On July 14, 1882, a local laborer from Turkey Creek, Arizona, came across the body of a dead man sitting against a tree. A bullet wound pierced the man’s temple and a revolver with one bullet missing was found dangling in his hand. The deceased was identified as Johnny Ringo, an infamous criminal and vigilante.
His death was ruled a suicide and he was buried where his body was found. Upon learning of his death, the Tombstone Epitaph published that, “Many friends will mourn him. And many others will take secret delight in learning of his death.” Many have also questioned the circumstances of his demise.
To understand the uncertainty around his death, you must first understand his tumultuous life. Ringo was born on May 3, 1850 in Greens Fork, Indiana, although his family moved frequently in his youth. In Wyoming, when he was 14 years old and his family was emigrating from Missouri to California, his father accidentally shot himself and died. Still, the family continued their journey to California, where Ringo spent the rest of his childhood.
Ringo moved to Mason County, Texas, in the 1870s. There, he befriended a former Texas Ranger who mentored Johnny in gunfighting and with whom he participated in several conflicts between factions of ranchers and rustlers as a vigilante. During this period, he was arrested and charged with murder but either escaped or was acquitted (the official court records are missing). Ringo, who counted John Wesley Hardin as one his colleagues, was not a typical outlaw. While he had limited education, he enjoyed quoting Shakespeare.
History first records Ringo being in Arizona in 1879, where at a saloon in Safford he bought a fellow customer a shot of whiskey. The man refused, saying that he preferred beer. Ringo shot the man in the gut, but he survived. Ringo then made his way to the mining boomtown of Tombstone, where he began rustling cattle and associating with a local gang known as the Cowboys.
During his time in Tombstone, he developed rivalries with lawmen and gunfighters Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. In several interviews later in his life, Earp seems to take credit for Ringo’s death. However, according to other sources, Earp had already left Arizona and was in Colorado at the time of the shooting. It has also been alleged that Holliday killed him, which was portrayed in the blockbuster 1993 movie Tombstone. The majority of the evidence, however, seems to support the original conclusion that Ringo died by suicide.
The reason for Ringo’s supposed suicide is unknown but has been the subject of much speculation. If he did take his own life, it’s likely that the reason for it will forever remain a mystery. Today, his grave is preserved as a historic site.