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Johnny Ringo – Old West Badman
The culture of parenting – that is the question that is asked today by those who are trying to understand what motivates criminals. Can a person be born evil? Or is the seed of their destruction sown in their birth years? Johnny Ringo, famous after his feud with the Earps certainly had a rough time as a kid.
John was born on May 3rd 1850 in Wayne County, Indiana. In 1864 the boy was happy on the first trip of his life when his parents Martin and Mary Ringo decided that the future of the family in California. They picked up their five children John, Martin, Fanny, Mary and Mattie and set off for the west.
They left Fort Leavenworth with 68 wagons and headed for Fort Kearny.
The trip was full of problems. On June 7, fourteen-year-old John was involved in an accident when a cart rolled over his foot, seriously injuring him. And then that same day he saw a young man fall under the cart which killed him. They say trouble comes in threes and they did that day, because later a cart expert accidentally shot one of his players in the head, killing him.
John witnessed both accidents and his mother Mary (pictured) recorded them in her journal. The next day John, still reeling from his broken foot, went with several men on a buffalo hunt and took part in killing several of the creatures.
On June 13th, the Ringos took the Platte River highway. The next day Mary wrote that John had a cold and was very ill all night and for the next few days. But he recovered when he arrived at the Cottonwood Springs military base. Here the soldiers stopped the wagon train and searched for the horses that had the US flag but they were not found and the wagon continued its journey.
June 25th saw the wagons stopped at The South Platte Crossing where they were forced to stay for two weeks when heavy rains and high winds blew them away. Mary wrote that at the time many Indians came to the camp and one of them carried a saber which she said had been taken from the soldier who had killed her. Independence Day passed without celebration and it was July 9th before it was deemed safe to cross the river that led them to the North Platte.
On July 16, several cows in the wagon train got sick from the salt in the water they were drinking and died. + Then two bulls died of the disease. Presently there was a real threat of hostile Indians and soon the wagon train came across the small corpse of a white man half eaten by vultures.
On July 30, John’s father, Martin, was standing on one of the wagons, looking for Indians when he accidentally took off his gun, sending the load into his head. John and his traveling companion William Davenport witnessed the event.
“On the report of the gun, I saw his hat was blown 20 meters in the air and his brain was scattered everywhere.” Davenport wrote.
John helped dig the grave and his father was buried and left by the side of the road. Mary’s diary contains details of this dramatic day and she writes that her heart is bleeding as the wagon train moves on, leaving the cemetery behind them.
On August 1 the wagon train arrived at Platte Bridge Station but another tragedy was to strike the Ringo family when the oldest girl Fanny was afflicted with what Mary called, “cholremorbus.” The term cholera morbus was used in the 19th and early 20th centuries to describe non-epidemic cholera and other enteric diseases.
On October 7, the Ringo family was in Austin, Nevada and Mary gave birth to a stillborn son with a deformed face. She says that the shock of her husband’s death hurt her a lot and caused her to become disabled and to give birth. John looked at the dead child’s hideous face and turned away in disgust.
On the last day of October the family arrived in the Sacramento Valley just before the snow fell and spent some time with relatives. A year later Mary moved her family into a house on Second Street in San Jose. The youngest Ringo – Martin died in 1873 of tuberculosis, he was only 19 years old. Fanny and Mattie grew up and married. Young Mary became a teacher and mother Mary died in 1876.
It was said that John Ringo was always affected by the sight of his father blowing his brains out and that the sight of his crippled newborn brother compelled him. He became an alcoholic at the age of 15 and fled to Texas and eventually ended up in the Arizona Territory where he joined the Clanton gang and became the infamous Johnny Ringo.
He was killed, as we all know, in July 1882.
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