I just caught the episode that famed director Sam Peckinpah wrote for the classic western TV series, Tombstone Territory. Aired in 1958, the episode, “Johnny Ringo’s Last Ride” is the only one he wrote for the old ABC TV series. It tells a unique version of how the famous outlaw Johnny Ringo came to an end. It’s one of the earliest scripts Peckinpah crafted for TV and it’s interesting how, even back then, the main themes he always focused on in his later films are right there at the beginning.
Peckinpah is most noted for his films “The Wild Bunch”, “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid,” and “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.” Although “Johnny Ringo’s Last Ride,” is based on historical fact, the story line is mostly fiction. The true facts are that Ringo was found dead near Chiricahua Peak outside Tombstone. His body was found resting in the fork of a tree, and there was a bullet hole in his head. The coroner ruled his death a suicide, but for years there have been different theories about what really happened to him. Some people say they think Wyatt Earp killed him, other say Doc Holliday. Others point to a gambler named Michael O’Rourke as the culprit.
In the Tombstone Territory version, Peckinpah, who scripted from a story by series producer Andy White, makes a crooked politician the villain.Bloody Sam seems to have been fond of that idea. In “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid,” the Santa Fe Ring was responsible for pushing Garret to hunt down his old friend Billy. In “The Wild Bunch” it was the railroad that forced former gang member Deke Thornton to track down his old friends. The conflict between loyalty to a friend and the necessity of saving your own skin was always a major Peckinpah theme.
And so in “Johnny Ringo’s Last Ride,” Clay Hollister (Pat Conway) is pushed by a crooked Judge to hunt down his old friend Johnny (Myron Healey). Judge Reese wants to get rid of both Johnny and Hollister for his own reasons. Hollister shows a bit more intestinal fortitude than either Garrett or Thornton, in that he stands up against the judge. Hollister, who is probably modeled on either Wyatt or Virgil Earp resists phony warrants issued by Judge Reese. But partly through the Judge’s Machiavellian machinations and partly through cruel fate, Johnny still ends up being killed in the desert in Turkey Creek Canyon. Hollister tries to save him but fails. But at least unlike the later Peckinpah heroes he wasn’t forced to kill his own friend, and has the authority to bring the man responsible to justice.
Tombstone Territory is being shown currently on getTV. Conway as Hollister portrays a tough as nails sheriff with nerve and steely eyes. Never could figure why he didn’t go on to bigger and better things. This series and the half-hour Gunsmokes (half a dozen of which Peckinpah also wrote) on Encore Westerns are well worth watching for their realistic stories of the old west.