Johnny Ringo

Johnny Ringo
1850 - 1882

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The Story of the "King of the Cowboys"



   After leaving Texas, John Ringo drifted to the frontier territory of Arizona, which by 1879 was already experiencing depredation along the border with Mexico.  John Ringo, once there, blended in quickly with the ofter rowdy and violent rural cowboy element.  On December 9, 1879, Ringo shot a man in a Safford saloon for refusing to drink Whiskey with him. On December 14, 1879, the Arizona Daily Star commented:

"Last Tuesday night a shooting took place at Safford in which Louis Hancock was shot by John Ringo. It appears Ringo wanted Hancock to take a drink of whiskey, and he refused saying he would prefer beer. Ringo struck him over the head with his pistol and then fired, the ball taking effect in the lower end of the left ear, and passed through the fleshy part of his neck, half inch more in the neck, would have killed him. Ringo is under arrest."
Ringo was arrested for shooting Hancock.  However, he gave a bond and was released.  The cowboy was scheduled to appear before the Pima County grand jury in March 1880, but did not.  Instead, Ringo wrote a letter addressed to Sheriff Charles Shibbel on March 3, 1880, explaining why he could not appear:
"Dear Sir, being under Bond for my appearance before the Grand jury of Pima Co., I write to let you know why I can not appear--I got shot through the foot and it is impossible for me to travel for awhile. If you get any papers for me, and will let me know, I will attend to them at once. As I wish to live here I do not wish to put you to any unnecessary trouble, nor do I wish to bring extra trouble on myself. Please let the Dist.-atty know why i do not appear, for I am anxious that there is no forfeiture taken on the Bond."
District Attorney Hugh Farley was not understanding concerning Ringo's reason for not attending the Grand Jury proceedings. He asked the court to revoke his bond and to issue a warrant for his arrrest.

Ringo surfaced on April 2, 1880, in Shakeseare, New Mexico, where he and a man named M.C. Blakely sold a mining property to John E. Price for $1000.  Five days later, April 7, 1880, John Ringo executed a power of attorney to James B. Price of Missouri. This power of attorney granted Price six months to sell a different mining property that was owned by John Ringo for $2000, and Price could keep any money over that amount. The property was located in the San Simon mining district and was described as the "Sydury Johnson mine."

During July 1880, John Ringo, Ike Clanton, Joe Hill and George Turner drove some cattle worth around $2000 to the San Carlos Indian Reservation. After selling the beef the men descended on the town of Maxey, and began having a jolly time. They then went to Safford and continued to create havoc.  Three months later, in October 1880, Ringo was listed as an election judge in San Simon. The Tombstone Nugget on October 19, 1880, commented: "San Simon. J. C. Clanton, inspector; John Ringo and A. H. Thompson, judges; polling place Joseph Hill's house."

The following month, on November 1, 1880, an offical land notice was filed by John Ringo and Ike Clanton in Silver City, New Mexico. The notice was for 320 acres of grazing and farming land in the Animas Valley, about 28 miles north of Guadalupe canyon. The notice stated that the 320 acres would be known as the "Alfalfa or Cienega Ranch

Sometime around April 1881, John Ringo left Arizona and went to Texas. He was reported as being at Austin on May 2, 1881. After spending some time in a house in the "jungles" (whore house?) late into the morning hours he began to make his way to his hotel room. While doing this he discovered that he had misplaced his money. Thinking that three young men who were seated in the hallway may have his money he pulled out his gun and commanded them to hold their hands up. He then searched them. Not finding his money he smiled at the men and left to retire to his room. The three men ran to the marshal's office and told him what had happened. Marshal Ben Thompson, a notorious Texas gunman, personally went to Ringo's room. When he got there Ringo refused to open the door. Thompson kicked in the door and arrested Ringo for disturbing the peace and carrying a pistol. Ringo paid a $25 fine plus costs and was released.  John Ringo left Texas and at some point traveled to Missouri. On July 12, 1881, the Tombstone Nugget indicated that Ringo was staying at the Grand Hotel and that he just returned from Liberty, Missouri.

In early August, John Ringo rode into a small settlement on the east slopes of the Chiricahua Mountains known as Galeyville. on August 5, 1881, the cowboy got into a poker a game and began to lose all his money. When he asked for the men at the table to loan him some funds so that he could continue the game, they refused. Upset at their refusal he left the saloon but soon returned with a man named Dave Estes. The two men held up the poker game and stole around $500 and a horse.  Ringo, on November 26, 1881 was indicted for this robbery . Deputy Sheriff William Breakenridge went to Galeyville to bring Ringo to Tombstone to answer the indictment. The trip cost the taxpayers $55.00.

Ringo and Breakenridge arrived in Tombstone on November 29, 1881. Ringo stayed at the Grand Hotel and the following morning he was officially arrested by Deputy Neagle. On December 1, 1881, he was brought before Judge William Stillwell's court. At this time Ringo was asked whether his true name was John Ringgold or not. Ringo remarked that it was not, that his real name was John Ringo. A new indictment was read to him and he was given one day to prepare for trial. He pled not guilty and was then released on bond. When no witnesses against him showed up the following day his case was continued.

In January, it appears that rumors began to spread that Ringo was involved in a recent stage robbery. When Ringo appeared in Tombstone he learned of the talk and became furious. He walked out into the streets and encountered Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. Appearently, he believed that they were in some way responsible for the accusation. An argument ensued, which nearly resulted in a gunfight. Constable James Flynn stopped the conflict when he grabbed Ringo from behind. Ringo, Doc, and Wyatt were brought before A. O. Wallace's Police Court. On January 18, 1882, the Tombstone Epitaph commented:

"J.H. Holliday, Wyatt Earp, Ringo arrested for carrying deadly weapons. Earp discharged, Holliday and Ringo fined $30 each."

Wyatt Earp's charge was dismissed as he was a Deputy U. S. Marshal at the time and was entitled to carry a weapon. Ringo now began to take an active part in the growing Earp-Clanton feud.

Following his confrontation with Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, Ringo began to take the situation between the Clantons and the Earps more personally. On January 20, 1882, he was arrested when his bond was revoked for the Galeyville robbery. While in jail he was informed that Wyatt Earp and a posse were planning to ride to Charleston to arrest the Clantons. He asked his attorney to quickly set bail for him. Briggs Goodrich, his attorney appeared at the jail and told Sheriff John Behan that he had arranged for Ringo's bond. Behan released Ringo prior to his bond being accepted by the court. Ringo immediately left Tombstone and headed to Charleston to warn his friends of Earp's intentions to arrest them.   James Earp saw Ringo leave town and knew that he was planning to warn the Clantons of his brothers plan. James quickly wrote out an affadavit claiming that Ringo was an escaped prisoner and that he intended to interfere with Wyatt Earp's posse:

"James Earp being duly sworn says that upon the 23rd day of January, A. D., 1882. He saw John Ringo at the city of Tombstone said County, leaving said city, That upon the information and belief that said Ringo who is under indictment in said county for the crime of robbery is an escaped prisoner from the jurisdiction of the court of the First Judicial District said county wherefore whom an application for bail of said prisoner John Ringo was pending on said day, and said escape was made from the custody of the sheriff of said county without approval . . . by lawful authority. Setting to bail of said Ringo and definitely accuses that the purpose and intent of said Ringo is to intercept one Wyatt S. Earp a marshal intrusted with the execution of warrants for diverse persons charged with violations of the laws of this Territory and duly sworn for the arrest of said persons, and . . . believes that the purpose of said Ringo is to obstruct the execution of said warrants."
This affadavit and following newspaper reports created a considerable amount of commotion in Tombstone. This resulted in a second posse led by J.H. Jackson to leave the town in pursuit of Ringo.  When Jackson's party made it to Charleston they made their waty to the Occidental hotel to have breakfast.  But they were intercepted by Ike Clanton and several other armed men.  Clanton detained the Jackson party, which claimed that they had a warrant for John Ringo.  In response, Clanton stated that "Johnny had always acted the gentleman towards him and he would see what could be done."

Ringo was told of the warrant for his arrest.  His attorney also arrived in Charleston and he told the cowboy that Sheriff John Behan would be in trouble if Ringo did not appear in court.  A short time later, Ringo rode out of town, headinf for Tombstone. On January 28, 1882, he was arraigned for the second time on his Galeyville indictment.  On January 31, he pled not guilty and was released on a $3000 bond.  A hearing was scheduled for February 2, 1882.  Deputy Breakenridge went to Galeyville with bench warrants for the witnesses against Ringo and brought the men to Tombstone.  However, it appears that the following day the men again did not appear in court to testify against John Ringo.

In March 1882, the situation in Tombstone became worse. Morgan Earp was shot and killed by unknown men.  Some have speculated that Ringo had been involved.  However, the contemporary records did not implicate him in Morgan Earp's death. Moreover, there was testimony from Briggs Goodrich, Ringo's attorney, that Ringo wanted no more part in the feud.  The Tombstone Epitaph published Goodrich's testimony at the coroner's hearing:

". . . By the way, [speaking to Earp] John Ringo wanted me to say to you, that if any fighting came up between you all, he wanted you to understand that he would have nothing to do with it; that he was going to look after himself, and anybody else could do the same. . . ."
Two days after Morgan's death, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and others escorted Virgil Earp to Tucson.  At the train station they apparently ran into Frank Stilwell, who was found dead the next day shot several times.  The Earp party returned to Tombstone and refused to submit to arrest by Sheriff John Behan, who had been telegraphed by Pima County Sheriff Bob Paul and asked to hold the Earp party for the killing of Stilwell. The Earp party rode out of town.

The next morning Sheriff John Behan assembled a posse to go after the Earp party.  Ringo was one of the men in this posse, having been given Breakenridge's horse and rifle to use. George Parsons recorded the excitement in his journal:

"Excitement again this morning-Sheriff went out with a posse supposedly to arrest the Earp party, but they will never do it. The cow-boy element is backing him strongly-John Ringo being one of the party-there is a prospect of bad times."
Wyatt Earp and his party rode over to Pete Spence's wood camp.  There they killed a mexican named Florentino Cruz.   Some have speculated the Cruz was Indian Charlie, one of the men implicated in Morgan Earp's death.. While others have insisted that they were different men.  Following the killing of Cruz, reports reached Tombstone that Wyatt Earp had killed Curly Bill Brocius at a spring in the Whetstone Mountains.  This claim distracted the public's attention from the Earp party's killing of Stilwell and Cruz.  Now the public was simply interested in whether Wyatt Earp had really killed Curly Bill Brocius, who was widely considered the most famous outlaw in the area at the time.  Wyatt's claim to have killed Curly Bill was controversial at the time, and still creates a great deal of debate.

The Earp party fled Arizona by April 1882.  John Ringo, who had ridden with Behan's posse for ten days, probably returned to Tombstone and then left the town.  John Ringo resurfaced in Tombstone on May 7, 1882.  The Epitaph noted: "Jack Ringold is in town."  Ringo's robbery hearing was scheduled to begin on May 12th.  The trial was continued on the 12th and rescheduled to May 18th.  Apparently, no witnesses were available to testify against Ringo and the court dismissed the compliant against him and returned his $3000 bond.  In May 1882, Ringo left Tombstone free of all criminal charges against him.  Two months later, the notorious cowboy was dead.

"He was recognized by friends and foes as a recklessly brave man, who would go any distance, or undergo any hardship to serve a friend or punish an enemy." Tombstone Epitaph