Doc Holliday and the Latin Duel

One of my favorite scenes in Tombstone has to be the Latin duel. It’s that moment when Doc Holliday and Johnny Ringo meet for the first time and realize that they are perfectly matched combatants. The insults fly, but in Latin not English. Ringo pulls some fast moves with his gun that are mirrored perfectly by a very drunk Doc Holliday juggling his tin cup. I know you have questions about the scene. I did the first 100 odd times I watched the movie. Would you like some answers to those questions? Then read on.

Were Doc and Ringo similar?

Johnny Ringo
Johnny Ringo circa 1880

In short, not really, but they did have some things in common. Ringo was only a year older than Doc and he did apparently dress well. In the Tombstone Epitaph article about his death, he’s described as having a silver pocket watch. Another thing they had in common was their love of a good drink. Before Ringo died he was seen in Tombstone and Galeyville enjoying a boozy drinking spree that lasted for a couple of weeks.

Apart, from that they really didn’t have much in common in real life.

Did they both really speak Latin?

“That’s Latin dahlin. Evidently Mr. Ringo is an educated man. Now I really hate him.” Doc Holliday to Big Nose Kate in the 1993 film, Tombstone

It was fairly common back in the 1850s for Latin to be taught as part of a normal school education. That being said, it was not always common for someone to get a good school education. Doc certainly did, he learned to speak Latin. Greek and also French at The Valdosta Institute, a private school in Valdosta, Georgia. By all accounts he was a good student. Johnny Ringo on the other hand may or may not have had the opportunity. He did receive a basic school education growing up in Missouri but whether or not this included Latin, who can say for sure.

What does the Latin in Tombstone Mean?

tombstone-cup-scene-oBear with me a second, unlike Doc, I have no knowledge of Latin worth talking about so I’m relying on other people’s translations in this case.

Doc Holliday: In vino veritas. (In wine there is truth.)

Johnny Ringo: Age quod agis. (Do what you do.)

Doc Holliday: Credat Judaeus Apella, non ego. (Let Apella the Jew believe, not I.)

Johnny Ringo: Iuventus stultorum magister. (Youth is the teacher of fools.)

Doc Holliday: In pace requiescat. (May he rest in peace.)

Did Doc and Ringo fight in real life?

They tried to on January 17, 1882 but were split up before the argument resulted in gunfire.  They were both arrested, fined for carrying guns and released. Walter Noble Burns’ 1927 book Tombstone: An Iliad of the Southwest would elaborate on the tale suggesting that Ringo took out his handkerchief and flipped it at Holliday as a challenge to a duel. Holliday replied, “I’m your Huckleberry Ringo, that’s just my game.”

Did Doc Holliday kill Johnny Ringo?

ringotree

Ringo’s death in the movie Tombstone, is a beautiful resolution to the tension that builds between Doc and Ringo throughout the film. It has to be the perfect gunfight. Ringo calls Wyatt Earp to the fight, but gets a very sickly Doc Holliday instead. Both Doc and Ringo get the fight they’ve been wanting all through the film. In reality, Doc Holliday was stuck in a courtroom in Pueblo, Co, many miles from Ringo’s place of death in Turkey Creek Canyon, AZ. He may even have read about Ringo’s demise in the newspaper with interest. Certainly Ringo’s death was a strange one.

Johnny Ringo died on July 14, 1882. He was found slumped by an oak tree with a bullet wound on the right-hand side of his head that was large enough to put two fingers in. He still had his pistol in his hand, pressed to his head and his rifle was propped up against a tree. He had two cartridge belts, one of which was hanging upside down.  Part of his scalp was missing and looked like it had been cut out with a knife. He had removed his boots and was wearing his undershirt over the top of his socks, wrapped around his feet. The coroner’s verdict in was suicide, but that hasn’t stopped the speculation that he may have been killed.

In his final days, Ringo became increasingly paranoid that someone would kill him and perhaps his paranoia was justified. Only a few months prior, he had been accused of being one of Morgan Earp’s assassins, something that he denied. Ironically, he also rode in Johnny Behan’s posse, chasing Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. Ringo had plenty of enemies and there were plenty of likely candidates that would have happily have killed him.

One candidate was Wyatt Earp, who apparently even claimed that he had killed Ringo. He made an error in his claim though and said Ringo died in March of 1882 rather than July when he really did  died. This claim came from an interview that Earp gave in his 70s. I honestly believe that he may have simply given the wrong name in error or perhaps the information was copied down incorrectly at the time by the person interviewing him. One thing is clear though,  if Ringo was killed, it wasn’t by Doc Holliday.

“Why Johnny Ringo, you look like someone just walked over your grave.”

Johnny Ringo's Grave in Cochise Co., AZ.
Johnny Ringo’s Grave in Cochise Co., AZ.

Ringo is buried close to the oak tree that he died at in Turkey Creek Canyon. His grave site is on private property, but it is open to the public to visit. I haven’t been there, but I think it would be an interesting trip. Nothing much appears to have changed. I’m sure it’s quite an atmospheric place.

So did I answer all the questions that you had? I certainly tried to, but if there’s anything else that you’re yearning to know, get in touch and I’ll see if I can answer it for you. I’m not guaranteeing I’ll know the answer, but you can always try me and see. I love to hear from you and I don’t need an excuse to get me talking about the history behind the movie Tombstone or the film itself.

If you enjoyed this, you may enjoy my book: A Gentleman In Hell.

5 Replies to “Doc Holliday and the Latin Duel”

  1. Thanks so much for publishing this post. Tombstone is my favorite movie of all time. I have told my husband many times that the movie is so great because almost every line in the movie is quotable. All of Doc Holiday’s lines are quotable!! Thank you again!!

  2. Well done movie. Val Kilmer was excellent. You don’t see much great acting these days. He nailed it and made the movie a pleasure to watch. One negative was that poetic licensing was used to depict actual events.

  3. The movie and particularly Val Kilmer and Sam Elliott were great although I wish Sam Elliott had been given a bit more screen time since his personality fits those times better than all the others. I do a good bit of Cowboy Action Shooting and actually got En Pace Requiescat tattooed on my left forearm bc I had a college professor tell me in old Latin it can be taken as “rest in peace” or if meant in a derogatory statement can be “may you rest in peace” or “its your funeral”

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