Some of the Old West’s most famous desperadoes have Gallatin in their past, most notably Frank and Jesse James and the lesser infamous but desperate Reno brothers. Now add another name to the list: Johnny Ringo.
Research by David Johnson of Zionsville, IN (1992), brought to light information not widely known in Daviess County. Gallatin was the boyhood home of Johnny Ringo, and the Youngers and James Boys had close relatives living in Gallatin before the end of the Civil War.
Who was Johnny Ringo? A Time-Life book entitled “Gunfighters” identifies Johnny Ringo as among Sheriff Behan’s posse which worked to drive Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday and their companions from Arizona, following the famous shootout at the OK Corral on Oct. 26, 1881.
A late 1950s TV cowboy series used Johnny Ringo as a main character. Television actor Lorne Greene of Bonanza show fame brought the name Ringo to national attention by recording a song based on Ringo lore (which topped the music charts in 1964). Despite Hollywood’s alterations, Johnny Ringo was no fictitious cowboy.
Census and real estate records confirm that Ringo once lived here. But during his boyhood days spent in Daviess County, nothing seemed to distinguish him from others or indicate his future as an Old West outlaw. Johnny Ringo was born in Indiana. His family left Gallatin in Daviess County, MO, without distinction. Thus, few if any people here ever connected the name of Johnny Ringo to Daviess County until now.
Research by David Stark of Gallatin indicates that Johnny Ringo most probably learned about guns from the father of Capt. John Sheets, the murder victim in the 1869 James Gang robbery in Gallatin. James Gang member Cole Younger would have called Johnny Ringo’s mother “Aunt Mary” (first cousin by marriage to the James boys). Thus, by age and proximity, Johnny Ringo (born 1850) quite possibly played with Frank James (born 1844), Jesse James (born 1847), and the Younger boys. The Ringo family moved to Missouri from Wayne County, IN.
The family first lived at Liberty, MO, in 1856 before coming to Gallatin in 1858. John Peters Ringo was eight years of age at the time. Johnny Ringo’s father, Martin Ringo, leased property south of the store from John Sheets in December, 1858. The location today is on Main Street north of the post office, the lot and building later known as the Arbelia Block (South half Lot #8).
On Dec. 29, 1858, Martin Ringo and his partner, Bennett B. Pryor, rented property in Gallatin for $280 from John W. Sheets who most probably was handling the business affairs of his father, Henry. The property was known as the Greenfield and Einstein Store. Included was part of a lot and storehouse in Gallatin. The lease was to run until April 1, 1861.
At the back of the building was a gunsmith shop run by Henry Sheets (John Sheets’ father), 65, which was reserved and not included in the lease. The store was valued a $600 in case of fire and was not to be used as a residence. It is speculation, but certainly in such circumstances a youthful Johnny Ringo would have been attracted to the elderly gunsmith, Henry Sheets.
Johnny Ringo and his cousins, Cole Younger and the James brothers, may have played in make-believe gunfights which they later all so notoriously committed as infamous desperadoes of the Old West. Ironically, 11 years later in December, 1969, the gunsmith’s son, John W. Sheets, was murdered in cold blood, shot twice by Jesse James during the 1869 attempted robbery of the Daviess County Savings Association.
Johnny Ringo’s family lived in Gallatin from 1858 through May, 1864. They departed for California to live with Colman Younger. On the trek there, Martin Ringo accidentally killed himself in Wyoming. Thus, in July 1864, Johnny Ringo, as the eldest son, became head of the family at age 14. Ringo worked as a farmer for a time.
No records reveal his activities from 1870 through 1874. His sister, Fanny, married Moses Jackson in Gallatin in 1880 which might have attracted him to return here. But if so, it was as a wanted outlaw. In December, 1874, Johnny Ringo was in Burnet, TX, where he got involved in gun play and ambushes resulting in the death of Jim Chaney at Mason County, TX. Ringo was jailed and awaited prosecution for three years. Records next show Ringo in Arizona in 1879, shooting and wounding Lewis Hancock. No doubt his most infamous escapade followed the famous shootout at the OK Corral at Tombstone, AZ. Johnny Ringo was on the side of the Clantons. He was a member of Sheriff Behan’s posse and helped drive Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday and their companions out of Arizona in March, 1882. This was after Earp and Holliday killed Frank Stillwell in Tucson at the train station. Stillwell was believed to have killed Morgan Earp in March in Tombstone, an aftermath of the OK Corral shootout of October 26, 1881.
Thus, Johnny Ringo is remembered as an outlaw, an authentic desperado of legendary proportion. Ringo died on July 13, 1882, at age 32 apparently by a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. Confirmation of the Ringo family residing in Daviess County also comes in other ways.
On Oct. 14, 1859, Martin Ringo purchased 120 acres west of Jameson from the county. There is reference in the county clerk’s records of a store in Cravensville (now Adam-ondi-Ahman) in Jan. 3, 1859, called the “Clendenen & Ringo Store House” east of the Cravensville Ferry. Martin Ringo was a partner in this business. Martin’s partner was Adam Clendenen, a very early settler of Daviess County (paid real estate taxes for 1837), who listed himself as a farmer with wife, Mary P., from Virginia. Clendenen did much real estate buying and selling prior to September, 1858, when he turned his business over to Sheriff J.J. Minor.
The 1860 Census shows Martin Ringo and his family in Gallatin. The family included Martin, 36, a merchant, born in Kentucky; wife, Mary Sims Ringo, 30, born in Missouri; and sons John, 10, and Martin Jr., age 6, born in Indiana; and daughter, Fannie, age 3, born in Missouri. Later records show two more children added to this family: Mary Enna, born 1860,and Mattie Bell, born 1862, both in Daviess County, MO.
— written by Editor Darryl Wilkinson, Gallatin North Missourian, July 22, 1992