Every now and then Arizona historians and investigators get an itch to hit the road for a good old fashion road trip. You know… the sort of adventure that is planned about 30 minutes before you throw a change of clothes in a bag, grab your camera, fill the gas tank, and off you go!
And that is exactly what this writer and team member, Shiela McCurdy, did one Friday night after work. We grabbed the research files and maps, hopped into the truck and headed for historic Cochise County hoping to find a room in Tombstone since it’s a favorite location to investigate in SE Arizona. The plan was to wander around Allen Street after midnight and snap a few night time photos of the once booming mining town. Driving past the old Boothill Cemetery it was soon discovered the weekend was set up to be another one of those “Earp Holidays” and there was no way we were going to find a room. Never fear—it was on to Bisbee!
The duo made the transformation through the Mule Pass “Time Tunnel” and cruised down Tombstone Canyon in search of a room in Bisbee at one of the many historic hotels or inns scattered along the mountain hillsides. Rounding the corner at Castle Rock, dozens of motorcycles were spotted parked side by side along the street. We shrugged our shoulders knowing there would be no room vacancies in this tourist city either.
The truck moved onward to Douglas, Arizona and the Gadsden Hotel. The travelers ended up with a great room located on the mezzanine. At midnight we wandered around the hotel in our PJ’s and slippers with cameras in hand hoping to capture the energies of the old west on film.
In the morning we opened up the research files and decided to take a little side trip and hunt for Johnny Ringo’s grave. For several years this writer addressed letters, emailed Internet leads, and talked to local Cochise County residents trying to seek clues to the exact directions to the gravesite. It seemed to be a hushed, coveted secret. Nobody would divulge its mysterious location. With various maps and compiled directions the hunt for Johnny Ringo was on.
Soon we were traveling down a dirt road looking for a ranch house on the left. Many sources reported that it was necessary to stop at the house to request permission to view Johnny Ringo’s grave. After all it sits on private property. We drove into the driveway slowly. It didn’t appear that anyone was home, except the barking watch dog. Backing out of the driveway we felt defeated and disappointed. What could be done next? Pulling into a small turn out on the dirt road we made an amazing discovery. There was a worn path that led to a turnstile gate.
We grabbed the cameras and scurried out of the truck. The duo followed the path to the unlocked gate and read a posted sign. “Please keep gate closed”. Knowing visitors have been coming and going through the passageway frequently made us feel at ease about not getting the suggested permission from the ranch owner. After securing the gate and ducking through a small grove of trees, we found what everyone had come to see. Just 100 yards away was a lonely pile of stones nestled along the banks of Turkey Creek. It was Johnny Ringo’s grave!
One feels greatly energized as they near the grave. Still in awe, we snapped several photos of the grave and surrounding area. We then sat down near the trickling waters of Turkey Creek to take in the serenity of the morning and the events that took place at this spot over one hundred years ago.
The mystery surrounding Johnny Ringo’s death has never been resolved. On July 14, 1882 Johnny Ringo was found dead in the crotch of a large oak tree along Turkey Creek with a bullet hole in his head. A coroner inquest was held and ruled his death a suicide. Some folks believe Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday killed Ringo and made it look like a suicide. No one really knows the truth, but suicide still rules the official verdict.
It was one of the most surreal and mystical scenes an old West history buff could experience. The soft breeze stirred the leaves in the aged trees, while the sound of the trickling stream made it seem as if the spirit of Johnny Ringo was in their company. Climbing back into the truck, we glanced down the path knowing we had just encountered another component of the famed Earp saga.
Driving back through Tombstone, we stopped at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon for a cold sarsaparilla before heading back to Phoenix. We toasted Johnny Ringo’s life and the successful last minute road trip.
Directions to Johnny Ringo’s grave:
SW of Willcox,AZ on I-10 take Hwy 191 towards Douglas, AZ.
At the junction with Hwy 181 (about 25 miles South of I-10) follow Hwy 181 for 12 miles to the Junction of Hwy 186.
Continue East on a dirt road for 4 to 5 miles.
Just prior to a house on left (North) is a turnstile. A path leads to the grave.
Permission should be obtained from the house next to the path.
For more info: