Ringo, John Peters (1850–1882)

By: Dave Johnson

Type: Biography

Published: June 1, 1995

John Peters (Johnny) Ringo, cattleman, feudist, and outlaw, son of Martin and Mary (Peters) Ringo, was born on May 3, 1850, at Green's Fork, Indiana. The family moved to Missouri in 1856. In 1864, due to Martin Ringo's tubercular condition, the Ringos resolved to resettle in California. They joined a wagon train at Liberty, but during the voyage west Martin Ringo accidentally killed himself with his rifle. The family continued to San Jose, where they lived for some time with Coleman Younger, the husband of Mary Ringo's sister Augusta. John Ringo remained in California until late 1869, when he left for Texas. By Christmas day 1874 he was in Burnet, Texas, where he fired a pistol across the town square, an act for which he was fined seventy-five dollars. After the beginning of the Mason County War and the killing of Moses Beard in September 1875, Ringo and a man identified as Bill Williams rode to Jim Cheyney's home and killed him in revenge for luring Beard to his death. During the following months Ringo was prominently featured in Texas newspapers and was considered to be a leading member of the Cooley faction. On December 27, 1875, he and Scott Cooley were arrested in Burnet. During the next few months the two were transferred variously between Austin and Burnet and were finally sent to Lampasas, where a mob of their friends broke them out of jail. Ringo and feudist George Gladden were recaptured in Llano County in November. Ringo spent the duration of 1876 and most of 1877 in jail during his trial for the Cheyney killing and was freed in May 1878, when the case was dismissed. He then settled in Loyal Valley, where on November 5 he was elected constable of Precinct Four. It appears that he did not serve long. By December 1879 he was in Arizona, where he shot and wounded Louis Hancock at Safford during a saloon quarrel on December 14.

Except for a visit to his family in California, Ringo appears to have remained in Arizona during most of 1880. On March 8, 1881, he was present at Camp Thomas, Arizona, when cattle rustler Dick Lloyd was killed. Contrary to folklore, he took no part in the shooting. After the so-called OK Corral gunfight in Tombstone, in which William Clanton and the McLaury brothers were killed on October 26, 1881, Ringo was a leader of the anti-Earp forces. On January 17, 1882, he challenged Wyatt Earp, gunman John H. (Doc) Holliday, and other members of the Earp gang to a street fight. He was also a member of the posse that pursued the gang during its flight from Arizona. On July 13, 1882, Ringo apparently committed suicide after a long spell of drinking, although some observers think he may have been murdered by some of his numerous enemies. Ringo remains a controversial figure of the Tombstone years because of the popularity of Wyatt Earp and Earp's accusations that Ringo was involved in cattle theft there. No contemporary evidence has been located indicating that Ringo was ever charged for this in Arizona.

Jack Burrows, John Ringo: The Gunfighter Who Never Was (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1987).
  • Law, Law Enforcement, and Outlaws
  • Outlaws, Criminals, Prostitutes, Gamblers, and Rebels

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Dave Johnson, “Ringo, John Peters,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 21, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/ringo-john-peters.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

June 1, 1995