John “Johnny” Ringo (1850 – 1882) was born in Indiana, and his family moved to Missouri in 1858, and thence to California. He is known to history as an associate of the Cochise County Cowboys, an outlaw group in Tombstone, Arizona, and of the corrupt Tombstone Sheriff’s office. He is best known for his hostility to and adverse run ins with lawman Wyatt Earp and his associates, which eventually spelled Ringo’s doom.
In the 1870s a young Ringo moved to Texas, and by 1875 had joined a gang and participated in its depredations during a period of lawlessness and revenge killings between factions of German settlers and natural-born Americans in Mason County, Texas, that became known as the “Mason County War“. Arrested, Ringo escaped from jail and fled to Arizona.
In 1878, Ringo offered whiskey to a man seated next to him in a bar, but when the man declined, Ringo shot off his ear. Soon thereafter, he arrived in Tombstone, where he joined the Cochise County Cowboys and began an antagonistic relationship with Wyatt Earp and his associates. The Earps suspected Ringo’s involvement in an 1881 ambush that left Virgil Earp crippled, and in the murder of Morgan Earp on March 18, 1882.
Soon thereafter, Wyatt Earp, a deputy US Marshall, formed a federal posse to hunt down those deemed responsible for shooting his brothers. Ringo was deputized by Tombstone’s corrupt Sheriff in an attempt to shield him from the Earps by making him a lawman. Within weeks, many of Ringo’s friends had been killed or fled the area, and Although he denied any involvement in the shootings of Virgil and Morgan Earp, Ringo deemed it advisable to leave Tombstone until things calmed down.
In April, the Earps had left Tombstone, and by June, Ringo had returned. A month later, his body was discovered beneath a tree with a bullet hole in the head. The death was ruled a suicide, but many suspected that Wyatt Earp had surreptitiously returned to exact vengeance – a theory confirmed years later by Wyatt’s widow, who wrote in her memoirs that her husband had killed Johnny Ringo.