Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2015


This case study chronicles the remarkably complicated life of Charles Ringo who served nearly two enlistments as a Buffalo Soldier before deserting and embarking on a life of petty crime. It details his military service, his nomadic occupational life, his marriage, his acquittal of two sets of murders--one of his stepsons in West Virginia, the other of a white married couple in Illinois, and the assistance of white authorities who intervened to save and protect Ringo from the predations of angry mobs and racist courts. It situates Ringo’s exploits within the oppositional/alternative nature of African American working-class life, the failure of the American ideal, and its links to black criminality during the Jim Crow era. It contends that like far too many black men today, Ringo’s life choices and those of countless other black men and women during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, were largely shaped and defined by proscriptions, barriers, misfortunes, and providence beyond his control. Thus, his decision to desert and eventually live on the edges of society as an itinerant laborer, part-time gambler, and criminal illustrates his desperate quest to survive in a society that was not yet prepared or willing to offer substantive opportunities to African American men and thereby created a slippery and inevitable slope between black respectability and black criminality.


The copy of record is available at Copyright © 2015 The Filson Historical Society. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.