Classic Gunfights

The Mysterious Death of John Ringo

John Ringo vs Himself?


July 2-14 1882

John Ringo has decided to move to Tombstone, Arizona (he has been living in San Simon and Galeyville). He arrives in town and meets Editor Sam Purdy of The Tombstone Epitaph, who later writes of their talk: “He said that he was as certain of being killed as he was of living then. He said that he might run along for a couple years more, and may not last two days.”

Taking in the Fourth of July festivities, Ringo drinks heavily, carousing with his many pards. When Ringo rides out of Tombstone, several days later, he takes extra bottles of liquor for the road.

Two days later, the King of the Cow-boys is spotted at Dial’s Ranch, in the South Pass of the Dragoons, still drinking.

A veritable, moving, one-man feast, Ringo encounters Deputy Billy Breakenridge, who later writes of the meeting: “It was shortly after noon. Ringo was very drunk, reeling in the saddle, and said he was going to Galeyville. It was in the summer and a very hot day. He offered me a drink out of a bottle half-full of whiskey, and he had another full bottle. I tasted it and it was too hot to drink. It burned my lips. Knowing that he would have to ride nearly all night before he could reach Galeyville, I tried to get him to go back with me to the Goodrich Ranch and wait until after sundown, but he was drunk and stubborn and went on his way. I think this was the last time he was seen alive.”

On the afternoon of July 13, not far from Rustler Park, Ringo’s horse gets away from him. He attempts to go after his big bay, but he doesn’t get far. A shot is heard at about three p.m. at a nearby ranch. John Peters Ringo’s body is discovered late in the afternoon on the 14th, by a teamster hauling wood. The body is found seated in “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.”

A Hoodoo Warrior Cow-boy

Originally from Indiana (b. 1850), the young John Peters Ringo lived for a short time in Missouri, before his family packed up and headed for California. While crossing through Wyoming, his father accidentally shot himself with his own shotgun and was buried along the trail.

After a stay in San Jose, California, John left his mother, brother and sisters in 1870 and gravitated east to Texas, where he ultimately made quite a name for himself in the Hoodoo War (an ethnic-cattle feud in the Mason section). Indicted for one killing and reportedly involved in several others, he came out of Texas in the late 1870s with a reputation as a notorious and dangerous man.

Ringo landed in Arizona in 1879 and described himself as a “speculator” in the 1882 Cochise County Great Register. After shooting a fellow drinker over his choice of liquor (his only known shooting in Arizona), Ringo took up residence in San Simon but also stayed in Galeyville, where he held up a poker game (resulting in the third formal charge against him).

He missed the Fremont Street fight with the Earps and Doc Holliday, but tried to make up for it two months later in a failed showdown on Allen Street. At the time of his death, Ringo was one of the most well-known men in the territory and considered by the press to...

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