The Truth About Johnny Ringo's Death

In the oft-mythologized world of Wild West gunslingers, it's not the size of the dog in the gunfight; it's the size of the gunfight in the dog. And in the pantheon of pistol-packing legends, Johnny Ringo is remembered as a pack leader. In Triggernometry: A Gallery of Gunfighters, author Eugene Cunningham paints Ringo as "the fastest gunfighter and the deadliest, a man who courted trouble, with the thoughtless courage of a bulldog." Author Jack Burrows highlights the hilarious example of a writer who claimed Ringo "killed with a ferret's ferocity."

The mythic aura surrounding Ringo was partly manufactured by the man himself. Ringo feigned sophistication, per History, and reputedly liked reciting Shakespeare and comporting himself like a British lord. In reality, he was an orphan and "seemed to have had issues with alcohol and anger management," per the Eagle Pass News Leader. But there were also nuggets of truth in the fool's gold that was his legend. Ringo's hair-trigger temper, allegedly deadly aim, and indirect connection to the O.K. Corral shootout provided plenty of yarn for people to weave fabrications about his life. And his mysterious death added a grave and fascinating chapter to his story.

The deadly becomes the dead

Per the Arizona Capitol Times, Johnny Ringo was regarded as the "deadliest gunfighter" in Tombstone Arizona, a boomtown that author Frederick Bechdolt said "had a man for breakfast every morning." This was the site of the infamous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. In 1882, Ringo got into a shouting match with two of the fight's famous participants: traveling gambler and TB-stricken dentist Doc Holliday and his buddy Wyatt Earp, whose fierce mustache had an upper lip for breakfast every morning. Before they had a chance to throw down, a constable stopped them. A month later, a mysterious assailant gunned down Wyatt's brother, Morgan, triggering Wyatt's vendetta ride.

Ringo may have been in the crosshairs so Wyatt's rival, Cochise County Sheriff Johnny Behan, deputized Ringo in a possible effort to protect him from deadly vengeance. Months later, Ringo was found sitting against a tree with a bullet hole in his skull and a Colt .45 in his right hand. A coroner concluded that the shot was self-inflicted. History writes that he was likely and alcoholic and seemed melancholic near the time of his death. However, some people have claimed that Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday murdered Ringo. Among the proponents of that story was Wyatt's wife, Josephine. Others blamed Ringo's drinking buddy, Frank "Buckskin" Leslie or a dude called "Johnny-Behind-the-Deuce." Any hope of knowing the true story likely died with Ringo.