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John Ringo, King of the Cowboys

His Life and Times from the Hoo Doo War to Tombstone, Second Edition

David Johnson

Publication Year: 2008

Few names in the lore of western gunmen are as recognizable. Few lives of the most notorious are as little known. Romanticized and made legendary, John Ringo fought and killed for what he believed was right. As a teenager, Ringo was rushed into sudden adulthood when his father was killed tragically in the midst of the family's overland trek to California. As a young man he became embroiled in the blood feud turbulence of post-Reconstruction Texas. The Mason County “Hoo Doo” War in Texas began as a war over range rights, but it swiftly deteriorated into blood vengeance and spiraled out of control as the body count rose. In this charnel house Ringo gained a reputation as a dangerous gunfighter and man killer. He was proclaimed throughout the state as a daring leader, a desperate man, and a champion of the feud. Following incarceration for his role in the feud, Ringo was elected as a lawman in Mason County, the epicenter of the feud’s origin. The reputation he earned in Texas, further inflated by his willingness to shoot it out with Victorio’s raiders during a deadly confrontation in New Mexico, preceded him to Tombstone in territorial Arizona. Ringo became immersed in the area’s partisan politics and factionalized violence. A champion of the largely Democratic ranchers, Ringo would become known as a leader of one of these elements, the Cowboys. He ran at bloody, tragic odds with the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday, finally being part of the posse that hounded these fugitives from Arizona. In the end, Ringo died mysteriously in the Arizona desert, his death welcomed by some, mourned by others, wrongly claimed by a few. Initially published in 1996, John Ringo has been updated to a second edition with much new information researched and uncovered by David Johnson and other Ringo researchers.

Published by: University of North Texas Press

Series: A. C. Greene Series

Half Title

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Title Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

One hundred fourteen years after his suicide, the name John Ringo continues to fascinate historians, writers, movie goers and the public at large. The fact that he developed a reputation as a fighting man in Texas before becoming involved in the Tombstone, Arizona Territory conflicts of the early 1880s only added to his reputation. ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

With any undertaking there are numerous individuals who contribute to the final product. In the forty odd years of researching John Ringo a significant number of interviews and massive correspondence has taken place. Among those whose help was particularly invaluable were Janet Baccus, Ed Bartholomew, Francis Blake, Vickie Bonner, Joyce Capps, Bob Cash, Hiram Foster Casner, ...

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Chapter 1. "A Hamlet among outlaws"

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pp. 1-8

In the years following his death, John Ringo has fascinated readers. Ringo’s legend “began to slowly sprout and take root” only four days after his death.1 The seeds of that legend were sown in Texas’ bitter Hoo Doo War. At the time he was no different from dozens of other men engaged in the conflict, each with his own story. Yet unlike most of them, Ringo was destined to become a legend. ...

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Chapter 2. "passionate, domineering and dangerous"

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pp. 9-16

Wayne County was in a state of flux during 1850. In addition to the anti-prejudice movements, there were temperance and women’s suffrage movements. The latter movement was first organized in Wayne County. Meeting at Dublin in 1851, a group of militant women formed the Women’s Rights Association, declaring “that unless women demand their rights politically, socially and financially, they will continue in the future as in the past, to be classed with negroes, criminals, insane persons, idiots and infants.”1 ...

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Chapter 3. "Ringo & Pryor"

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pp. 17-24

The Ringos arrived in Liberty during September 1856. The Liberty Tribune reported, “THANKS — We are under obligations to Madison Miller, Chas. De Spada, Geo. W. Morris, and Martin Ringo, Esqrs, for late St. Louis and other eastern papers.”1 Here their daughter Fanny Fern was born on July 20, 1857.2 ...

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Chapter 4. "I pray God we may get along safely"

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pp. 25-34

Most writers begin john Ringo's life during 1864 using Mary Ringo’s journal, kept during their trip to California. It was originally transcribed by Mattie Ringo in 1942. Only three months after she finished it, Mattie died, and another fourteen years passed before her children published a printed version of her transcript in limited edition.1 In 1989 the journal was first published commercially and made available for researchers.2 ...

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Chapter 5. "Mrs. Mary Ringo, Proprietress"

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pp. 35-43

The final entry in Mary's journal entry provides no hint of the tragedy that befell her, but Mattie added an explanation to the Journal : “In Austin she had a son born, fortunately it was still-born for he was horribly disfigured from seeing father after he was shot. Even my brother [ John] who was fourteen years old noticed it and said he looked just like father did.”1 ...

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Chapter 6. "The people he fell in with were fighters"

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pp. 44-53

How long Ringo remained in Missouri is unknown. One early myth, not confirmed by school records, has him attending William Jewell College.1 Yet primary sources indicate Ringo had a better than average education. Logically he must have found a means to study, albeit informally. One who may have assisted was Elizabeth Wirt Ringo. ...

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Chapter 7. “back-shooting border scum and thieves”

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pp. 69-77

Newspapers heralded it as the Mason County War or the Mason County Disturbances. Locally it was called the Hoo Doo War, and the troubles were never confined to Mason County. It was an ethnically divisive, brutal affair that began with two factions seeking range domination in Mason and Llano counties. Best known for the violence in Mason County during 1875 and 1876, ...

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Chapter 8. “The mob has been operating some”

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pp. 63-73

The year 1875 began deceptively calm. Lieutenant Dan Roberts of Ranger Company D wrote his commander Major John B. Jones, “Nothing having transpired of much interest since my report of the 1st.”1 The year might have seemed equally uneventful for John Ringo despite the charges of disturbing the peace that he faced in Burnet. ...

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Chapter 9. “Hell has broke loose up here”

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pp. 74-86

If ever a man was born to the feud, it was Scott Cooley. Seemingly from nowhere Cooley looms so large on the Mason County scene that others shrink in comparison. His name became synonymous with terror. ...

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Chapter 10. “alias Long John”

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pp. 87-97

On September 25, 1875, Ringo, Cooley, and six or eight others brazenly rode into Mason. Ringo and a man identified as Williams, probably Jim Williams, Bill Redding’s brother-in-law, split off from the main group.1 The pair rode to Jim Chaney’s home along Comanche Creek. Ringo and Williams hailed the house, and Chaney emerged, ...

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Chapter 11. “State of Texas vs. John Ringo”

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pp. 98-108

While Ringo dodged Texas law, in California his family was living comfortably, at least financially. Mary was working as a dressmaker, and Fanny found employment as a milliner.1 Mary’s health was deteriorating, however, as tuberculosis racked her body. As the disease entered its final phases, Mary anticipated her death. On July 5, 1876, she finalized her will, bequeathing everything to her children. ...

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Chapter 12. “brave and fearless”

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pp. 109-118

“So much for his word being as good as his bond,” offers one writer concerning Ringo’s failure to appear for the disturbing the peace hearing in 1875.1 Perhaps. The reason Ringo missed the hearing on these minor charges is unknown. His actions following his release from jail on January 11, 1878, however, strongly support claims by his contemporaries that his word was good. ...

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Chapter 13. “disrupting a young economy”

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pp. 119-129

In California, his sisters, unaware of John’s shooting of Louis Hancock, were involved in a different sort of activity. On December 11 Coleman Younger gave a dinner party for a number of his friends. “The Misses Ringo, nieces of the Colonel, and children of pioneers were there; also Miss Fox and Miss Mary White” among others. ...

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Chapter 14. “and a stray cat”

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pp. 130-139

Ringo was already facing a charge of assault with intent to commit murder. The shooting in November was inexcusable. A March 11 entry in the docket books notes, “On motion of Hugh Farley, Esq., Dist. Atty. It was ordered that as Deft. Had failed to appear during this session of the Grand Jury that his Bond be, and this same is herby declared ...

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Chapter 15. “as well known as Satan himself”

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pp. 140-152

The year 1880 closed in a cloud of political scandal. Those who would influence John Ringo’s life had all arrived in what became Cochise County. Few would escape the heated controversy surrounding the history of the region. It is now that John Ringo emerges, at least in folklore, as a “crime lord.”1 This transformation is central to the ...

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Chapter 16. “John R. Godalmighty”

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pp. 153-164

If Ringo's 1880 was largely unremarkable, others linked to him experienced an eventful year. Prior to arriving in Tombstone, Virgil Earp had obtained an appointment as a deputy US Marshal from Crawley P. Dake. Virgil was the only Earp with any official standing when the brothers reached Tombstone. That would change in time. In late July the Epitaph ...

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Chapter 17. “a killer and professional cutthroat”

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pp. 165-175

Within days of Lloyd's death, a botched stage robbery proved pivotal in drawing John Ringo into what became the Earp-Clanton feud. On the evening of March 15, 1881, the Kinnear and Company stage left Drew’s Station for Contention. Driving the coach was Eli P. “Bud” Philpott (or Philpot), a native of Calistoga, California. Bob Paul, his contest for sheriff still unresolved, ...

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Chapter 18. “armed with a Henry side”

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pp. 176-189

In many respects Turner's murder in Sonora directly paralleled Tim Williamson’s death in Texas six years earlier. The similarities could not have escaped John Ringo. In the simplest sense, a “mob of foreigners” had killed ranchers over cattle, and if justice was to be done it would be up to the victims’ friends. That the “foreigners” were ...

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Chapter 19. “the sympathy of the border people seems to be with them”

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pp. 190-204

Once again, Ringo faced serious charges in Arizona. Newspapers in the territory “were now calling him ‘Ringold’” just as some had in Texas years earlier. One biographer theorizes, “either the person who reported the robbery account to the newspaper knew of Ringo’s Texas past or someone at the newspaper was aware of it.”1 ...

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Chapter 20. “desperate and dangerous”

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pp. 205-215

The brutal murders in Guadalupe Canyon intensified tensions and racial hatred along the border. Many of the cattlemen in the region hailed from Texas. Border warfare and feuds were nothing new. These men did not care what the government wanted. Friends had been killed, and if the government could not or would not act, they would. ...

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Chapter 21. “we have seen that he lied”

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pp. 216-225

More than one analyst doubted that Wyatt told the truth in his testimony.1 The reaction of the citizens is telling. The bodies of dead men lay on display in a store window until their funeral. The Epitaph summed up the feelings of the community. ...

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Chapter 22. “Ringo . . . the cowboy leader”

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pp. 225-235

Tombstone lapsed into a period of calm as Christmas passed. The Earps now used Virgil’s federal authority as deputy US marshal to arm their cohorts for protection. Virgil was never reinstated as town marshal. Armed as they were, as days passed without violence, they began to relax their vigilance. ...

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Chapter 23. “Blood will surely come”

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pp. 236-244

The reputation Ringo brought from Texas is evident in existing documents. Obviously James Earp was frightened that Ringo would find his brothers. The Epitaph echoed this. “Later in the day two parties are said to have gone in pursuit of the deputy marshal and his posse, threatening vengeance for an act in which the above official was concerned some time since. ...

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Chapter 24. “his band of questionable repute”

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pp. 245-255

March found Virgil's condition improving. With Williams’ departure, stage robberies dropped away. Additionally there was a dramatic decrease in reports of the ever-elusive “Cowboy” gang. “There being a lull in cowboy criminality (which we will hope is something more than temporary), and the Indians apparently having left the Dragoons ...

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Chapter 25. “Many friends will mourn him”

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pp. 256-267

Behan did not fail to secure Apache because the military favored the Earps. In January 1882 messengers from Juh and Nachez were sent to chief Loco on the San Carlos reservation. “During the intervening weeks there were indications that Apaches were moving north to contact the Warm Springs Indians at San Carlos.”1 ...

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Chapter 26. “bitter and conspiratorial silence”

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pp. 268-278

Over the past fifty years, interest in John Ringo has blossomed. As it did, some writers, armed with predetermined agendas, questioned John Ringo’s character based on his relations with his immediate family and speculation by distant family members. The resulting controversy is largely due to several men. ...

Appendix 1

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pp. 279-280

Appendix 2

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pp. 281-282


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pp. 283-331

Selected Bibliography of Works Consulted

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pp. 332-351


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pp. 351-366

E-ISBN-13: 9781574413786
Print-ISBN-13: 9781574412437

Page Count: 384
Illustrations: 22 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: A. C. Greene Series

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Southwest, New -- Biography.
  • Ringo, John.
  • Outlaws -- Southwest, New -- Biography.
  • Frontier and pioneer life -- Southwest, New.
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