Ringo (Arizona History)

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Johnny Ringo
There are a few scenarios that speculate on the end of Johnny Ringo (Tombstone, 1993) I enjoy the way that the movie played it. Veteran actors Michael Biehn (played Johnny Ringo) and Val Kilmer (played John [Doc] Holliday) did an excellent job portraying the characters. In fact, the performance is memorable to me even to the moment that I’m writing of the death of Johnny Ringo.

Ringo was a friend of the Clantons and McLaurys and disliked the Earp brothers. He may have been involved in the ambush shooting of Virgil Earp that left Earp’s arm crippled for the rest of his life.
The reality of the mysterious death of Johnny Ringo may not have involved Wyatt Earp (who claimed to have killed Ringo – but was not in Arizona in July 1882) or Doc Holiday.
Ringo arrived in Tombstone, Arizona on July 2, 1882 and met Sam Purdy, editor of the Tombstone Weekly Epitaph, who memorialized their conversation.
Several sightings of Ringo subsequent to his death on July 13, had him drinking heavily. His bay horse got away from him near Tombstone and he went to fetch it. A single shot was heard about 3 pm. On the afternoon of the next day, a teamster found Ringo’s body.
Coroner’s notes:
“The undernoted property was found with him and on his person: 1 Colt’s revolver, calibre 45, No. 222, containing five cartridges; 1 Winchester rifle octagon barrel, calibre 45, model 1876, No. 21,896, containing a cartridge in the breech and ten in the magazine; 1 cartridge belt, containing 9 rifle cartridges; 1 cartridge belt, containing 2 revolver cartridges; 1 silver watch of American Watch company, No. 9339, with silver chain attached; two dollars and sixty cents ($2.60) in money; 6 pistol cartridges in pocket; 5 shirt studs; 1 small pocket knife; 1 tobacco pipe; 1 comb; 1 block matches; 1 small piece tobacco. There is also a portion of a letter from Messrs. Hereford & Zabriskie, attorneys at law, Tucson, to the deceased, John Ringo.”

A lot of speculation held that Ringo’s death was a suicide, but the coroner’s records are quite clear that he was shot by a rifle, caliber 45-60, which entered his head at a 45 degree downward angle from the side, which made suicide unlikely.

The 45-60 is a shortened version of the 45-70 and designed to operate in the shorter stroke of the 1876 Win.

Somebody shot Ringo, likely while he was drunk and somewhat incapacitated. Was it Earp, who secretly returned to exact revenge? Unlikely. Wyatt Earp was one of the best known men in Southern Arizona at the time and his travels through the area would have been memorialized by people who lived there at the time.
All that notwithstanding, I still bounce back to the Hollywood portrayal of these characters who wrote their names across Arizona’s history.

22 thoughts on “Ringo (Arizona History)

  1. Interesting guy whose demise is still a mystery. Was he well educated? Maybe. I've heard he attended William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri. I don't know for certain. Was he the great gunfighter. In spite of his name which has become something of a cliche for Old West gunfighter, he doesn't appear to have run up a large body count, but then, neither did Doc. Like Doc, though, he was an alcoholic. Buckskin Frank Leslie, noted mankiller of the time, has been presented as a possible slayer of Ringo. Among his other victims was Billy Claiborne, another OK Corral participant. Did he do it? Maybe. We'll likely never know.

  2. At the 6:00 mark, Michael Biehn talks about setting up the gunfight scene with Val Kilmer.


  3. Early newspaper editors weren't known for their being bothered with facts. Some characters took on a life of their own. Butch Cassidy comes to mind.

  4. Hard Men in Hard Times.

    That picture of Wyatt Earp shows he was somebody you did NOT want to mess with!

  5. It sure wasn't robbery that got him killed. But he evidently pissed off someone. Strange that who ever did it let behind a good watch, rifle and handgun along with the cartridge belts.

  6. Jim, Johnny Ringo must have had a lot of enemies, jealous husbands, etc. who held a grudge. Somebody happened by, found the gunslinger helpless, put his rifles muzzle to Johnnys head and did the world a favor.

  7. Ringo had friends. If you had his rifle or watch, it could be identified and would cause trouble. Or the killer just hated him for hates sake.

  8. Your guess is as good as anyone's as to what happened. The media, et al twisted that whole situation so far out of context, especially after the gunfight at the OK Corral.

  9. I'm with drjim — don't get on the wrong side of Mr. Earp.

    Then there's Ringo. Seems they were prone to getting smashed on rotgut, gambling and shooting eachother. Hillsboro was known for it, as was Towash. The latter's under lake Whitney now.

  10. Tombstone!  What a great film that was!

    I’ve been told by a local sheriff that they have a lot of suicides in Texas – “he shot himself in the back of the head six times” :)

    I think you have Wyatt Earp “death stare” LL!  Use it wisely.

  11. Hillary Clinton arrange for Vince Fosters suicide back when she was First Lady. Similar set of facts. Seth Rich more recently.

  12. The media of the Day sensationalized that gun fight. Perhaps with help from the winners. Now it’s almost part of our national lexicon

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