Ringo was born in Greens Fork, Indiana. His family moved to Liberty, Missouri in 1856. He was a contemporary of Frank and Jesse James, who lived nearby in Kearney, Missouri, and a cousin of Cole Younger.
In 1858 the family moved to Gallatin, Missouri where they rented property from the father of John W. Sheets (who was to be the first “official” victim of the James Gang when they robbed the Davis County Savings Association in 1869).
On July 30, 1864, while the Ringo family was traveling through Wyoming on their way to moving to California, Martin Ringo (Johnny’s father) stepped out of his wagon while holding a shotgun, which accidentally went off. The shotgun charge entered the right side of his face, exiting the top of his head. The 14 year-old John Ringo and the rest of his family buried him on a hillside alongside the trail.