The Myth of Johnny Ringo! Old West’s Most Infamous Outlaw
Johnny Ringo is a name that echoes down the annals of the Old West as the greatest outlaw who rode his galloping horse across the west. A man who could quote William Shakespeare at will, John Peters Ringo was a gentleman gunslinger who lived in a mythic way and died in a mysterious one. While the world remembers the likes of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the James Younger Gang when it comes to the Old West, there was a man, the Ringo, who intersects all three to rise to the top of the pyramid in the books of history. This is the story of the Old West’s most infamous outlaw, Johnny Ringo.
Before Johnny Ringo Became the Legend
Johnny Ringo was born in Washington, Indiana but shifted cities as a child with his family, as if his childhood already knew that this little kid would gallop across the west from city to city soon. He moved from Washington to Liberty in Missouri and then to Gallatin leading to Wyoming then California and finally settling down in Mason County in Texas. That’s where he met Scott Cooley who was an ex-Texas Ranger. Johnny was also a cousin via his aunt to the Younger Gang, which kind of became an intuition to the man he would grow up to be.
Starting his Days of Becoming an Outlaw!
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It all started with a German farmer named Peter “Bad Man” Bader murdering Tim Williamson, the father of his friend Scott Cooley. Cooley and Ringo planned to extract revenge on the German and launched a terror campaign against their enemies. This went on to become the Mason County Wars or the Hoodoo Wars.
Although Cooley went on the murder spree by killing several people who were responsible for his father’s death, the first murder committed by Ringo was that of James Cheyney who killed one of Ringo’s gang members.
They were arrested after they killed Charley Bader who they mistook to be his brother Peter. The jail couldn’t hold this news on the leash outlaw for long and Ringo & Cooley were broken out of jail. They ventured out into the plains of the Old West and thus began the legend of Johnny Ringo.
Johnny Ringo and Arizona Hoo Yaa!
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Soon after splitting with Scott Cooley, Johnny ventured into the state of Arizona for new prospects. First documented to have visited Cochise County he shot a man in a saloon for refusing a glass of whiskey. His bad temper was the talk of the town for the folks in the city of Tombstone as he began gaining cred for robberies, killings, and much more in Cochise County with the help of the Cochise County Cowboys.
Ringo meets the Marshals
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Two major figures intersected the life of Johnny Ringo, to figures whose names are etched into the plaque of the Wild West as one of the most famous law enforcers. Doc Holliday was a dentist and a gunman who often would turn into a temporary policeman when the need arose. When he fell into a quarrel with Doc, both of them were arrested and jailed. While Doc walked out free a few days later, Ringo was sentenced to multiple counts for robberies and assaults. This is when the famous Wyatt Earp came into the picture as he suspected Ringo’s involvement in the crippling of his brother Marshal Virgil Earp and the murder of another brother Morgan Earp.
image source: wikimedia
Ringo soon broke out of prison and was on the loose again, but this time Wyatt Earp was on his tail tracking him and his gang buddies. Deputy US Marshal Wyatt Earp and his posse killed Frank Stilwell, a major outlaw of the West and close associate of Ringo. Since they also acted out of the law, they were warranted for arrest. Although they could not catch up to Ringo they found a number of his gang members on the way, murdering them mercilessly for killing his brother.
The Mysterious Death of Johnny Ringo!
iamge source: Bing
It was the morning of July 14, 1882, when a man found Johnny Ringo lying dead under a tree in West Turkey Creek Valley, near Chiricahua Peak in Arizona. The neighbor said he heard a gunshot the last night and the next morning he found Ringo lying cold on the ground. His feet were wrapped in a piece of cloth from his undershirt. A bullet hole-riddled near his right temple and an exit wound on the back of the head spoke of him being shot at point-blank.
Some claimed Holiday shot him while some said he committed suicide. The suicide theory fits best at that time because Ringo was carrying a Colt Single Action Army revolver which only had five bullets in its cartridge, which meant that there was a possibility he might have shot himself to death. But the coroner said that there was a knife cut at the base of the scalp which was common if the killer would have tried to remove his scalp. Since no one wanted to invest a lot of time in investigating the death of an outlaw, the law stated that he committed suicide.
But is it so easy to dismiss the death of one of the Wild West’s most notorious outlaws? We don’t think so. The first theory that surrounds his death is that his killer was Wyatt Earp who shot Ringo with his rifle when he found Ringo and his team camping in West Turkey Creek Valley. Although historians dump this theory by saying that Wyatt just wanted to gain brownie points by claiming Ringo’s death, some do think that it was his doing.
And since Wyatt laid a claim, Doc Holliday didn’t stay behind for long too. He also joined the queue of those who were ready to claim the killing of a famous outlaw, Ringo. Holliday was with Wyatt when they encountered Ringo and his gang in the Valley and the theory states that it was Holliday who had a one on one confrontation with Ringo, killing him amid the squabble. This theory is also picturized in the movie Tombstone.
Although we don’t know the exact cause of Johnny Ringo’s death and whether he killed himself or was killed by someone, Ringo’s name will be forever known to all those who revisit the times of the Old Wild West. The Shakespeare-loving gentleman outlaw who gave sleepless nights to the law, Johnny Ringo!