cluster of oak tree limbs extended out creating a makeshift bench
in which to rest his alcohol-sapped body. The creek flowing alongside
would offer him a refreshing drink, as the oak tree's limbs shade
the banks of the rivulet and cool this hazy traveler. After riding
for several days in the July heat taking his boots off to cool
his feet in the flowing water close by would be refreshing. And
his horse could graze on the nearby green grass after quenching
his thirst in the rippling creek. He had made the decision to
stop here and preparing to rest in the natural chair before him
he propped his rifle up against the gnarly trunk of this old oak
tree. His 6 feet tall body leaned back into the fork of this tree
and gave out a sigh of refreshing ease. It had been a long ride
and the Arizona sun had taken a toll on this traveler. A weeks
worth of drunk had compounded the need for rest. And it was here
that he closed his blue eyes and contemplated his journey.
The clouds were rolling in
from the west bringing a cooling to the air. The summer monsoons
crouching on the horizon prepared to bring a quick but blasting
rainstorm. The wind was whipping up and stirring the birds to
flight. And the chestnut colored mare lazily snipped at the green
grass underfoot oblivious to nature's threat.
His rest was interrupted
by the sound of leaves crunching under foot. His hand grasped
the pistol prepared to defend. The fog cleared from his languid
eyes enough to see the mare move past him. Oh his head hurt! And
now it hurt even more with the sudden reflex jerk to his pistol.
He needed a drink he thought. That would help his condition for
sure. Whiskey was the cure or was it the cause? He did not know,
nor did he care. His thoughts were on his journey.
Laying back into the fold
of the tree he looked up into the heavens. His hat blocked the
view and so he tossed it over to the side. The sky was becoming
bold with different hues of blue. The light wispy clouds were
moving quite fast and right behind them were legions of darker
clouds deep with moisture ready to spill. He was bound to get
wet he thought but the limbs of this tree will breach the path
the raindrops will take to his resting place and give him a semblance
of protection. And the storm is bringing a cooling to the air.
It will be good to rest just a bit more he thought as he closed
his eyes yet again, his journey on his mind.
The clap of thunder broke
the silence. The sound blasted through the peaceful afternoon
and startled the horse to race through the canyon. The man did
not move. His head lay to the side and his right hand held the
gun. The raindrops found their way through the protective fortress
of the leaves and his lifeless body was bathed in the monsoon
of July 13, 1882.
The storm passed over and
the sunset was aglow with the multiple shades of red closely matching
the radiance of red splashed over the bark of this tree the man
rested his head on. The deer began gathering by the creek in the
evening twilight and the bats started their night flights. The
night sky became filled with copious amounts of stars and the
owls began their nightly chat amongst the oak trees. The moon
cast a ghostly glow across the man whose head lay against the
tree trunk. The night air chilled after the summer rainstorm and
the man remained still to the cool breezes that passed over his
The early morning light finds
the man still in place. The fish are starting their dawn feeding
on the insects that swarm over the water's surface and their attempts
to feed create a musical splash of sorts as they reach for their
prey and fall back into their watery home. The song extends to
the banks of the stream as the birds sing their greetings to the
new day chiming in with the ever-present splashes the trout create.
The bees are busy buzzing their way through the tall grass that
this man's horse was feeding on before the thunderclap yesterday.
This symphony of nature resonates throughout the canyon and yet
does not disturb the resting man.
The afternoon sun begins
to beat down on the man. There will be no let up of heat today.
Yesterday's storm left behind a sweltering heat that begins to
sear his body. The morning coolness has gone now and the flies
noisily swarm toward the smell that covers his body. A circling
of vultures' overhead gives notice to others that a meal awaits
them by the creek.
Up the trail a man and his
team of horses winds his way down the rocky road that leads out
of Turkey Creek Canyon. Loaded with lumber he carefully directed
the team of horses down the incline and brings them to a halt
when he notices the man leaning against the tree 20 yards away
by the creek. Stepping down from the wagon he edges closer to
the figure in the trees. The scene a bit of a puzzle to him as
he notices the man has no boots on. His feet wrapped in what appeared
to be pieces of an undershirt torn into strips. A rifle is leaning
up against the tree. The man has two cartridge belts on. Curiously
one of these is attached around his waist upside down.
His attire is the typical
cowboy garb. A blue shirt, a vest, pants and drawers and his hat
lay alongside the ground where he rests. His right temple gives
evidence that this rest will be a permanent one. There is a bullet
hole through the temple and his right hand folds around the grips
of a .45 caliber Colt.
The teamster recognized this
cowboy and immediately called for help. As others arrived and
testimony to this man's death was complete a grave was dug nearby
where his body was found resting and his remains laid to permanent
respite along the banks of Turkey Creek. A wooden marker was nailed
to the tree forever laying claim as to who died here along the
banks of Turkey Creek. Forever his grave remains a marker in history.
Forever his death remains a mystery. And forever this oak tree
will hold onto the story, the truth of that fateful day in July
when John Peters Ringo stopped on his journey and rested under
the old oak tree. Did he know his journey would end here? Did
he plan his last thought? Or was his journey cut short by an assailant's
bullet directed through his temple?
One hundred and twenty two
years has past since Johnny Ringo took his last breath. And one
hundred and twenty two years of ponders and wonders, of claimants
and deniers, and of mysteries and obscurities have followed his
life and clouded his death and subsequently kept his legend alive.
No one knows for sure just
how Johnny died. Reports of suicide and claims of murder will
forever surround the story of this man and his death. What makes
a man worthy of such an epitaph? What about him perpetuates the
mystery of his death? Why would other legends of that time all
want to claim a part in the death of this man? Time only understands
and will forever guard this mystery as the quest for the truth
goes on, time immemorial.
The certainty of this story
only truly known by the oak tree. The secret never to be revealed.
The mystery of his death began. His legacy was not necessarily
the story of his life, but more precisely his death. A moment
when his life ended and the story began.
His final thoughts will forever
be pondered over. His final journey endlessly discussed and yet
never exposed. His legacy would forever be the question - murder