John Peters Ringo’s body was found on the morning of July 14, 1882 by John Yoast, who was driving a wagon to Tombstone, Arizona. Ringo was sitting in the bole of a tree a few yards off the road. Mr. Yoast identified the body and then proceeded into town to report his discovery. A party was soon assembled and went to investigate. A coroner’s inquest was held on the spot and then the body was buried at the base of the tree.
At the time only minimal and ordinary curiosity as to his demise followed. Much later interest surrounding the O.K. Corral gunfight led to rampant speculation as to who might have pulled the trigger that had inflicted the single gunshot to Ringo’s head. The hasty coroner’s inquest left sufficient wiggle room for generations of amateur and professional historical researchers.
Recently on the cover of the April 2012 issue of True West Magazine a colored printing of a late 1800’s tintype of an Arizona cowboy may have settled just one of the questions about the coroner’s report.
Excerpts from the coroner’s report;
Turkey or Morse’s Hill creek
14th July 1882
Statement for the information of the Coroner and Sheriff of Cochise Co. A. T.
He had on two cartridge belts, the belt for the revolver cartridges being buckled on upside down. The undernoted property were found with him and on his person;
1 cartridge belt containing 9 rifle cartridges
1 cartridge belt containing 2 revolver cartridges
In the TW cover photo you can see that the cowboy is wearing two cartridge belts and on the upper belt the cartridges are pointed up. This is evident by the enlarged brass base on the down side of the belt. Normally cartridges rest in the belt loops pointing down so that the base of the cartridge catches on the top of the loop preventing cartridges from falling out and becoming lost.
Based on the belt tongues in the picture it is apparent that both belts are right side up; it is only the cartridges that are upside down. It also appears that the cartridges in the upper belt are slightly smaller than the cartridges in the lower belt, so can it be assumed that the upper belt holds the revolver cartridges? This implies that the revolver holster is being supported by the lower rifle cartridge belt. The cowboy in the picture is in a sitting position, the same as he would be in the saddle, and it does look as it would be easier to extract a cartridge from the bottom of the upper belt in this position.
Prior to viewing this photo it was naturally assumed that the revolver belt would have been the one that the revolver holster would have hung from. Yet the coroner’s report on Johnny Ringo doesn’t mention that the revolver belt and holster are upside down. Surely it would seem that if the holster was also upside down, this would allow for pause by the inquest party as to why, and would call into question the belief that it was a suicide.
The TW cover tintype does not solve all the questions about the Ringo coroner’s report but it does create a plausible resolution to the upside down revolver cartridge belt portion of the speculation concerning the condition in which John Peters Ringo’s body was discovered.
Incidentally, the photo is a tintype; a mirror image that must be reversed so that the rifle saddle ring and loading gate appear on the proper side of the rifle. However, this hasn’t any bearing on the placement of the cartridges.