Dirty Dave Rudabaugh – Feared by Billy the Kid


Dave Rudabaugh

Dave Rudabaugh

David Rudabaugh was born in Fulton County, Illinois in July 1854. However, his family moved to Eureka, Kansas in 1870. Later he lived in Greenwood County, Kansas before following the cattle trail west into Colorado. Little is known about his life until he joined the “outlaw trail.”

Nicknamed “Dirty Dave” because he rarely bathed and wore filthy clothes, he came to notoriety in the 1870s as the head of a gang of thieves and rustlers in Texas. But Rudabaugh didn’t limit his thieving to the Lone Star State. When he and his gang robbed a Santa Fe Railroad construction camp in Kansas in November 1877, Wyatt Earp was issued an acting commission as a U.S. Deputy Marshal to pursue the outlaw out of the state.

Following Rudabaugh’s trail for 400 miles to Fort Griffin, Texas, Wyatt Earp visited the Shanssey’s Saloon, asking about Rudabaugh. Owner John Shanssey said that Rudabaugh had been there earlier in the week, but didn’t know where he was bound.

He then directed Wyatt to Doc Holliday who had played cards with Rudabaugh. Wyatt was skeptical about talking to Holliday, as it was well known that Doc hated lawmen. However, when Wyatt found him that evening at Shanssey’s, he was surprised at Holliday’s willingness to talk.

Doc told Wyatt that he thought that Rudabaugh had back-trailed to Kansas. It was this first meeting between Earp and Holliday that would form their lifetime friendship. Wyatt wired this information to Bat Masterson and the news was instrumental in apprehending Rudabaugh.

Trying to stay one step ahead of Wyatt, Rudabaugh had in fact returned to Kansas but would rob yet another train before being caught. On January 27, 1878, Rudabaugh, along with five other men, unsuccessfully attempted to hold up a train in Kinsley, Kansas. He and his accomplice Edgar West were caught within days by Sheriff Bat Masterson and his posse, which included John Joshua Webb (J.J.). When Rudabaugh went for his gun, Webb stopped him and forced him to surrender. The other four accomplices were arrested later. Rudabaugh then informed on his cohorts and promised to go “straight.” Rudabaugh’s accomplices were sent to prison, but Dirty Dave was soon released, drifting to New Mexico and returning to thievery once again.

In 1879 he reunited with some of his acquaintances from Kansas and for the next six months they terrorized Las Vegas, New Mexico, committing train and stagecoach robberies as the “Dodge City Gang.” Members of the gang included “Mysterious Dave Mather,” Joe Carson, “Hoodoo Brown,” the Justice of the Peace; and City Marshal  John Joshua Webb, Rudabaugh’s former enemy in Dodge City.

On October 14, 1879, a train was robbed in the Las Vegas area by masked men. The robbers made off with $2,085, three pistols, and all the lanterns on the train. Two years later, when Rudabaugh was finally arrested, he would confess to participating in the robbery.

Las Vegas, New Mexico Saloon

Las Vegas, New Mexico Saloon

On January 22, 1880, T.J. House, James West, John Dorsey, and William Randall were parading about town sneering, laughing, and looking for trouble. When they entered the Close & Patterson Variety Hall, Marshal Joe Carson asked them to check their guns, and they refused. A wild gunfight ensued and Carson was killed immediately, while Deputy “Mysterious” Dave Mather killed Randall and dropped West.

John Dorsey, though wounded, and T.J. House managed to escape. On February 5th the Dodge City Gang learned that Dorsey and House were hiding out at the home of Juan Antonio Dominguez in Buena Vista, thirty miles north of Las Vegas. A posse comprised of J.J. Webb, Dave Rudabaugh, and five other men, surrounded the House and called for the men to surrender.

Dorsey and House complied after assurance of protection from the citizens of Las Vegas was given. However, the assurance would be hollow, as, within hours of the men being placed in the Old Town Jail, vigilantes relieved the jailers of the prisoners. Taking them to the windmill on the Plaza to hang, Mrs. Carson opened fire on the men before the vigilantes had a chance to hang them. Escaping justice for this murder, Rudabaugh and the rest of the gang continued to rob and rustle until J.J. Webb was arrested for the murder of Mike Kelliher on March 2, 1880. A lynch mob formed but were held off by the Dodge City Gang with “Dirty Dave” at the helm.

On April 30th, Rudabaugh, along with a man named John Allen burst through the Sheriff’s office to free Webb. Though the jailbreak was unsuccessful, Rudabaugh murdered jailer Antonio Lino in the process. Webb’s sentence was appealed and commuted to life in prison.

Rudabaugh, along with Dodge City Gang member, Tom Pickett fled to Fort Sumner and joined forces with Billy the Kid. According to some sources, Billy the Kid was afraid of only one man and that man was Dave Rudabaugh.

On November 30, 1880, Billy the Kid, David Anderson (aka Billy Wilson,) and Rudabaugh rode into White Oaks, New Mexico and ran into Deputy Sheriff James Redman. Taking shots at the deputy, Redman hid behind a saloon as several local citizens ran into the street, chasing the fugitives out of town.

As a posse gave chase, the outlaws hid out at the ranch of a man named Jim Greathouse, who they held hostage. Accosted at dawn by a posse, they traded their hostage, Jim Greathouse, for Deputy Sheriff James Carlyle who was volunteered to negotiate with the outlaws in an attempt to give themselves up. Continuing to surround the house, the posse waited for hours. Around midnight, the posse called out that they were going to storm the house. Just then a crash came through a window and a man came tumbling out. Shots ripped through the air and Carlyle lay dead. The bullet could have come from either the outlaws or the posse, but many suspect that the posse killed their own man. With this accident, the posse abandoned the siege and the outlaws escaped. Later, Billy the Kid would be blamed for killing Carlyle.

Trailed by the resolute Pat Garrett; Billy the Kid, Billy Wilson, Dave Rudabaugh, Tom O’Folliard, Charlie Bowdre, and Tom Pickett rode wearily into Fort Sumner, New Mexico on December 19, 1880, and were confronted by Garrett’s posse which had been hiding in an old post hospital building. Lon Chambers and several others leaped from cover as Garrett ordered the outlaws to halt. However, several of the posse members didn’t wait for the outlaws to respond to Garrett’s demand, instead, opening fire on Pickett and O’Folliard, who were riding in front. Pickett and O’Folliard were shot from their saddles, Rudabaugh’s horse caught a bullet and collapsed. Rudabaugh managed to jump onto Wilson’s horse and he and the other outlaws escaped, holing up in an abandoned cabin near Stinking Springs, New Mexico.

Soon, the determined and his posse tracked the outlaws down to Stinking Springs, New Mexico and surrounded the hideout. Inside of the house were Billy, Charlie Bowdre, Rudabaugh, Tom Pickett and Billy Wilson.

When Bowdre passed before an open window, he was shot in the chest. The siege continued until the next day when Rudabaugh finally waved a white flag and the bandits surrendered. Billy the Kid and his gang were captured on December 23, 1880, and taken to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Rudabaugh was then taken to Las Vegas to stand trial. In February 1881, he attempted to avoid being charged with a capital offense, by pleading guilty to the Las Vegas train robbery in October 1879. However, his attempt was unsuccessful and he was sentenced to hang for murder. He was then taken to the Las Vegas Old Town Jail to await his execution, where J.J. Webb was continuing to serve his time.

In the meantime, Billy the Kid was jailed at Lincoln, New Mexico where he escaped on April 28, 1881. However, he was soon tracked down and killed by Pat Garrett on July 14, 1881.

Rudabaugh, Webb, and two other men by the names of Thomas Duffy and H.S. Wilson tried unsuccessfully to shoot their way out of jail on September 19, 1881. Duffy was mortally wounded and their attempt was unsuccessful. However, Webb, facing life in prison, and Rudabaugh the threat of hanging, were determined.

Two months later, Webb and Rudabaugh, along with five other men, chipped a stone out of the jail wall and escaped out of a 7″x19″ hole. Rudabaugh and Webb raced to Texas and then to Mexico where Webb disappeared. Later Webb returned to Kansas, where he took the name “Samuel King,” and worked as a teamster. He died of smallpox in 1882 in Arkansas.

There are two stories as to what became of Rudabaugh, the most common of which is:

On February 18, 1886, Rudabaugh was involved in a cantina card game in Parral, Chihuahua, Mexico which broke up after accusations of cheating. Rudabaugh and a Mexican man faced off and Rudabaugh shot him through the head. When another player drew and fired Rudabaugh put a bullet into his heart. Unable to find his horse, Rudabaugh returned to the cantina, which was now in total darkness. On entering Rudabaugh was jumped and decapitated. For the next several days, his killers were said to have paraded through town with his head on a pole.

Another story tells that Rudabaugh finally left Mexico with a herd of cattle headed to Montana where he lived a normal life, married and fathered three daughters. Later he died, an alcoholic in Oregon in 1928.


Allegedly, the head of Dirty Dave Rudabaugh

Allegedly, the head of Dirty Dave Rudabaugh

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated June, 2018.

Also See:

Billy The Kid – Teenage Outlaw of the Southwest

The Dodge City Gang

Las Vegas New Mexico

Pat Garrett

Fort Sumner

Outlaws & Legends

12 thoughts on “Dirty Dave Rudabaugh – Feared by Billy the Kid”

  1. I don’t buy the cantina story. That ain’t the head of a 30-year-old man; more like a man in his fifties at the least. More likely the man was impersonating Rudabaugh to inspire fear into the local populace, and it backfired on him. Very convenient “demise” for the real Dirty Dave, however, with no modern forensic investigation or even a grave to dig up to check the evidence. I’d say Dirty Dave had himself the perfect opportunity to create a new identity and start all over again –“fresh and clean”. ;D

    1. Its a nice fairy story but real life is hardly ever that pink and fluffy. People like Rude Bog don’t just dissapear into obscurity because they are addicted to their celebrity status and the attention and I highly doubt Rude Bog was capable of living a quiet life after the nonsense he’d been involved in (by all accounts he was easily three times as worse as even the worst desperado, and had an attitude to boot – at least the Kid had some kind of personality going for him). Given how hated he was, do you seriously think they’d allow him to come back and settle? Nothing much gets past the law in the those days. If Billy can get it, anyone can get it. And billy did get it. Billy and Rude Bog both had things in common, both addicted to their status and both pushing their limits harder and harder. People like that dont just decide to stop because they cant stop. Once you’ve gone over a certain line, there’s no going back. It’s why thrill seekers would rather kill themselves living life to the full than die slowly on the porch. Can you see Rude Bog and Billy dying slowly on a porch? Me neither. They went out like they lived, fast and violently – and I’ll bet neither of them would have had it no other way. Those boys woudn’t want to rot on normal street, they wouldn’t know how and they wouldn’t have liked to try. Too quiet, not enough drama.

      Your boy ended up with his head on a pole, and my boy ended up getting shot in the dark by a coward. Lets just live with it. Gotta take the rough if you’re gonna love the smooth.

    2. Another piece of common sense proof that Rude Bog ended up as pole fodder is this. By all accounts, this was a man prone to argument. He spoke to people like crap and was as cold and cruel as they come. Do you really see a man like that settling down quietly or being able to do? Face it, he was maladjusted to normal life, someone would have noticed him at some point because he’d have gotten into a fight with someone sooner or later, and guys like that dont have small fist fights, you know what I mean? Billy was the same, you could tell he was gone because his quick temper never rose anywhere else enough to get attention. You dont just turn a quick temper off……some ordinary everyday thing sparks it off and all of a sudden you’ve got law at your door. Next thing you know it’s “hey dont I know you from somewhere?” and the next thing you know after that is “you USED to know me from somewhere, bye bye cop”. Come on though, you know it’s true.

  2. Outlaw, Randol Reynolds died 1927 is buried in Bent, New Mexico. His headstone reads, “Rode with Billy The Kid”.

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