Who Was The Fastest Gunslinger In The West?

Stories about the Wild West tend to be full of holes. For instance, History Net says the legendary Doc Holliday was not the lethal gunslinger that Wyatt Earp professed him to be. A tuberculosis-stricken dentist, Holliday was physically fragile and benefited from the veneer of fierceness his friends manufactured. Similarly, Earp's life story is filled with information gaps and fabrications. 

Old West narratives aren't just full of plot holes and mysteries; they're also riddled with bullet holes. Some of those bullets were fired by the fastest gunslingers ever to bust a cap. Unfortunately, even without the problem of vivid revisionism, without something like a "Guinness Book of Gunfight Records," it's impossible to measure how quick they were on the draw. So instead we'll draw from a caricatured version of history and pick a towering figure worthy of a tall tale.

Johnny Ringo's your huckleberry

If you've seen Tombstone, then you might recall the character Johnny Ringo, who couldn't quite match the quick-witted sidekick Doc Holliday in quick-handedness. Though a villain in that film, Ringo was portrayed as a hero in the 1960s and inspired a string of spaghetti westerns and television shows. As recounted in Johnny Ringo: The Gunfighter Who Never Was, those flattering titles included Ringo and His Golden Pistol, Stagecoach, in which John Wayne played the Ringo Kid, and The Johnny Ringo Show, whose theme song hailed Ringo as "the fastest gun in all the West, the quickest ever known." Author Steve Gatto writes that these glittering depictions of Ringo as the non-Bond-villain with the golden gun are based on romantic exaggerations of the past.

During his life, Johnny Ringo presented himself as an educated gentleman who could recite Shakespeare and comported himself like a British Lord, according to History. His image was mostly gunsmoke and mirrors, but despite having no formal schooling, he was well-read enough to convince others that he was a legitimate gentleman. By age 12 he had already developed deadly aim. As an adult he was "dubbed Tombstone's deadliest gunfighter," per the Arizona Capitol Times. By that time, he had already survived a feud called "the Hoodoo War," during which he killed at least two men and managed to escape police custody or avoid arrest altogether. 

How could he do that Hoodoo so well? Who knows? But the dude was brutal and once shot a man in the ear for refusing Ringo's offer to buy him a whiskey. Affiliated with the notorious Cochise County Cowboys who feuded with the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday, Ringo was suspected of murdering Wyatt Earp's brother, Morgan, in the aftermath of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. But all was not Okay for Ringo, whose "was found seated at the base of a large tree" with a bullet hole in his head in 1882.