright.
#12. It is illegal to drive without windshield wipers, but you don’t need a windshield
While you don’t legally need a windshield to drive a car in Texas, it is illegal to drive without windshield wipers. According to TxDPS and the Texas Transportation Code the windshield is not an item of inspection and is not mentioned – however, the windshield wipers are.
This allows owners of vehicles like the Jeep Wrangler or Jeep Gladiator to fold down their windshields. Hopefully, for anyone driving without their windshield, their wipers are fast enough to catch all the bugs while driving down the highway.
#13. No sitting on the sidewalk
In Galveston, Texas, you can be hit with a fine of $500 just for sitting on the sidewalk. It was said to have been put in place to aid in the flow of foot traffic This law can be found under Sec. 24-14. – Impeding sidewalk of the city code of ordinances.
This ordinance could also fall under “Anti-Camping Ordinances” which criminalize the act of sleeping or pitching tents or other structures on publicly owned property. These ordinances are sometimes criticized as “anti-homelessness laws.” Anti-camping laws may also be contained in other city ordinances such as disorderly conduct and trespassing.
#14. No concealed carry of wire cutters
Best to cut your losses now and leave the wire cutters at home. In Austin, Texas, it was once illegal to carry wire cutters in your pocket. This law comes from a time when ranchers disputed open ranges versus fencing off their land according to the Texas State Historical Association. Wire cutters were used to cut through barbed wires. A bill passed in 1884 under the General Laws of Texas set out punishments for “fence cutters.”
Several old and outdated laws such as this were removed in 1973.
Did El Paso ever require spittoons in churches, assembly halls, hotels, banks, stores, train depots, and saloons?
While we could not find where it stated that spittoons were required, there is an ordinance under El Paso’s Code of Ordinances, 9.84.030 – Spitting, making it unlawful to spit in commonly used public locations.
Luckily, laws such as this one are no longer necessary…we had hoped.
#16. Does your horse need taillights at night?
This one may sound ridiculous at first, but we have to admit this seems like a pretty good idea.
While the law does not say specifically that your horse requires taillights to share the road, the Texas Penal code Sec. 542.003. states that “a person riding an animal on a roadway or operating a vehicle drawn by an animal on a roadway has the rights and duties applicable to the operator of a vehicle under this subtitle.”
While most of the old laws listed above may have earned a few laughs along the way, there is usually a kernel of truth to many of these myths. Several of the frontier laws that were once real have since faded into history, or were folded into other laws during major revisions to the criminal code.