Johnny Ringo History Page
The Story of the "King of the Cowboys"
John Ringo became involved in a blood feud that is referred to as the Hoodoo War or Mason County War. The Hoodoo War began as a conflict ostensibly over cattle ownership between German settlers in the Mason County area and American born men who lived in neighboring counties. An underlying ethnic prejudice helped to fuel the antagonisms between the factions. The Germans in the area had supported the North during the Civil War, and there was still a great deal of hostility in the area as a result of this. After a series of violent confrontations the trouble soon escalated into a situation similar to a blood feud.
Around May 1875, an American named Tim Williamson was brutally murdered by a mob while being escorted to the town of Mason by Deputy Sheriff John Wohrle. The deputy refused to aid Williamson. Instead, when Williamson attempted to escape as the mob descended on him, Wohrle shot his horse. This event angered an ex-Texas Ranger named Scott Cooley, who vowed revenge. The San Antonio Herald reported the following:
The killing of Moses Baird is generally considered to be the event that triggered the feudal character of the Hoodoo War. He was a very popular man in the area and men from all over were now prepared to fight. One of these men was John Ringo. On September 25, 1875, eight men, including John Ringo and a man named Bill Williams, boldly rode into the town of Mason. Ringo and Williams broke from the pack and rode over to James Cheyney's house. Without warning, Ringo and Williams killed Cheyney. They then rode over to Dave Doole's house, another man believed responsible for the ambush. When they arrived at Doole's home they yell out for him to come out, but Doole came to the door with a gun. After seeing that Doole was obviously prepared for them, Ringo and Williams rode to Mason and join their friends. There they boast about what they had done. The following Texas Ranger report describes the killing of Chaney:
"About a week before Hoester was killed John Ringgold and another man of the Gladden-Cooley party killed Cheyney in the presence of his family while he was arranging breakfast for them, then Gladden, Cooley, Ringold and others of the party rode into town and ate their breakfast at the hotel and boasted publicly at the table of what they had done, telling those present that they had 'made beef of Cheyney and if someone did not bury him he would stink'. They remained in town some time and one of them, Gladden, had an interview with Justice Hey during this time. The fact of their having done the killing is of public notoriety, and yet no warrants was or has been issued for their arrest. I asked the Justice why no warrants had been issued for their arrest, his reply was , no complaint had been made against them, though he held the inquest." (3)
Four days following the killing of Cheyney, Scott Cooley, John Baird, and several others, ambushed Dan Hoerster, Peter Jordan, and Henry Plueneke as they rode down the street in Mason. Hoerster was hit by four bullets and killed instantly. There is no record of Ringo being involved in the ambush.
During December John Ringo was arrested based on the disturbing the peace indictment, which was filed in April, by the Burnet County Sheriff. On December 6, 1875, after posting a $150 bond, Ringo was released from the jail. His sureties were J. R. Baird and George Gladden -active participants in the Hoodoo War. (4) At the end of December, John Ringo and Scott Cooley were arrested for threatening the lives of the Burnet County Sheriff and his deputy, John J. Strickland. (5) Their arrest caused serious concern that their friends will try to bust them out of Burnet jail. To prevent any attempt to free the men, the authorities decided to take the men to Austin, to be placed in the jail. While en route to Austin, the men received a great deal of attention in the newspapers. TheAustin Statesman on January 4, 1876, made the following comments about Ringo:
"Ringgold, who is taller and perhaps older than Cooley, is said to have taken an active part in the Mason County war . . . ."
John Ringo's name was publicly reported in newspapers in the area as "Ringgold." These articles provided the genesis for the confusion over his true identity, which lasted throughout his life. Exactly, how his name was reported as Ringgold is not known. It's possible that it was based on a German newspapers translation of Ringo's name. However, family records and court records clearly indicate that his name was John Ringo. (6)
The news that Ringo and Cooley had been arrested was reported throughout Texas. The two men were held in the Travis County jail until late January 1876, when they were then brought by ten men to Burnet to appear before the grand jury. (7) On February 1, 1876 the two Mason County gunman were indicted for threatening the Sheriff and his Deputy. Two days later, on February 3, 1876, Ringo and Cooley made an application for a change in venue to have their court case transferred to another county. After pleading not guilty, their case was transferred to near-by Lampasas County. They were remanded to the custody of the sheriff. (8) In March 1876, the men were brought to Lampasas to stand trial. The Lampasas Dispatch commented:
"Quite an excitement was raised among our citizens last Sunday by the arrival in town of the notorious Mason county outlaws Scott Cooley and John Ringgold, who were brought here from Burnet under heavy guard. These are the same men who killed and scalped the Deputy Sheriff of Mason county a few months ago." (9)
Ringo was publicly linked to the death of Deputy John Wohrle of Mason County, though it appears that he was not involved in the incident. In March 1876, John Ringo was tried and convicted in Lampasas County for threatening the Burnet sheriff and his deputy. An appeal of the conviction was filed and the conviction was later reversed. (10) However, the case was not heard until 1877, and Ringo remained in custody waiting for the result of the appeal.
During May 1876, several men freed John Ringo and Scott Cooley from the Lampasas jail. News of their escape spread quickly in the Texas newspapers. (11) Though the Hoodoo War was essentially over, antagonism continued for several years in the area. In June 1876, Scott Cooley was reported to have died. (12) Over the next several months newspapers published several reports concerning John Ringo, establishing for him a notorious reputation.
On July 14, 1876, the Burnet Bulletin discussed an ambushed attempt that had been made on Burnet deputies in order to free men that were in their custody. Though the attempt was unsuccessful, the newspaper commented:
". . . The notorious Ringo, who seems to have been the leader, is certainly a very desperate and daring man. . . ."
On October 31, 1876, the Texas Rangers and a party led by the Llano sheriff, captured John Ringo and George Gladdin. (13) Both men were brought to Austin to be placed in the Travis County jail. Their arrival caused much attention and the Austin Statesman commented:
"On Sunday, three desperadoes, men who have been a terror in the counties of Mason, Llano, Burnet, Lampasas, etc, were brought to Austin and lodged in the new jail . . . John Ringo is the party taken from the Lampasas jail last May by about forty men. He has been convicted of threatening the life of Sheriff J. J. Strickland, of Burnet, and was regarded as one of the most desperate men in the frontier counties. . . . " (14)
Ringo remained at the Travis County jail in Austin. There he becomes friends with John Wesley Hardin, considered by many to be the most notorious gunman in western history. While Ringo was in the Travis County jail he was indicted by the Mason County Grand Jury in November 1876, for killing James Cheyney. The original indictment was destroyed by a fire. Nonetheless, on May 18, 1877, a substitute indictment against Ringo was filed:
". . . On the names and by the authority of the State of Texas the Grand Jurors of Mason County in said State at the November Term A.D. 1876 . . . on their oaths in said court present that John Ringo, George Gladden and others with force and arms in the County of Mason and state of Texas did heretofore to wit on the 25th day of September A.D. 1875 then and there willfully feloniously and with malice aforethought in and upon the body of James Chaney . . .make an assault and that they the said Ringo, Gladden and others with certain guns and pistols then and there in there charged with gunpowder and leaden balls and then and there in their hands . . . shoot off and discharge . . . into the body of said Chaney . . . strike penetrate and wound . . . in the right side giving him the said Chaney one mortal wound . . . the said Ringo, Gladden and others . . . the said James Chaney did kill and murder against the peace and dignity of the state." (15)
While in the Travis County Jail, his conviction for threatening the Burnet Sheriff and his deputy in December 1875, was reversed by the appellate court. (16) On October 29, 1877, an arrest warrant was issued against Ringo in Mason County and the sheriff took Ringo into custody on November 1, 1877. He was transported to Mason and held in the jail until his court date on November 12. (17) He was brought before the court and the judge ordered that 50 men should be prepared to serve as a jury pool. (18) Ringo's case was continued and on November 19, seven Texas Rangers transported him back to the Travis County jail. (19) While en route to Austin it appears that Ringo was taken to Llano county in November 1877 for some reason. The Austin Statesman on December 4, 1877, reported his arrival back in the Capitol city:
"Distinguished Arrivals.- . . . George Gladden, recently committed to the State prison for life, will be confined to a felon's cell here-to-day. John Ringo, charged with all manner of crimes, will cross the bridge this morning with Gladden. The pretty pair will rest for a time in the jail of this city. Sheriff Bozarth, of Llano, had these terrible fellows in charge. The people will be curious to see these two men, famous for the devilish deeds they have done."
In December 1877, Ringo's attorney filed a writ of Habeas Corpus and demanded that a bond be set for his client. The notorious man was brought back to Mason and on December 20, 1877, Ringo was released on a $2500 bond. He was ordered to appear before the court on May 10, 1878. (20)
While on bond, on February 4, 1878, Ringo was arrested by five Texas Rangers in Junction City, Texas for disturbing the peace. He was released after giving a bond in the matter. (21) On April 18, 1878, Ringo appeared in Mason and filed a sworn affidavit that several men were needed as witnesses in his case. On May 15, 1878, the District attorney for Mason County requested that the case against John Ringo for the murder of James Cheyney be dismissed because "testimony cannot be procured to make out the case." It appears that no witnesses were willing to come forward to testify against John Ringo.(22)
After the murder charge against him was dismissed, he settled at Loyal Valley, Mason County. In November 1878, Ringo was elected constable for Precinct#4 at Loyal Valley. (23) Whether Ringo ever took the position is not known. At some point he left Texas, possibly in December 1878, and traveled to New Mexico. By December 1879, John Ringo was known to be in Arizona.
2. San Antonio Herald, September 14, 1875.
3. Letter from Texas Ranger Major John B. Jones to William Steele, Adjutant General for the State of Texas, dated September 28, 1875. University of Texas.
4. Bond signed by John R. Baird and George Gladden for $150.00 on December 6, 1875. The bond also has John Ringo's signature on it. District Court Clerk's Office, Burnet County, Burnet, Texas.
5. District Court Clerk's Office, Burnet County, Burnet, Texas.
6. While it is not known why Ringo's name was reported as Ringold or Ringgold, it does not appear that he used the name as an alias.
7. Austin Statesman, February 1, 1876.
8. District Court Clerk's Office, Burnet County, Burnet, Texas. Cases 925 and 926. Ringo and Cooley were held on $500.00 bond for each count.
9. Dallas Herald, March 18, 1876.
10. John Ringo and Scott Cooley were convicted in March 1876. The conviction was reversed on July 27, 1877. 2 (Texas) Appeals Court 290 (1877).
11. San Antonio Herald, May 19, 1876. John Ringo and Scott Cooley were busted out of the Lampasas County jail on May 5, 1876.
12. Austin Statesman, August 18, 1876. It appears that Cooley died around June 10, 1876.
13. Austin Weekly Statesman, November 9, 1876.
14. Austin Weekly Statesman, November 9, 1876.
15. District Court Clerk's Office, Mason County, Mason, Texas. Cases 21.
16. John Ringo's conviction was reversed on July 27, 1877. 2 (Texas) Appeals Court 290 (1877).
17. District Court Clerk's Office, Mason County, Mason, Texas. Case 21. A capias warrant was
issued on October 29, 1877, to bring John Ringo before the court in Mason to answer the charge of murder.
18. District Court Clerk's Office, Mason County, Mason, Texas. Case 21. Docket entry for November 12, 1877, page 29.
19. District Court Clerk's Office, Mason County, Mason, Texas. Mason County Court Commissioner's Book, Book No. One.
20. District Court Clerk's Office, Mason County, Mason, Texas. Case 21.
21. Texas Ranger Reports. Adjutant General File. University of Texas.
22. District Court Clerk's Office, Mason County, Mason, Texas. Case 21. Galveston Daily News, May 31,1878.
23. Official Election Register, pages 259-269. Texas State Library, Austin, Texas.
"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