The history of the Old West can find little reason why Johnny Ringo is remembered as a gunfighter in Tombstone Arizona except for the fact, he crossed the path of Wyatt Earp and his friend, Doc Holiday. Other than that, he was a lowlife from Texas (is that redundant?) who preferred to shoot unarmed folks in the back. According to Louis 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 December 1879. The drunk Ringo shot Hancock in a Safford Arizona saloon when Hancock refused a complimentary drink of whiskey, stating he preferred beer, Hancock survived his wound.
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.
According to Wikipedia the coroner ruled the death a suicide.
Historic accounts suggest four possible men who might have shot Ringo, including Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, gambler Mike O’Rourke, and Buckskin Frank Leslie whose name was given to the next canyon south of Turkey Creek Canyon where Ringo’s body was found next to the creek. 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 and ran off. Ringo tied pieces of his undershirt to his feet to protect them, 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.
Still over the years Ringo’s name has surfaced in a dozen movies and TV shows, played in the 1939 movie STAGECOACH by John Wayne as the “Ringo Kid” and in the GUNFIGHTER by Gregory Peck in 1950 as Jimmy Ringo.
Ringo was born in Indiana and moved to Missouri where he grew up. When he was fourteen his father moved West but never reached California, accidently shooting himself in transit much like one in four who attempted that journey. Ringo went to Texas, where he became a backshooter in the Mason County War (Hoodoo War) and slithered into Arizona via Tombstone.
Big Nose Kate notes Johnny visited her one night while Doc Holliday was sitting in jail for the Shoot Out at the O.K. Corral, a fact that fueled their blood feud. Johnny Ringo was not at the Shoot Out at the O.K. Corral, probably because everyone stood toe-to-toe and blasted away. Ringo was more accustomed to sneaking up on the unarmed.
Johnny Ringo is buried close to where his body was found in the Chiricahua Mountains in West Turkey Creek Canyon (31°51′49″N 109°20′16″W) at the base of the tree in which he was found. The grave is on private land where an open gate provides access and a sign cites the following rules for visiting. Sign on private land, one mile before Sunglow Ranch on the north side of the road. Sunglow has fantastic RV hookups, rooms and a cafe and Turkey Creek is a great camping place” />
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