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  • Writer's pictureDavid Grassé

Principle of Parsimony

In 2001, Michael M. Hickey published a huge tome (496 pages) entitled John Ringo: The Final Hours : A Tale of the Old West. In this book, Mr. Hickey claimed Wyatt Earp and several of his friends, including John "Doc" Holliday and "Turkey Creek Jack" Johnson surreptitiously left Colorado, slipped in to the Arizona Territory, and, with the aid of "Buckskin Frank" Leslie, hunted down Johnny Ringo, and killed him. They chased him about for awhile, but finally brought him down. In the most fortunate of coincidences, it was Wyatt earp himself who pulled the trigger. The ball from Earp's Winchester .45 struck Ringo in the temple, and came out the other side of his head. Then, the stalwart posse members took Ringo's corpse, place in a sitting position under a oak tree on the bank of Turkey Creek, and stage a whole tableaux which made the death look like a suicide. They placed Ringo's pistol in his hand, tangled the barrel in his watch chain, removed his boots, and wrapped his feet in torn pieces from Ringo's own undershirt, and buckled his gunbelt on upside down (which allegedly meant something). Further, Ringo's Winchester was propped up beside him, and a small piece of his scalp was removed by one of the Earp posse. With Ringo dispatched to the great hereafter, Earp and his associates returned to Colorado, returned Holliday to the Pueblo County jail (oh, did I forget to mention was incarcerated, and they had to bribe people to get him out to go on this righteous crusade), and went on about their lives, knowing they had rid the world of a very bad man. No shit. The whole basis for this story relies on a very small oversight on the part of the coroner's jury which examined Ringo's remains (they ruled the death a suicide). They neglected to record whether Ringo had powder burns around the entrance wound in his head or not. they also could not explain why Ringo had a chunk missing from his scalp (wild animal perhaps?) and why is gunbely was on upside down (he was really drunk and had been for several days?) These three things in combination have led countless armchair historians and conspiracy theorists to make up all sorts of stories about how Ringo net his demise. It did not help that when Wyatt Earp told his fanciful story to biographer Stuart Lake, he implied he had had something to do with Ringo's death. Glenn Boyer, the author of the highly suspect (probably downright fabricated) book I Married Wyatt Earp: The Recollections of Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp was the first to suggest Earp had been directly involved in the death of Ringo. Boyer claimed to have assembled from manuscripts written by Josephine "Josie" Earp which proved Earp killed him. However, when pressed, Boyer refused to produce his source manuscripts, and reporters wrote that his explanations were conflicting and not credible.New York Times contributor Allen Barra wrote that the book "is now recognized by Earp researchers as a hoax." Still, this has not dissuaded the conspiracy theorists, as evidenced by Hickey's book, among others. Obviously, these authors never heard of Occam's razor (the principle that the most acceptable explanation of an occurrence, phenomenon, or event is the simplest, involving the fewest entities, assumptions, or changes). This is why whenever I am confronted by someone who wants to talk about Western history, before engaging, I ask them one simple question: "Who killed Johnny Ringo?' If they answer anything other than "Johnny Ringo," I turn on my heel and walk away. I don't have time for fabulists.

Suggested reading: Jack Burrough's John Ringo: The Gunfighter Who Never Was (1987) University of Arizona Press

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