This takes place in a small village circa late-1881. There is a wedding taking place when a group of men, known as The Cowboys, ride into the town. Each of them wears a red sash to denote his membership of The Cowboys. The leader, Curly Bill Brocious, throws down two sashes at the feet of the wedding guests and accuses the men present of having killed the owners of those sashes. We see Johnny Ringo standing behind Brocious.
The quiet is shattered as a gunfight ensues with The Cowboys victorious. The unarmed bridegroom is still standing after the guns fall silent and, moments later, he is murdered by Curly Bill. His bride dragged away.
The priest starts shouting at them in Spanish and one of The Cowboys makes a translation but is berated by Ringo for his Spanish being as bad as his English. He informs Curly Bill that the Priest was quoting from the Bible, warning them that a pale rider would come, hell bent on revenge.
Johnny Ringo walks away, across the square to where a wedding feast has been laid out. He tries some of the food and sips the wine then leans up against the canopy post. Curly Bill and others grab seats and start on the Wedding feast. The priest comes over, still cursing after he sees the bride being dragged away by two men, presumably to be raped, before a gunshot comes from that direction. Ringo draws his gun and kills the priest.
The Earp brothers and their families arrive in Tombstone having left the violence of Dodge City behind them in the attempt to find a new life. Soon after, a troupe of actors arrive in Tombstone led by Mr. Fabian.
The Earps and Doc Holliday watch the show from the balcony in the Birdcage saloon. Meanwhile, Ringo, Curly Bill, Billy Breckinridge and some of The Cowboys fill the lower part of the saloon which has been set up like a theater. The first act is aborted after a Cowboy shoots at the man on the stage. The next act is a Soliloquy from Shakespeare, recited by Mr. Fabian. The audience falls silent, mesmerised by a man Curly Bill refers to as being the prettiest man he ever saw.
After the show, actors and audience are mingling. The card tables are back with Wyatt Earp seated behind a Faro table, Doc Holliday standing by his side. Ringo approaches with Curly Bill.
The following is an excerpt from the Latin Duel
Doc: In Vino Veritas (In wine there is truth)
What follows is a brilliant show of gun handling by Ringo. Doc counters this by twirling the tin cup he is holding and Ringo rewards him with a wry smile.
Ike and Billy Clanton ride into town with four others. They carry on through to the OK corral. Wyatt gathers Virgil and Morgan ready to go face them. Doc Holliday accompanies them. The six men are not causing any disturbance but they freeze when the Earps arrive. Tension fills the air until, unknown to Wyatt, Doc silently goads Billy Clanton into drawing. By the time the dust settles, both Virgil and Morgan are wounded but all six of the Clanton gang are dead.
At the funeral procession, Ringo and others lead men holding a banner proclaiming the deaths as unlawful but the Sheriff had backed down after telling Wyatt Earp they were under arrest.
Wyatt and Virgil Earp are walking along the street when they encounter Johnny Ringo. He is drunk and obviously grieving for his dead friends. There is a verbal altercation where Ringo challenges Wyatt Earp to a draw. Doc Holliday appears and accpets the challenge, saying I'll be your huckleberry. Doc Holliday has no intention of making it a fair fight though as you can see the gun held ready behind his back.
Curly Bill intercedes, telling Wyatt that Ringo is drunk and doesn't mean it and, with the help of some of the other Cowboys, he drags an unwilling Ringo away from danger.
The Earps suspect there will be some form of retaliation for the death of the Clantons. Virgil Earp is shot at that night, and hit in the arm. Soon after, while Morgan is playing billiards in the saloon, there is a gunshot through the window and he is hit in the back. Wyatt races over. The doctor tries to remove the bullet but he cannot reach it. Morgan dies in Wyatt's arms leaving Wyatt enraged with grief.
The following day, the remaining Earps pack up their wagon and Morgan's coffin, preparing to leave town. They pass by Curly Bill and Ringo who are seated on rockers watching the proceedings. Ringo makes a quip about smelling something dead as the coffin passes, gaining a reproach from Curly and an icy glare from the Earps.
As soon as they have passed, Curly Bill sends two men to finish off the Earps. However, Wyatt is lying in wait for them at the train station. One is killed outright, the other sent back with a message that Wyatt Earp is hell bent on Justice and will kill any man wearing the red sash of The Cowboys.
The war begins:
Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and several others, including McMasters (former sheriff and a member of The Cowboys) join forces to track down and kill every member of the Cowboys. They are ambushed by Curly Bill and his men but, in a moment of foolhardiness, Wyatt Earp breaks cover and races into the river. Curly Bill comes at him from the other side in a one-on-one duel that ends in Curly Bill Brocious's death. Doc Holliday collapses, his consumption far worse than he had let on.
Wyatt Earp and his men take Doc Holliday to Henry Hooker's ranch, asking and receiving help. In the meantime, the actor troupe has left Tombstone on the stagetombstone but has been attacked. Mr. Fabian was shot dead trying to stop the attackers.
As night falls, Ringo sends a man to issue a formal challenge to Wyatt Earp to meet him early the next day for a one-on-one gunfight. Wyatt Earp accepts the challenge but later confesses to Doc Holliday that he realises it was a mistake. Doc Holliday is lying in bed, looking pale and drawn. He agrees that Ringo is faster that Earp and will probably kill him. He asks Earp for one favour, phrasing it like a dying man's wish; to be made a Marshall.
Ringo is waiting for Wyatt Earp beside a large black oak and is convinced it is Earp until the man draws closer revealing that it is - in fact - Doc Holliday. The two men spar verbally before it is obvious that Ringo has accepted the challenge. They circle each other warily and then draw. Ringo receives a fatal head wound.
Wyatt Earp hears the gunshot and hurries forward, discovering that Doc Holliday had lied about how sick he was. Doc Holliday throws down the Marshall's badge onto Ringo's body saying he does not believe in hypocrisy.
Wyatt Earp visits a dying Doc Holliday in the Glenwood Sanatorium. He hands Doc a dime novel that he has penned called My Friend, Doc Holliday and then leaves when Doc asks him to go. Both know that Doc's life is over and that he does not want Wyatt to sit there and watch him die. Wyatt Earp walks away and, moments later, Doc Holliday passes away.
Tombstone is based (very loosely) on the true account of the Earps run-in with The Cowboys at Tombstone. However, the death of John Ringo as portrayed in the film is incorrect. Doc Holliday was either lounging in jail or already in a Sanatorium (according to several differing acccounts) at the time of Johnny Ringo's death.
John Peters Ringo was born on May 3, 1850 in Greefork, Wayne County, Indiana. At fourteen, on May 18, 1864, he and his family (mother, father, one brother and three sisters) joined a wagon train heading west, presumably moving to a better climate for his father's health -- Martin Ringo had contracted tuberculosis. The journey took five months, and during that time Ringo saw several brutal killings. On July 30, 1864, Ringo's father accidently shot himself through the head when his shot gun discharged unexpectedly.
Many historians believe that Ringo suffered from post traumatic stress syndrome following this incident and this, coupled with a later alcohol problem, eventually led him to commit suicide. However, there are anomalies that make it more likely that he was murdered and the killer tried to make it look like suicide.
His body was found by John Yost in the mountains above Tombstone, beside West Turkey Creek on July 13th, 1882. Yost stated that Ringo's head had a hole in it large enough for him to fit two fingers into. He also said that part of Ringo's scalp was missing, apparently cut by a knife. There were no powder burns from the gun that was found in his right hand, either on his hand OR on his head. His cartidge belt was found upside down around his waist implying that someone must have replaced it wrongly - or he dressed in a real hurry.
In the last few days of his life, Ringo was travelling with friends - Buckskin Frank Leslie and William Billy the Kid Claiborne. Claiborne later claimed that Buckskin Frank Leslie and Johnny Ringo had been fighting over a woman, and that Leslie had ambushed Ringo in a drunken rage and killed him. This is certainly a more plausible explanation for Ringo's death.
However, as portrayed in Tombstone, Ringo's body was found in the crotch of a huge black oak tree approximately 5 yards from where he is now buried.