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.
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 jail break 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 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.