Wyoming Legends: Outlaw Johnny Ringo’s Connection to the Cowboy State
"Why Johnny Ringo, you look like someone just walked over your grave."
Fans of the movie Tombstone will forever remember that classic Doc Holliday line, brilliantly delivered by actor Val Kilmer.
Here in Wyoming, history buffs have their own connection to Ringo's grave.
Before moving to Tombstone, Arizona, in the 1880s and becoming part of the famed feud between the Earp family and the Cochise County Cowboy faction, Ringo's rage was forged as a young man traveling on a wagon trail through Wyoming.
In 1864, at the age of 14, Ringo's family set out for California, heading west from Missouri on the Oregon trail. Along the way, their party was threatened by the Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne tribes that inhabited the Dakotas, Nebraska and Wyoming.
The conflict led to an altercation on the night of July 29 near the Deer Creek Station in present day Glenrock, Wyoming. That evening, a Cheyenne warrior shot a member of the traveling party and took three of their horses.
While standing guard over the camp the next morning, Johnny's father Martin Ringo accidentally discharged his shotgun, killing himself in the process. He was buried a few miles west of Glenrock, near the Oregon Trail. A historical marker was later placed near the grave site by the Oregon-California Trails Association.
As the oldest son, Johnny and his family continued on the wagon trail to California, where they settled. Ringo would later earn a reputation as one of the deadliest outlaws in the west. In the mid-1870s, he became involved in the famed Mason County War of Texas. Some historians believe Ringo may have even shared a jail cell with notorious gunfighter John Wesley Hardin.
After fleeing from Texas, Ringo made his way to Tombstone. He quickly formed alliances with Ike Clanton, Frank Stilwell and Cochise Country Sheriff Johnny Behan. Along the way, Ringo befriended William "Curly Bill" Brocius, the leader of a loosely banded group of local cattle rustlers known as "the cowboys".
Their faction's feud with Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday would eventually lead to the legendary "Gunfight at the OK Corral" in the fall of 1881. The epic rivalry would last another year.
In January of 1882, Ringo and Holliday engaged in an argument on the streets of Tombstone. They were both arrested and fined for illegally brandishing weapons within city limits.
Two months after his encounter with Holliday, Ringo was one of the suspects in the killing of Morgan Earp. Morgan's brother Wyatt would then lead a posse of lawmen chasing down the Cowboy gang. Frank Stilwell was the first victim of Earp's famed "vendetta ride". Earp would take down Curly Bill Brocius in a gunfight several days later.
On July 14, 1882, Johnny Ringo's body was discovered laying against a tree. Although the coroner ruled the death a suicide, some historians have other theories. Earp and Holliday are among the most likely suspects, along with Earp family friend Michael O'Rourke and renowned gunman Buckskin Frank Leslie.
We'll never know exactly how Johnny Ringo's life ended. However, there is one fact that historians can all agree on. Ringo's vendetta began 18 years earlier, on the day his father died right here in the great state of Wyoming.