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Johnny Ringo – Old West Badman
The Nature of Cultivation – This is a question recently asked by those trying to understand the motives of criminals. Can a person be born bad? Or sow the seeds of destruction in their formative years? Johnny Ringo, famous for his fights against the Earps, must have had a rough time in his youth.
John was born on May 3, 1850 in Wayne County, Indiana. In 1864, when his parents, Martin and Mary Ringo, decided the family’s future was in California, the young boy was excited about his first real adventure in life. They took their five children, John, Martin, Fanny, Mary and Mattie, on a journey west.
Together with 68 other wagons, they set off along the Fort Leavenworth Military Highway toward Fort Kearney.
This trip was full of hardships. On June 7, fourteen-year-old John was involved in an accident when a carriage ran over his foot, severely injuring his foot. That same day, he witnessed another young boy fall under a carriage, killing him. They said it was three troubles, and they did that day, because then a coachman accidentally shot one of his riders in the head, killing him instantly.
John witnessed both accidents firsthand and his mother Mary (pictured) recorded them in her diary. The next day, still limping from a broken foot, John went with a few men to hunt bison and participated in the killing of several of them.
On June 13, the Ringers took the Great Platte River Road. The next day Mary wrote to say that John had caught a cold all night and for the next few days and was very ill. But by the time they arrived at the Cottonwood Springs military post, he had recovered. Here, soldiers stopped the wagon train and looked for American-branded horses, but found nothing, so the wagon continued on their journey.
On June 25, the vans stopped at the South Platte intersection, where they were forced to stay for two weeks as heavy rain and strong winds battered them. During her stay, several Indians entered the camp, Mary wrote, and one of them was carrying a saber he said had been taken from a soldier he had killed. Independence Day passed without celebration, and it wasn’t until July 9 that it was considered safe to cross the river that brought them to North Platte.
On July 16, several cows in the truck queue became ill and died from the alkali in the drinking water. Later, two cows also died of illness. By now, the threat of hostile Indians is very real, and the wagon soon encounters the corpse of a white man half-eaten by a vulture.
On July 30, John’s father, Martin, was standing in one of the vans looking for Indians when he accidentally detonated his shotgun, shooting himself in the head. John and his traveling companion William Davenport witnessed the horrific incident.
“Hearing the gunfire, I saw his hat blown 20 feet and his brains flying around,” Davenport wrote.
John helped dig a grave where his father was buried and left by the roadside. Mary’s diary contains details of this fateful day, and she records that her own heart bled as the carriage drove on, leaving the grave behind.
On 1 August, the freight train arrived at Platt Bridge Station, but even greater misfortune befell the Ringo family, as the oldest daughter, Fanny, developed what Mary called “cholecystitis”. The term cholera was used in the 19th and early 20th centuries to describe non-epidemic cholera and other gastrointestinal diseases.
On October 7, the Ringo family in Austin, Nevada, and Mary gave birth to a stillborn son with a facial disfigurement. She is said to have been traumatized by the shock of her husband’s death, resulting in deformities and a stillbirth. John looked at the ugly face of the dead baby and turned away in disgust.
On the last day of October, the family arrived in the Sacramento Valley before the first snowfall and stayed with relatives for a while. A year later, Mary moved her family into a house on Second Street in San Jose. The youngest, Ringo Martin, died of tuberculosis in 1873 at the age of 19. Fanny and Mattie grew up and got married. Little Mary became a teacher, and her mother, Mary, died in 1876.
John Ringo is said to have been permanently affected after seeing his father blow his own head off, while the sight of his deformed stillborn brother drove him to the breaking point. He started drinking heavily at age 15, then ran off to Texas and eventually Arizona Territory, where he joined the Clanton faction and became the notorious Johnny Ringo.
As is known, he was murdered in July 1882.
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