May 3, 1850|
|Died||July 13, 1882
Chiricahua range, Cochise County, Arizona
Cause of death
|Gunshot wound to the head|
|Turkey Creek Canyon|
|West Turkey Creek Valley
John Peters "Johnny" Ringo (May 3, 1850 – July 13, 1882) was an outlaw member of The Cowboys of Cochise County, of the American Old West, who was affiliated with Ike Clanton and Frank Stilwell in Cochise County, Arizona Territory during 1881–1882.
Ringo was born in Greensfork, Indiana, of distant Dutch ancestry. His family moved to Liberty, Missouri in 1856. He was a contemporary of Frank and Jesse James, who lived nearby in Kearney, Missouri, and became a cousin of the Younger brothers through marriage when his aunt, Augusta Peters Inskip, married Coleman P. Younger, uncle of the outlaws.
In 1858 the family moved to Gallatin, Missouri where they rented property from the father of John W. Sheets (who became the first "official" victim of the James-Younger gang when they robbed the Daviess County Savings & Loan Association in 1869).
On July 30, 1864, while the Ringo family was traveling through Wyoming on their way to California, Johnny's father Martin Ringo stepped out of his wagon holding a shotgun which accidentally discharged. The buckshot entered the right side of Martin's face, exiting the top of his head. The 14-year-old Johnny, and the rest of the family, buried Martin on a hillside alongside the trail.
Mason County War
By the mid-1870s, Ringo had migrated from San Jose, California to Mason County, Texas. Here he befriended an ex-Texas Ranger named Scott Cooley, who was the adopted son of a local rancher named Tim Williamson.
Trouble started when two American rustlers, Elijah and Pete Backus, were dragged from the Mason jail and lynched by a predominantly German mob. Full-blown war began on May 13, 1875, when Tim Williamson was arrested by a hostile posse and murdered by a German farmer named Peter Bader. Cooley and his friends, including Johnny Ringo, conducted a terror campaign against their rivals. Officially called the "Mason County War", locally it was called the "Hoodoo War". Cooley retaliated by killing the local German ex-deputy sheriff, John Worley, shooting him, scalping him, and tossing his body down a well on August 10, 1875.
Cooley already had a reputation as a dangerous man, and was respected as a Texas Ranger. He killed several others during the "war". After Cooley supporter Moses Baird was killed, Ringo committed his first murder on September 25, 1875 when he and a friend named Bill Williams rode up in front of the house of James Cheyney, the man who led Baird into the ambush. As Cheyney came out, unarmed, invited them in and began washing his face on the porch, both Ringo and Williams shot and killed him. The two then rode to the house of Dave Doole, and called him outside, but when he came out with a gun, they fled back into town.
Some time later, Scott Cooley and Johnny Ringo mistook Charley Bader for his brother Pete and killed him. After that both men were jailed in Burnet, Texas by Sheriff A. J. Strickland. Both Ringo and Cooley were broken out of jail by their friends shortly thereafter, and parted company to evade the law.
By November 1876, the Mason County War had petered out after costing a dozen or so lives, Scott Cooley was believed dead, and Johnny Ringo and his pal George Gladden were locked up once again. One of Ringo's alleged cellmates was the notorious killer John Wesley Hardin. While Gladden was sentenced to 99 years, Ringo appears to have been acquitted. Two years later, Ringo was noted as being a constable in Loyal Valley, Texas. Soon after this, he appeared in Arizona for the first time.
Ringo first turned up in Cochise County, Arizona Territory in 1879 along with Joseph Graves Olney (alias "Joe Hill"), a friend from the Mason County War. In December 1879, a drunk Ringo shot unarmed Louis Hancock in a Safford, Arizona saloon when Hancock refused a complimentary drink of whiskey, stating he preferred beer. Hancock survived his wound. Ringo did not take part in the shootout at the O.K Corral. He was occasionally erroneously referred to as "Ringgold" by the newspapers of the day.
On January 17, 1882, Ringo and Doc Holliday traded threats and seemed to be headed into a gunfight. Both men were arrested by Tombstone's new chief of police, James Flynn (former chief Virgil Earp having been badly wounded in an ambush a few weeks before), and hauled before a judge for carrying weapons in town. Both were fined. Judge William H. Stilwell followed up on charges outstanding against Ringo for a robbery in Galeyville and Ringo was re-arrested and jailed on January 20 for the weekend.:238
Around Tombstone, Arizona, Ringo had a reputation as having a bad temper. He may have participated in robberies and killings with the Cowboys. Two months later, Ringo was suspected by the Earps of taking part in the murder of Morgan Earp on March 18, 1882.
During the so-called Earp Vendetta Ride deputy U.S. Marshal Wyatt Earp and his posse killed Frank Stilwell in Tucson on March 20, 1882. After the shooting, warrants were issued for their arrest. Cochise County Sheriff Johnny Behan deputized Ringo and 19 other men, many of them Cowboys and friends of Frank Stilwell. Ringo joined the county posse that pursued but never found the federal posse.
Pete Spence's wife, Marietta Duarte, testified that her husband, Frank Stilwell, "Indian Charlie" Cruz, Frederick Bode, and a half-breed named Fries:206:176 had killed Morgan Earp. The Earp posse searched for Pete Spence at his wood camp in the South Pass in the Dragoon Mountains and found Florentino "Indian Charlie" Cruz, whom they presumed to be "Fries" and killed him.
One of Ringo's closest friends, "Curly Bill" Brocius, was killed by Wyatt Earp in a gunfight at Iron Springs (later Mescal Springs) about 20 miles (32 km) from Tombstone, two days after the Cruz murder. Earp told his biographer Lake that he got Cruz to confess to being the lookout at Morgan's murder, and that Cruz identified Johnny Ringo, Frank Stilwell, Hank Swilling, and Curly Bill as Morgan's killers.
Death in Turkey Creek Canyon
On July 14, 1882, Johnny Ringo was found dead in the crotch of a large tree in West Turkey Creek Valley, near Chiricahua Peak, with a bullet hole in his right temple and an exit wound at the back of his head.
A single shot had been heard by a neighbor late in the evening the day before on July 13. The property owner found Ringo sitting on the low-leaning trunk and fork of a large tree by the river (a fallen trunk next to which Ringo is now buried). Ringo's revolver had one round expended and was found hanging by one finger in his hand. His feet were wrapped in pieces of his undershirt. His horse was found two weeks later, with Ringo's boots tied to the saddle, a common method to keep scorpions out of boots. After an inquest, the coroner found that death had been caused by a single shot through the head, and Ringo's death was officially ruled a suicide.
Johnny Ringo is buried close to where his body was found in West Turkey Creek Canyon () at the base of the tree in which he was found. The tree fell around 2010. The grave is located on private land and is accessible through a gate with instructions on how to get to the grave site.
Theories of Ringo's death
The book, I Married Wyatt Earp, supposedly written by Josephine Marcus Earp, reported that Wyatt Earp and Holliday returned to Arizona to find and kill Ringo. Edited by Glen Boyer, the book claims that Holliday killed Ringo with a rifle shot at a distance, contradicting the coroner's ruling that Ringo's death was a suicide. However, Boyer's book has been discredited as a fraud and a hoax that cannot be relied on.:154 In response to criticism about the book's authenticity, Boyer said the book was not really a first-person account, that he had interpreted Wyatt Earp in Josephine's voice, and admitted that he couldn't produce any documents to vindicate his methods. Holliday was fighting a court case in Colorado at the time of Ringo's death. Official records of the District Court of Pueblo County, Colorado indicate that both Doc and his attorney appeared in court there on July 11, 14, and 18, 1882, which, if true, would make it impossible for Holliday to have killed Ringo. Author Karen Holliday Tanner, in Doc Holliday, A Family Portrait, speculated that Doc may not have been in Pueblo at the time of the court date, citing a writ of habeas corpus issued for him in court on July 11. She believes that only his attorney may have appeared on his behalf that day, in spite of the wording of a court record that indicated he may have appeared in person—in propria persona or "in his own person". She cites this as standard legal filler text that does not necessarily prove the person was present. There is no doubt that Holliday arrived in Salida, Colorado on July 7 as reported in a town newspaper. This is 500 miles (800 km) from the site of Ringo's death, six days before the shooting.
One theory that supports the coroner's finding that Ringo committed suicide is that a few weeks before Ringo's death, a large fire in Tombstone had wiped out most of the downtown area. The silver mines were producing less, and demand for beef was down. Many of Ringo's friends were gone, while his way of life was quickly becoming a thing of the past. Ringo was depressed after being rejected by his remaining family members in California and the recent deaths of his outlaw friends. Stoked by a period of binge drinking, Ringo was preparing to camp in an isolated spot, far from the city. He tied his boots to his saddle, a common practice in Arizona to keep scorpions out of them, but the horse got loose from his picket and ran off. Ringo tied pieces of his undershirt to his feet to protect them (these were found on his body and noted by the inquest), and crawled into the fork of a large tree to spend the night. As evening came on, despondent over his overall state, Ringo shot himself.
Fred Dodge, a Wells, Fargo & Co. undercover agent, attributed Ringo's killing to Michael O'Rourke. A gambler, O'Rourke had been arrested for murdering Henry Schneider in January, 1881. Curly Bill Brocius and John Ringo encouraged talk of a lynching and led other men who pursued the wagon carrying O'Rourke. McKelvey got to the outskirts of Tombstone and the Last Chance Saloon just ahead of the mob where he was met by Deputy U.S. Marshal Virgil Earp, and was escorted to jail in Tucson, where he soon escaped.
He held on to a burning rage toward Ringo and Curly Bill, and according to a conversation Dodge had with Frank Leslie, O'Rourke learned in July, 1882 that Ringo and Buckskin Frank Leslie were camping in the Turkey Creek Canyon area. O'Rourke knew that Ringo had been drinking heavily for the last week and made camp in the same area. On July 14, O'Rourke allegedly found Ringo sleeping off his liquor and killed him, arranging the body to look like a suicide. The story had enough credibility that many—including Ringo's close friend, Pony Diehl—believed it to be true. O'Rourke was killed shortly after being caught cheating at cards.
Other theories postulate that "Buckskin" Frank Leslie killed Ringo. Leslie found Ringo drunk and asleep at a tree. Hoping to curry favor with Earp supporters in office, he shot Ringo through the head. Billy Claiborne believed Leslie killed Ringo, and it was said that his fatal shootout with Leslie was due to this fact. However, in reality Claiborne was demanding that Leslie refer to him as "Billy the Kid", and when Leslie refused Claiborne challenged him. Claiborne was shot through the right side, the bullet exiting out his back, and died hours later. His last words were supposedly "Frank Leslie killed John Ringo. I saw him do it", another claim that has no evidence to support it.
Louis L'Amour wrote that he had found nothing in Old West history to commend John Ringo as a particularly noteworthy "badman". According to L'Amour, Ringo was a surly, bad-tempered man who was worse when he was drinking, and that his main claim to fame was shooting the unarmed Louis Hancock in an Arizona territory saloon in 1879 for ordering beer after Ringo told him to order whiskey. L'Amour wrote that he did not understand how Ringo earned such a strong reputation as a "bad man" in legend. Other authors have concluded that perhaps Ringo's memorable name, coupled with his confrontations with the canonically "good" Earp brothers, contributed to his latter-day reputation.
In popular culture
- In the 1950 film The Gunfighter, the title character, played by Gregory Peck, is named Jimmy Ringo. In the film, Ringo is sympathetically depicted as a man constantly trying to put his notorious past behind him.
- In a 1954 episode of the syndicated western series Stories of the Century Ringo was played by Donald Curtis as "John B. Ringgold". Emlen Davies played his spinster sister, Helen, who tries in vain to convince him to turn away from lawlessness. Stories of the Century was the first western to win an Emmy Award.
- In a 1957 episode "The Equalizer" of The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Ringo is portrayed by John Pickard, with Elisha Cook, Jr., as "Guns" McCallum, a gunsmith hired by Mayor James H. "Dog" Kelley of Dodge City, Kansas.
- Ringo is portrayed by John Ireland in the 1957 film Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. In this version the animosity between Ringo and Doc Holliday is caused when Big Nose Kate (called "Kate Fisher" here) leaves Doc to become Ringo's lover. This is non-historical, although in Kate's letters she does note that Ringo visited her when Holliday was in jail briefly in November 1881 in connection with the O.K. Corral Spicer hearing, and it is quite possible that Holliday grew jealous. The movie portrays Ringo as a participant in the titular gunfight, when in fact he was not present. The film depicts Holliday lecturing a wounded Ringo about the triumph of good over evil before he shoots Ringo dead.
- "Johnny Ringo's Last Ride" is an episode of the ABC western series Tombstone Territory, which aired on February 19, 1958, with Myron Healey in the role of Ringo. The series starred Pat Conway and Richard Eastham.
- A 1959–1960 CBS television series used Ringo's name, but had little to do with his actual life (the real Ringo probably never wore a badge, unless as a town constable). Johnny Ringo aired for one season (38 episodes). Ringo was played by Don Durant and carried a LeMat revolver (a Confederate nine-shot percussion revolver with a second barrel designed to fire a shotgun charge).
- While CBS was airing the series Johnny Ringo, Peter M. Thompson played the role of Ringo in the episode "The Clantons' Family Row" on December 8, 1959 on the ABC/Desilu series, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, starring Hugh O'Brian as Wyatt Earp. In the story line, Ringo faces a potential gunfight with Curly Bill Brocius, portrayed by William Phipps, because of an argument over a horse. Earp works to stop the gunfight, and Doc Holliday, played by Douglas Fowley, takes bets on the outcome.
- Ringo is the inspiration for the historically inaccurate, but highly popular song "Ringo" sung by then-Bonanza TV-cowboy Lorne Greene, which topped the pop charts at #1 in late 1964 (replacing The Shangri-Las' "Leader of the Pack").
- In the 1986 television remake of Stagecoach the Ringo Kid is played by Kris Kristofferson. The character of the gambler Hatfield is changed to Doc Holliday (Holliday is probably the inspiration for both Doc Boone and the gambler Hatfield in the original). In the remake, Holliday is played in name by Willie Nelson and Holliday and the Ringo Kid are allies, which is ironic given their relationship in real life.
- In 1993's Tombstone, Ringo is played by Michael Biehn. In this version, he is second in command of The Cowboys. He is characterized as a violent sociopath who aspires to humiliate and destroy Doc Holliday. He is also characterized as highly educated, at one point trading Latin taunts with Holliday. In the film, Holliday kills him.
- In the 1994 film Wyatt Earp, Ringo is played by Norman Howell. In this film, Curly Bill Brocius is the major antagonist.
- Johnny Ringo is the protagonist of a novel entitled Confessions of Johnny Ringo (ISBN 0451159888) by Geoff Aggeler. In the novel, Ringo's real name is Ringgold, and he is depicted as a young man studying the law who is driven to become an outlaw during the Civil War when his sweetheart is killed by Union troops in Missouri. He is killed by Wyatt Earp, who frees his spirit to reunite with the sweetheart.
- Ringo is an antagonist in the Doctor Who story The Gunfighters, in which he is inaccurately portrayed as not only being present at the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral but as one of its casualties. In the novelisation, he is depicted as a classicist and intends to spend his wages on an encyclopedia of classical biography.
- In the episode "Dead Man's Hill" of the television series The Lost World, Johnny Ringo is played by David Orth as an outlaw in cahoots with the ruthless sheriff Jack Challenger, who have framed an innocent man for the murder of another woman's husband.
- Johnny Ringo is depicted in the Mister Blueberry arc of the French graphic novel Blueberry as a psychotic and delusional gunslinger and scalp hunter who sacrifices women to a mystical entity known as "Red Dragon".
- Johnny Ringo was depicted on the television series, The High Chaparral, twice in 1969. In one episode, Ringo was portrayed by veteran television and film character actor, Robert Viharo. In another episode, Ringo was portrayed by veteran actor, Luke Askew. The premise of both episodes was that Ringo was a misunderstood outlaw and longtime friend of Manolito Montoya (Henry Darrow).
- In the 2010 Steampunk novel The Buntline Special by Mike Resnick, Ringo is already dead, but becomes re-animated by magic and sent to Tombstone Arizona as an assassin. His new zombie appearance frequently scares the townsfolk.
- In 2011 metalcore band, Crown The Empire, formed in Dallas, Texas, wrote a song called "Johnny Ringo" which can be found on their EP, Limitless. In 2012, the band wrote a sequel to the song, titling it "Johnny's Revenge", which can be found on their first full length album called The Fallout.
- In the 2013 video game Call of Juarez: Gunslinger, Johnny Ringo is depicted as one of the three men responsible for murdering the brothers of the fictitious bounty killer Silas Greaves. As Silas recounts his years tracking down his brothers' killers, he claims that his hunt for Ringo lead to the death of Newman Haynes Clanton in the Guadalupe Canyon Massacre, and a survivor of the massacre mistaking Greaves for Wyatt Earp inadvertently triggered the gunfight at the OK Corral. Ringo himself makes an appearance a boss in the subsequent level, with Silas claiming responsibility for Ringo's death in Turkey Creek Canyon.
- "The High Chaparral Johnny Ringo". Thehighchaparral.com. Retrieved 15 February 2013.
- Wilkinson, Darryl (1992-07-22). "Johnny Ringo Called Gallatin Home as a Boy". Gallatin North Missourian. Retrieved 15 February 2013.
- Clanton, Terry (1997). "John Ringo Family History". Tombstone History. Retrieved 15 February 2013.
- Hadeler, Glenn. "The Mason County Texas Hoo Doo Wars". Texas History.
- "Scott Cooley at Find A grave". Findagrave.com. Retrieved 15 February 2013.
- "Handbook of Texas bio". Retrieved 15 February 2013. "Hardin Biography p. 124 claimed to have been cellmates with Ringo in September 1878. However Ringo was acquitted in May 1877!"
- Roberts, Gary L. (2007). Doc Holliday: The Life and Legend. New York, NY: Wiley, J. p. 544. ISBN 978-0-470-12822-0.
- "Wyatt Earp's Vendetta Posse". HistoryNet.com. January 29, 2007. Retrieved 15 February 2013.
- "Earp Vendetta Ride". Legends of America. Retrieved 15 February 2013.
- DeArment, Robert K. Bat Masterson: The Man and the Legend. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 442. ISBN 978-0-8061-2221-2.
- Ortega, Tony (December 24, 1998). "How the West Was Spun". Retrieved 15 February 2013.
- Lubet, Steven (2006). Murder in Tombstone: The Forgotten Trial of Wyatt Earp. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-11527-7.
- Ortega, Tony (March 4, 1999). "I Varied Wyatt Earp". Phoenix New Times. Retrieved 29 May 2011.
- "Losing Gambler". Retrieved 15 February 2013.
- ""The Equalizer on The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, April 16, 1957". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved April 16, 2014.
- "The Clantons' Family Row, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, December 8, 1959". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved August 12, 2013.
- "Lorne Green lyrics "Ringo"". OldieLyrics.com. Retrieved 15 February 2013.
- Burrows, Jack (1987). John Ringo: The Gunfighter Who Never Was. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press. ISBN 0-8165-0975-1.
- Gatto, Steve (2002). Johnny Ringo. Lansing: Protar House. ISBN 0-9720910-1-7.
- Johnny Ringo at the Internet Movie Database (TV series 1959–1960)
- "JohnnyRingo.com". The most complete biographical info available on the web.
- "John Ringo Family History". Tombstone History. This site has a photo of Ringo, gives a valuable timeline for Ringo's life, and directions for finding Ringo's grave.
- "Johnny Ringo Grave Site". Arizona Ghost Towns. This is a second link to the gravesite.
- "Mason County War". The Handbook of Texas Online.