John Peters “Johnny” Ringo

Johnny Ringo was an American gunfighter and outlaw most commonly associated with the infamous happenings in Tombstone, Arizona. He was often portrayed as the hired gun of the Clanton faction, an antagonist to Doc Holiday, and could be responsible for the kill of Morgan Earp. Although not formally educated, he supposedly quoted Shakespeare and cultivate an image of the refined gunman. Although in Tombstone at the time, and quarreled with Doc Holiday, he did not participate in the gunfight or every mince more than words with Holiday.

John Peters "Johnny" Ringo ( May 3, 1850 – July 13, 1882 )
John Peters “Johnny” Ringo ( May 3, 1850 – July 13, 1882 )

John Peters “Johnny” Ringo is born May 3, 1850 to Martin and Mary Peters Ringo in Greens Fork, Indiana. On July 30, 1864, when Johnny was 14, his family was relocation from Wyoming to California. While en route, Martin Ringo, Johnny’s father was killed when he stepped off their wagon holding a shotgun, which accidentally discharged. The head wound was gruesome and the family if forced to bury him on a hillside next to the trail. On their arrival in California, the family settled in San Jose.

Mason County War

In 1869, Johnny aged 19, left San Jose and moved to Mason County, Texas. While in Texas be befriended a former Texas Ranger Scott Cooley, who was the adoptive son of Rancher Tim Williamson. Williamson is arrested by a hostile mob and killed by Peter “Bad Man” Bader on May 13th, 1875. Following, Ringo and Colley rage a war of terror of those they felt guilty to Williamson’s murder. This became locally know as the “Hoodoo War” or the “Mason County Ware”.

On August 19th, 1875, Scott Cooley and Ringo killed Charley Bader when they mistook him for his brother Pete. The two men are jailed for the murder in Burnet, Texas, but soon escaped.

The Mason County War is over in November 1876 with about a dozen lives lost.

Ringo in Tombstone

Johnny found his way to Tombstone in the winter of 1880. He had a reputation of a bad temper and an alcoholic. He becomes associated with the Cochise County Cowboys alongs with the Clanton’s and may have participated in some of their “activities”. Ringo did not participate in the famous gunfight, however, on January 17th, 1882, he and Doc Holiday traded words and almost had a gunfight before both men were arrested.

Ringo was a fine man any way you look at him. Physically, intellectually, morally. He was six feet tall, rather slim in build, although broad-shouldered, medium fair as to complexion with gray-blue eyes and light brown hair. His face was somewhat long. He was what might be called an attractive man. His attitude toward all women was gentlemanly. He must have been a gentleman born. Sometimes I noticed something wistful about him, as if his thoughts were far away on something sad. He would say, ‘Oh, well,’ and sigh. Then he would smile, but his smiles were always sad. There was something in his life that only he, himself, knew about …. He was always neat, clean, well dressed, showed that he took good care of himself. He never boasted of his deeds, good or bad, a trait I have always liked in men. John…was a loyal friend. And he was noble, for he never fought anyone except face to face. Every time I think of him, my eyes fill with tears.

Mary Katherine Horony Cummings – Big Nose Kate

Following the attacks on Virgil and Morgan Earp, Wyatt Earp blamed Ringo for the ambush and murder of Morgan on March 18th, 1882. Morgans death prompted a “vendetta” ride which sees Wyatt hunting those whom he blamed for Morgan’s death. March 20th, 1882, Wyatt killed Frank Stillwell in Tucson, Arizona. Following, Johnny Ringo is deputized into a possse to search for the Wyatt and Holiday, although they never find them.

Mysterious Death

During Tombstone’s Fourth of July festivities, Ringo drank heavily. Two days letter he left Tombstone with several bottles of liquor. On July 8th, Deputy Billy Breakenridge ran into Ringo at Dial’s Ranch in the South Pass of the Dragoon Mountains. During this encounter “Ringo was very drunk, reeling in the saddle.” He encouraged Ringo to follow him back to the Goodrich Ranch. But, “he was drunk and stubborn and went on his way. I think this was the last time he was seen alive.”

At about 3pm on July 13, ranch hands at a nearby ranch heard a shot.

On July 14th, 1882, Ringo’s lifeless body is discovered by Teamster James Yoast, Ringo is found dead among “a bunch of five large black jack oaks growing up in a semicircle from one root, and in the center of them was a large flat rock which made a comfortable seat.” 

On discovery, Ringos body is already blacked from the hot Arizona sun.

His feet were wrapped in strips of cloth torn from his undershirt. Ringo had lost his horse with his boots tied to the saddle. The coroner’s report noted that “He had evidently traveled but a short distance in this foot gear.” A bullet hole is found at his right temple and an exit wound at the back of his head. The fatal wound was upward at a 45-degree angle between the right eye and ear. His Colt Single Action Army .45 revolver was still in his right hand with the hammer rested on the empty chamber. A knife cut was found at the base of his scalp, as if “someone had cut it with a knife.” His horse was found eleven days later about 2 miles away with Ringo’s boots still tied to the saddle. 

Despite the later claims by Wyatt Earp to have killed him, or movie depictions of Doc Holiday dispatching him and a show down, it is not difficult to image a very drunk Johnny Ringo committing suicide, after falling off and loosing his horse.


NameJohn Peters Ringo
Also Know ASJohnny Ringo, Johnny Ringgold
Birth / DeathMay 3, 1850 – July 13, 1882
Cause of DeathSuicide, Cochise County, Ariona
Side armColt Single Action Army .45 revolver
VictimsJames Cheyney – Killed – September 25, 1875 – Mason County, Texas
Charley Bader – Killed – August 19th, 1875 – Mason County, Texas
Louis Hancock – Wounded – December 1879 – Safford Arizona


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