Mention Johnny Ringo today, and people think of Tombstone, Arizona, and Ringo’s participation in the Clanton gang’s troubles with the Earp brothers and “Doc” Holliday in the 1880’s. Or, more accurately, people think of the long string of Hollywood actors who have portrayed Ringo on TV and in films, in many cases, inaccurately.
The real Johnny Ringo was less of a gunfighter than he has been portrayed in Hollywood. On the other hand, he wasn’t a pleasant man, did commit some very serious crimes, and certainly was a part of the history and lore of the American West.
Johnny was born in Indiana and traveled to California as a child. By the time he was in his 20’s, he had killed a man in Texas during the so-called “Hoodoo War” between German settlers and local residents of Mason County. Ringo committed other crimes in Texas, for which he spent time, including in the jail in Austin.
The early 1880’s found Ringo in Arizona with a string of crimes following him. He once shot a man he had offered a drink of whiskey because the man said he preferred beer. He was accused of robbing a stage coach along with other brushes with the law. Siding alongside the Clanton/McLaury faction in the feud with the Earp brothers and “Doc” Holliday in Tombstone, he did not take part in the famous gunfight near the O.K. Corral.
In 1882, Ringo, after days of heavy drinking, was found dead leaning against a tree along West Turkey Creek in Arizona with a gunshot wound to his head. Most likely a suicide, some have speculated he was killed by Wyatt Earp, “Doc” Holliday, or others with a grudge against him.
By this point, some of you may be wondering, what does any of this have to do with the Texas hill country town of Burnet, best known today for being the terminal point for the tourist train, Hill Country Flyer, out of Cedar Park? Well, Johnny Ringo actually began his criminal career in Burnet, Texas. Ringo’s first documented run in with the law took place in December 1874 when he fired his pistol around Burnet’s town square and was charged with disturbing the peace. As a result, Burnet, Texas knew Johnny Ringo before he became a Hollywood star.