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Calendar >  Jingo Bells – Thomas Calabrese

Jingo Bells – Thomas Calabrese

By   /  December 3, 2022  /  11 Comments


Jingle All The Way

Thomas Calabrese- Johnny Jingo was born on April 8th, 1850 in Kansas City, Missouri, son of Martin and Emily Jingo. Martin was a master gunsmith and in 1864 he decided to move his family from Missouri to California. While in route, their wagon train stopped outside Laramie, Wyoming. It was attacked by a ruthless gang of outlaws led by infamous Cherokee Curly Ben Bass. Martin Jingo was among those killed in the violent altercation.

There was a small ceremony in which the wagonmaster read these excerpts from his bible; Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalm 73:26 “My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.” Matthew 5:4 “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.”

Martin Jingo was buried on a hillside with three other men and one woman. Emily Jingo tearfully commented as she looked down at the green valley below, “Your Pa always liked a nice view.”

Afterwards, Johnny took two pistols and a rifle and told his mother and two sisters, “I’ll do my best to catch up to the wagon train, but if I don’t make it, then I reckon this is the last time you’ll be seeing me. Give my regards to Californie.”

Johnny’s mom choked back her tears and said, “Do what you gotta’ do, we’ll be praying for you, son.”

 Johnny saddled up and spent two days hard riding the vengeance trail in search of the merciless outlaws. He caught up with them in Cheyenne. Despite being only 14 years of age, Johnny was extremely proficient with weapons, having grown up around them his entire life. His father told him when he was five-years-old, “The sooner you know how to handle a gun, the better off you’ll be. There’s a lot of bad men out there.”

Two members of the gang were the black-hearted brothers, Elijah and Jonas Backus. When they came into town, women would hide and men would step aside. Johnny recognized them as he rode up to the front of the saloon and called out, “Fill your hand, varmit!”

Elijah took a swallow from the bottle of whiskey in his hand and snarled, “You talking to me, boy?”

            “I sure am, sidewinder,” Johnny said.

Elijah reached for his pistol and Johnny put a bullet through his forehead. Jonas, who was standing nearby saw his brother get killed and instinctively reached for his hogleg. (A hog leg is large single-action revolver carried by cowboys.) Johnny then put three bullets in Jonas’ chest before he could clear leather. He pulled out his other pistol which was fully loaded and shot three more gang members who made the mistake of intervening. Johnny reloaded both his pistols and entered the saloon.  

Cherokee Curly Ben Bass was playing cards and he casually turned around to see Johnny standing in the doorway, “Is that you making all that ruckus, boy?”

            “Yup,” Johnny said calmly.

            “Are you looking for me?” Cherokee Curly Ben Bass asked.

            “Yup, you robbed a wagon train and killed some innocent people a couple days ago,” Johnny said, “I’m here to hold you accountable.”

Cherokee Curly Ben Bass laughed and the evil in his voice chilled the room, “I rob a lot of wagon trains and kill a lot of people, some innocent, some guilty. I let God and Satan fight over who goes where. Older men than you have tried to arrest me, but I’m still around.”

            “You misunderstand me, I’m not here to arrest you, I’m here to kill you,” Johnny said matter of factly.

That’s bold talk, but I’m on a winning streak so if you don’t mind waitin’ a spell, I’ll be glad to send you on your way to join those other sodbusters.”

            “I reckon hell can wait a few more minutes, but don’t be too long” Johnny said defiantly.

Cherokee won the next three hands and before he pushed his chair back to stand up he pulled a revolver that was hidden in his waistband, “You shouldn’t be in such a big hurry to get to Boot Hill.”

 Cherokee’s plan was to catch the young boy off guard, but Johnny was prepared for the trickery and put a bullet through Cherokee’s hand before he could raise his weapon. He screamed out in pain, “Son of a sack of taters!” and tried to grab his holstered pistol with his other hand and Johnny shot him in that hand as well. Cherokee was even faster than his cousin, Liberty Valance, so when this young stranger shot him with lightning speed and amazing accuracy, the patrons of the saloon were dumfounded.

“No matter how long it takes, I’ll get you for this!” Cherokee screamed out in anger then quickly begged for mercy, “You made your point, you don’t need to kill me.”

Johnny replied, “My Pa used to tell me, ‘no mercy for the merciless’ and shot Cherokee through the heart. He stepped over the dead body and commented to the men and women in the saloon, “He took a lot of valuables from people who needed those things to start their new lives. I’ll be taking all his money and valuables and passing it out to the people on the wagon train. It won’t make up for the loss of family members, but it will help ease the ache. If anybody have a problem with that, I’ll be happy to hear your objections.”

Nobody in the saloon voiced their opposition. Finally, the bartender nervously asked, “You just killed one of the fastest draws in the area, what’s your name, stranger?”

            “Johnny Jingo.”

The Bartender wasn’t sure he heard correctly, “Ringo?”

Johnny corrected him “Jingo…Johnny Jingo.”

And that was how the legend began.

Johnny caught up with the wagon train and passed out the cash to the families who suffered losses. He rode with his family to San Jose, California and stayed a year to help them get settled in. Eventually, he grew restless and headed south to Texas where he locked horns with Pete ‘Bad Man’ Bader and his gang called the ‘Polecats’. Officials called it the ‘Mason County War’, but locally it was called the ‘Hoodoo War’. Bader ambushed Deputy Sheriff John ‘Whirlwind’ Worley and Johnny was hired by the townspeople to track down ‘Bader’. He caught up to Bad Man and his men at their hideout in Blanco Canyon. When they refused to give up, Johnny had no other choice, but to killed them. This gunfight ended the range war and it was time for Johnny Jingo to move on.

While on the trail, Johnny came across a traveling medicine show and a group of singers called, The Old Christy Minstrels, comprised of four Civil War veterans, two from the North and two from the South. In their repertoire of songs were, Looking Back with Louisa Gray, The Angel and the Child and The Alabama Blossoms. During his stay with them, Johnny came to realize that he had an uncanny aptitude for playing the guitar that rivaled his skills with a six gun and a rifle. He enjoyed singing and playing along with the old veterans and together they composed a song called, The Better Land.

When they reached Langtry, Texas, Johnny had the opportunity to meet Judge Roy Bean who liked to call himself the Only Law West of Pecos. Johnny and the Old Christy Minstrels endeared themselves to the ‘Hanging Judge’ by playing several of Lily Langtry’s favorite songs.

While having lunch with Judge Roy Bean and his trusty friend, Burrito Garcia, Roy prepared a meal of beef, tomatoes, rice and various seasoning wrapped inside a flour tortilla, “Try this, young fella’ and tell me what you think, “Roy said.

Johnny took a bite and replied, “Mighty tasty…what do you call this…a Bean Burrito?”

He stayed around another week, but Johnny was a like a tumbleweed in the wild Texas wind. He wasn’t meant to stay in one place very long. Johnny met Roy at the saloon before getting on the trail.

            “What’ll you have…whiskey?” Roy asked.

Johnny smiled, “My father was a pretty smart fella’ and he used to tell me that drinking alcohol when you’re thirsty only makes you thirstier. I’ll have a tall glass of agua.”

Roy scratched his chin and said, “Maybe that’s why my mouth feels as dry as prairie dust every time I get drunk.” He called to the bartender, “Two glasses of water.”

Cooley the bartender protested, “You want me to walk all the way out to the well, C’mon Judge, my lumbago is killing me!”


The next stop for Johnny Jingo was Tombstone, Arizona. While eating breakfast at Burp’s Café, a well-spoken and impeccably dressed man came in and announced for all to hear, “I’m looking for Johnny Ringo!”

Johnny kept eating until the man questioned the cook who pointed him out, “Are you the man who calls himself Johnny Ringo? You are not Johnny Ringo, I know that scoundrel well and you are not that yellow bellied, bottom feeder and horse thief. If you are prepared to die impersonating a killer, I can oblige you,” The man said.

Johnny explained the mix-up, “I told the waiter that my name is Johnny Jingo, he must have misunderstood me. Do you still want to kill me?”

The man said, “I do not and I apologize for my bad manners.”

            “In that case, care to join me?”

The man sat down and introduced himself, “I’m John Henry Holliday.”

Johnny asked, “Would you be, Doc ‘Everyday is a’ Holliday?”

            “I usually only answer to that handle between Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Doc grinned.

Three men walked in and Doc introduced them as Wyatt, Morgan and Virgil Earp then turned to Wyatt and said, “This is Johnny Jingo.”

Wyatt responded, “I’ve heard what you did to Cherokee Curly Ben Bass. He was a bad one. The world is a better place without him in it.”

            “While I was in Texas, a man told me to say howdy if I ever crossed paths with you,” Johnny said.

            “Who might that hombre be?” Wyatt asked.

            “Judge Roy Bean.”

            “Still ornery as ever?” Wyatt asked.

            “Sure is, hot peppers and vinegar got nuthin’ on him’,” Johnny replied.

Doc saw a man enter into the dining area from the kitchen and introduced him, “This is Roscoe ‘Burp’ Earp. He’s Wyatt’s youngest brother and is as deadly with his recipes as Wyatt is with his Colt.45. He gives away indigestion as freely as a preacher does with hellfire and damnation at a Sunday sermon.”

Burp protested, “If my food is so bad, how come you keep coming back?”

            “I didn’t say it was bad, I just mean that a meal of yours stays with you all day and most of the night,” Doc joked.

A big rotund man came in and called out in a booming voice, “I’m as hungry as a Grizzly bear coming out of a two months sleep. Get those pots and pans a ‘shakin’!”

            “You don’t hear ‘Two Meal Bill’ complaining, do you?” Burp said.

            “He’ll eat anything that you put in front of him including a life steer, hide and hoofs. His mouth doesn’t even waste time tasting the food before it hits the bottomless pit that he calls a stomach,” Doc said.

            “Not to change the subject, but Judge Bean showed me something. Has anybody ever heard of a bean burrito?” Johnny asked.

Over the next few months, Johnny worked with the Earps and Doc Holliday as a deputy. It was destined that Johnny Jingo and Johnny Ringo would meet. Originally, Doc was supposed to meet Ringo at Sabino Canyon, but he was too ill so Johnny eagerly took his place. Walking out the shadows, Ringo couldn’t see Johnny’s face so he called out, “I didn’t think you had the guts to show up.”

Johnny replied, “Doc’s not coming, but I’m your Huckleberry Hound.”

Ringo was initially shocked when he realized who it was so he said, “I got no fight with you, Jingo.”

            “Think again, I’m tired of telling people I ain’t you,” Johnny said.

Ringo realized the harsh reality of the situation so he sighed, “If that’s the way you want it, Jingo then let’s do this,” and reached for his gun.

Johnny drew his pistol first and shot Ringo in the head and holstered his weapon. The outlaw staggered around and the last thought that went through his mind was how much he disliked Johnny Jingo.  Johnny felt the wind whip through the canyon as a black cloud casts a shadow over Ringo as the outlaw fell face forward in the dirt. Doc Holliday showed up, looking pale, frail and barely able to stay in the saddle. “What’s happened?”

            “The excitement of us meeting was just too much for the sensitive fellow,” Johnny said.

Doc coughed up a mouthful of blood and commented philosophically, “Jingo and Ringo faced each other on a desert day, one lived to ride away and the other will stay.”

Johnny softly sang, “Na na, hey hey, goodbye.”

After the gunfight at the OK corral, Johnny helped the Earps and Doc Holliday rid the territory of the vicious gang called, The Cowboys. There was a going away party for Johnny at Burp’s Cafe, Wyatt and Doc bought a big Sorrell Stallion and a wolf hybrid dog from wealthy cattleman and horse owner, Henry Hooker as a sign of their appreciation. Master saddlemaker Luis Quintero made a custom saddle for the large mount.

Johnny named his horse, Blood because of his reddish color and his dog, Lead because he was dark gray. The legend of Johnny Jingo continued to grow as he roamed through the west. He often let his horse and dog roam free whenever he came to open pasture lands. Johnny knew that Blood and Lead  would always come back, but he still placed bells around their necks because he liked the sound of the ringing in the wide open spaces. He got so used to the melodic sounds that he kept them on all the time. It got to the point that when people heard the ringing, they would say, ‘those are Jingo bells.’ 

Fate led Johnny back to California and he used his experience to work as Deputy U.S. Marshal in the San Diego area. He did that for a couple years before deciding to try prospecting for gold in the mountains around Julian. Old habits were hard to break so when some claim jumpers tried to run Johnny Jingo off his land, they quickly realized the error of their ways. Fellow miners who were having similar issues knew they could always turns to the man who rode with Lead and Blood for his help.

After finding a large vein of gold, Johnny became partners with Jed Rampett, an old good-hearted prospector who had been searching for gold most of his life to no avail. Johnny made him an unusual and very generous offer, “You do the mining and we’ll split whatever you find.”

            “Why would you do that?” Jed asked in disbelief.

Johnny responded, “Because you’re a good man and I trust you. They call the wind Mariah and I can hear her voice coming over the mountaintops telling me it’s time to move on.”

The sound of bells echoed joyously through Cuyamaca Mountains as Johnny headed back to the coast. With his share of the income from the gold, Johnny bought a 500 acre parcel of land in east Oceanside and invited his mother, sisters and their families to relocate from San Jose. He had houses built on the property for them and a bar and restaurant on the beach in Oceanside for him. Johnny would often entertain his patrons with his guitar playing and singing. After his brothers left Tombstone and Doc Holliday died, Burp Earp saw no reason to stay in Tombstone so he came to Oceanside to handle the cooking at Jingo’s.

Johnny traveled to Julian twice a month to visit Jed and check on the mine. Law enforcement officials did not hesitate to call on him when they ran into trouble that they couldn’t handle. Outlaws quivered from the coast to the mountains when they heard the sound of bells ringing.  They knew that Lead and Blood were coming their way.

John Philip Sousa was an American composer and conductor of the Romantic era known primarily for American military marches. He was known as The March King or the American March King. Among his best-known marches are ‘The Stars and Stripes Forever’ (National March of the United States of America), ‘Semper Fidelis’ (official march of the United States Marine Corps), ‘The Liberty Bell’, ‘The Thunderer’ and ‘The Washington Post’.

Sousa began his career playing violin and studying music theory and composition under John Esputa and George Felix Benkert. His father enlisted him in the United States Marine Band as an apprentice in 1868. He left the band in 1875, and over the next five years, Sousa performed as a violinist and learned to conduct. In 1880 he rejoined the Marine Band, and served 12 years as director. While traveling through California, Sousa heard about the guitar playing, singing and bell ringing gunfighter/ lawman known as Johnny Jingo and decided to travel to Oceanside to meet him.

The famous composer heard the bells ringing even before he saw the tall man come into view on his massive red steed.   He approached Johnny after hearing him play the guitar at his saloon, “I’m John Phillip Sousa and I’d like to write a song about you.  “I’ve got the title already…Jingo Bells.”

Three days later, Sousa had his first version of the song;

Johnny Jingo was a traveling lad.

Who got fighting mad when he saw the evil and the bad.

He was the kind of man the West would need to tame a troubled land.

Johnny Jingo followed the Northern Star, wherever it led him, both near and far.

The bullets in his gun was the only law that bad people understood.

And when it came to shooting straight and fast… Johnny Jingo was mighty good.

Sometimes the love of justice can make a man stay on when he should go

Just trying to give people a chance for liberty to grow.

Johnny Jingo roamed through the West, he was panther quick and leather tough.

And when he saw the strong taking advantage of the weak, he had enough.

With a dog and a horse, Johnny Jingo roamed the land like a true American man.

Some said that of all the gunfighters he was the best in the west.

Jingo Bells Jingo Bells, Jingle all the way.

“Johnny said, “I appreciate the sentiments, but you’re going have to come up with another subject. I don’t want people singing about me…at least not for another 30 or 40 years.”

John Phillip Sousa was disappointed, but he reluctantly accepted the fact that Johnny was too modest to have a ballad written about him. Several weeks later, he accompanied Johnny to Julian in the month of December, hoping to come up with inspiration for another song while in the mountains. The two men were caught in a blizzard and the only way they could get supplies to Jed Rampett who was stranded at the gold mine was to hook Johnny’s horse to a sleigh. With the snow blowing in his face, John Phillip Sousa came up with the first stanza to his new marching song that would eventually become a Christmas classic.

‘Laughing all the way in a one-horse sleigh.

With a dog named Lead, a horse called Blood and a good hearted man.

Oh, what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh across the open land

With Johnny Jingo Bells, hey, hey, hey. Jingle all the way.’

The End

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

The Veterans Writing Group of San Diego County invites all writers to join us at our monthly meetings. Veterans and Non-Veterans are equally welcome For more information go to our website: www.veteranswritinggroup.org


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  1. Tom says:

    What a pleasant surprise and departure from your usual theme…USMC warriors against the bad guys. Once I read the name of the hero, Johnny Jingo, I fully expected a play on Jingoism. I’m glad I was wrong! I thoroughly enjoyed the walk through the history of the wild West. I laughed out loud on reading that John Philip Sousa was in the story…what a great musical genius and patriot. I’m sure glad the two got along OK.

  2. Janet says:

    Great story, You are so talented in creative writing.

  3. Steve says:

    Is this a new version of history? In this crazy culture . people are rewriting or ignoring history that they don’t like. I definitely liked the way this historical account turned out. Jingo Bells to all!!!

  4. john michels says:

    Amazing work of fiction!!!!!

  5. Robert says:

    Nice change from your other stories but very enjoyable just the same.

  6. Tony says:

    Wow, what a “Rootin Tootin” Sunday Story in the Vista Press by none other than Mr. Thomas Calabrese who know how to spin a yarn.
    I truly enjoy his western stories and his creative ability to to alter history in a fun manner. They certainly grab my interests.
    Another thing I like about his story’s they generally end on the positive side and in favor of law and order. I thoroughly enjoyed the expression “Son of a Sack of Potatoes”. Mr. Calabrese takes the time to do his research and injects some of our local area’s as part of his story. Very nicely done and I enjoyed this Sunday’s Story very much.

  7. wolf says:

    you never know what expect from Tom. kept my attention But I Think his Pen fired blanks on this one.

  8. Skip says:

    Once again, you delivered! Jingle all the way!

  9. Marty says:

    Thanks Tom. Nice change of pace for the holidays.

  10. Bart says:

    Good western.

  11. Tamra says:

    Nice lighthearted touch to this short story, Tom! I love the holiday theme of Jingo/Jingle Bells!

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