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July Was End of the Trail For 3 Gunmen

July Was End of the Trail For 3 Gunmen
July 14
11:10 2015

July wasn’t a good month to be an Old West gunfighter.

On this day 134 years ago – July 14, 1881 – Billy the Kid met his fate. He was only one of three notorious badmen to end the summer early – joining him were Johnny Ringo and Clay Allison.


Billy the Kid

In Old West parlance “badman” didn’t necessarily mean an outlaw, it meant “a bad man to tangle with.”

The trio were as different as could be; Allison was a displaced Southerner with a chip on his shoulder, Ringo was from the Midwest – he was well-educated and was known to quote Shakespeare – and Billy the Kid was orphaned and on his own at 14.

The one thing they all had in common was that they were all quick on the draw.

Of the three, The Kid is by far the best known today, though during their respective lifetimes the other two were more widely known and feared.

Billy the Kid – born Henry McCarty in New York City – was, at various times, known as Billy Antrim and William H. Bonney. Of the three, he was the only one that died with a price on his head.

Legend says The Kid killed 21 men, one for every year of his life. Historians have not been able to find evidence that Billy killed anything near that many men.

In fact, even in the one killing that made him a wanted man, there is no evidence that The Kid fired the fatal shot. That was the killing of Lincoln County Sheriff William Brady.

Billy was one of a half dozen men that ambushed the corrupt lawman – but the only one charged.

During this time period Mexicans were often badly mistreated by the Anglos, but such was not the case with Billy. He was well-liked, and even spoke fluent Spanish.

Billy the Kid was killed as he decided he wanted a late night snack. On his way to the meathouse he noticed two men sitting on the porch of Pete Maxwell’s house.

“Quien es?” The Kid asked several times, but the men did not reply. Billy went into the house, to the darkened bedroom of Maxwell to ask who the men were. He did not see Pat Garrett sitting in the shadows.

That’s where The Kid was killed … or was he? Rumors persisted until the 1950s that Billy the Kid had faked his death and was still alive.

John Peters Ringo is best remembered today because of his limited involvement in the Earp-Clanton showdown in Tombstone. He was born in Indiana, but his family moved to Liberty, Mo., in 1856 – where his neighbors would include Frank and Jesse James. He was a cousin of the Younger brothers.


Johnny Ringo’s grave

In 1864, on the way to California, Ringo’s father accidentally killed himself by mishandling his shotgun. Ringo was 14. Almost a decade later, Ringo arrived in Texas where he began his gunslinging ways during the Mason County War.

Ringo was arrested as the “war” died down (one of his jailmates was the notorious John Wesley Hardin), but was acquitted. He drifted into Cochise County, Arizona.

He soon got into trouble by shooting a man who refused the whiskey Ringo had bought him. The man survived. Ringo’s name was linked to several robberies and shootings, and he nearly had a shootout with “Doc” Holliday in 1882.

Ringo was prone to violent mood swings and even his friends were leery of him when he got into one of his black moods.

His death – like Billy the Kid’s – came with myriad questions and rumors. Unlike The Kid, there was no doubt that Ringo was dead, but the question was how. On July 13, 1884, he was found propped against a tree, a pistol in his hand and a bullet wound in his temple.

It was officially ruled a suicide.

But some suspected foul play – either by Ringo’s pal, Frank Leslie, or Wyatt Earp. It seems the gun in Ringo’s hand was fully loaded – and his boots were gone.

Many wild west shootists went down in a blaze of glory or were murdered by backshooting cowards, but Clay Allison always did things differently.

Robert Clay Allison was the son of a minister; his family also raised sheep and cattle. Allison was reportedly always restless and prone to mood swings. He also had a bad temper. Some attribute this to being kicked in the head by a mule as a child.

He was 21 when the Civil War began and quickly joined the Confederate army. Three months later he discharged because of his old head injury. A medical report said “emotional or physical excitement produces paroxymals of a mixed character, partly epileptic and partly maniacal.”

He later reenlisted with Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry unit. (Forrest founded the Ku Klux Klan.) Allison returned to his Tennessee home after the war but was soon involved in several violent confrontations. He moved to Texas.

In 1870 he was part of a lynch mob that hung a man who had killed several people – including his own daughter. Allison shocked the other lynchers by decapitating the dead body and displayed the head on a pole.

In 1874 gunman Chunk Colbert came to town with the avowed purpose of killing Allison. During dinner Colbert suddenly drew his gun – but it hit the underside of the table. Allison drew and killed Colbert.

Later, asked why he agreed to eat with a man that had promised to kill him, Allison replied that he didn’t want “to end a man to hell on an empty stomach.”

In another encounter, Allison and a foe agreed to fight to the death with Bowie knives. They dug a grave and then got into it to fight, Allison won.

When sober Allison seemed to be a hardworking farmer, but when drunk, anything might happen. One time he rode through town naked, wearing only his gunbelt! Usually the results of his drinking were less humorous – and involved gunsmoke.

Despite his wild ways and wicked temper, Allison died in an unusual way on July 3, 1887. He was hauling supplies in his wagon when a sack fell off. Allison reached for it, but lost his balance and fell off the wagon – and a wheel rolled over his neck, breaking it.











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