John Ringo was born on May 3, 1850, in the town of Washington (Clay township), Wayne County, Indiana.1 The town later changed its name to Green's Fork. He was the first son of Martin Ringo and Mary Peters Ringo, who were married on September 4, 1848, in Liberty, Missouri.2 Following their marriage, the Ringos moved to Indiana. In 1854, John's only brother, Martin, was born. By 1857, the family relocated to Missouri, eventually settling in the town of Gallatin. There three sisters were born: Fanny Fern, Mary Enna, and Mattie Bell.3
In May 1864, the Ringos left Missouri, departing from Liberty with a wagon train heading toward California.4 There destination was San Jose, where Mary's sister, Augusta Peters Younger, resided with her husband, Col. Coleman Younger. Younger, a prominent man in the area, was an uncle to the outlaw Younger brothers that rode with Jesse and Frank James. John Ringo, though not a direct relative of the Younger brothers, was connected to them by marriage.5 Ironically, Ringo was also connected to Jesse and Frank James in a similar manner. Benjamin Simms, an uncle on Ringo's mother side of the family, married the James' widowed mother prior to the Civil War.6
While crossing the country with the wagon train, a horrible tragedy occurred, Martin Ringo accidentally killed himself with his own shotgun. A letter sent back to Liberty, and later published in the Liberty Tribune, described the terrible incident:
"Just after daylight on the morning of the 30th July Mr. Ringo stepped outside of the wagons, as I suppose for the purpose of looking around to see if Indians were in sight, and his shotgun went off accidently in his own hands, the load entering his right eye and coming out at the top of his head. At the report of his gun I saw his hat blow up twenty feet in the air, and his brains were scattered in all directions. I never saw a more heart-rendering sight; and to see the distress and agony of his wife and children as painful in the extreme . . . ."7Despite the tragedy, the family pushed on to San Jose, California. They stayed for about a year on the Younger property before moving to the town of San Jose. John Ringo's activities from 1864 to 1870 are not really known. Some writers, based on hearsay old-timer recollections and unsupported claims, have declared that Ringo was an adolescent drunk and juvenile delinquent that left his family in 1869.8 Yet, no evidence of this has ever been found. Moreover, John Ringo was listed in the 1870 San Jose City Directory as living with his family and working as a farmer. He is also listed in the 1870 Federal California Census. Clearly, he did not leave San Jose before 1870. His sisters later recalled that he did not leave San Jose because of any trouble but that he left with an harvesting outfit. Sometime around 1870 or early 1871 Ringo left California.
Where Ringo went first is not know but it is likely that he headed to Missouri or Indiana to see relatives. However, by 1874 he was in Burnet, Texas. On December 25, 1874, John Ringo was seen shooting of his pistol in a public square. Charges were filed against him and in April 1875, the first known criminal indictment against John Ringo was filed:"John Ringo . . .on the 25th day of December A.D. 1874, did then and there unlawfully discharge a pistol in and around the public square and . . . on a public street in the town of Burnet . . . did then and there unlawfully . . . disturb the peace."9On April 14, 1875, an arrest warrant was issued for John Ringo. He was taken into custody and then released on bond.10 He was ordered to appear in court in July to answer the charge against him. But, he would soon be drawn into a deadly feud known as the Mason County War or Hoo Doo War.
Notes1. Ringo Family Series: The Line of Major Ringo, page 11. 1850 Indiana Federal Census.
2. Liberty Tribune, September 8, 1848.
3. Ringo Family Series: The Line of Major Ringo, page 11. 1860 Missouri Federal Census.
4. The Journal of Mrs. Mary Ringo. Privately published by Frank Myrle Cushing in 1956.
5. The Simms Family of Stafford County Virginia, privately printed, page 41.
7. Liberty Tribune, September 16, 1848. The letter was sent from William Davenport to Robert H. Miller, the editor if the newspaper. Miller, who was married to Enfold S. Peters, Mary Ringo's sister, was John Ringo's uncle.
8. Burrows, Jack. John Ringo: The Gunfighter Who Never Was (1987), page 129. Burrows, relying on hearsay and unsupported statements made decades later by Charles Ringo, a distant relative of the Ringo family, who had no personal knowledge of the facts, helped to promote this folklore. Charles Ringo's claims, as one would expect from someone simply repeating stories told and retold years later, have proven to be error prone. Nonetheless the story that Ringo was a adolescent drunk and troublemaker, who left California in 1869, has been repeated often by writers that made no effort to look into the matter.
9. Indictment filed on April 5, 1875, against John Ringo for disturbing the peace. Case 854. District Court Clerk's Office, Burnet County, Burnet, Texas.
10. Case 854. District Court Clerk's Office, Burnet County, Burnet, Texas. The bond was secured by John Calvert and M. B. Thomas.
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