In the summer of 1879, a gang of desperados known as the Dodge City Gang made their first appearance in Las Vegas, New Mexico. As the first Santa Fe trains steamed into the territory that summer, it brought with it a whole host of gamblers, ruffians and unsavory characters.
Before long, a group formed called the “Dodge City Gang,” since so many of them had earned reputations for violent behavior in the western cow towns of Kansas.
The Dodge City Gang was firmly in control of a criminal cartel bent on thumbing their noses at the law. For the next two years, the Dodge City Gang participated in several stage coach and train robberies, organized cattle rustling, and were said to have been responsible for multiple murders and lynchings.
The Dodge City Gang was comprised of a judge, a group of peace officers, and several known outlaws with ties to Dodge City who were tormenting the citizens in and around Las Vegas at the time. The “gang” consisted of Justice of the Peace Hyman G. “Hoodoo Brown” Neill; City Marshal Joe Carson; Deputy U. S. Marshal and later, Las Vegas Marshal “Mysterious Dave” Mather; peace officer Tom Pickett; policeman John Joshua (J.J.) Webb, hard cases “Dirty Dave” Rudabaugh, Selim K. “Frank” Cady, Dutch Henry Borne, William P. “Slap Jack Bill” Nicholson, John “Bull Shit Jack” Pierce, Jordan L. Webb (no relation to J.J), and various other notorious gunmen. While Rudabaugh, Cady, Nicholson, Pierce, Jordan Webb, and the rest would commit acts of thievery, Neill, Carson, Mather, and J.J. Webb, in their official capacities, were suspected of helping cover their tracks.
Two stage robberies in August of 1879, and one train robbery in October occurred in the Las Vegas, New Mexico area. Many suspected that the perpetrators were members of the Dodge City Gang.
On August 18, 1879 a Barlow & Sanderson stagecoach was robbed by three men near the village of Tecolote, New Mexico. John Clancy, Jim Dunagan, and Antonio Lopez were arrested for the robbery, however they were not convicted.
Just a few weeks later on August 30, 1879, another Barlow and Sanderson stagecoach was held up. “Frank” Cady, “Slap Jack Bill”, “Bull Shit Jack”, and Jordan L. Webb, all with ties to the Dodge City Gang, were arrested and charged with the second holdup. However, they too, escaped conviction. Dave Rudabaugh would later confess to this crime in cahoots with Las Vegas Marshal Joe Carson and a man named Joseph Martin.
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. In mid–February of 1881, in an attempt to avoid trial on a capital offense, Dave Rudabaugh would plead guilty to the robbery.
At the time of the robbery, Charlie Bassett, Chalk Beeson, and Harry E. Gryden of Dodge City, Kansas, along with J.J. Webb, were hired by the Adams Express Company to investigate the robbery. It is unknown whether Webb was already suspected of being an accomplice in the thefts.
The town was getting a bad name in the rest of the county due to the violence and thievery that prevailed. “Shooting scrapes are of frequent occurrence in that remote region.” reported the Dodge City Times. Miquel Otero, later governor of New Mexico wrote that in one month twenty–nine men were killed in the Las Vegas vicinity. It seemed as if every low-life from Kansas, Texas, and Colorado had congregated in Las Vegas.
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, 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, this assurance would prove to be false, 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, ending their lives before they could be strung up.
Soon after Carson’s death, “Mysterious” Dave Mather would be named marshal and J.J. Webb, a policeman. While none of these crimes were laid at the door of J.J. Webb, as an associate of the Dodge City Gang, his complicity in the matters was widely suspected. The people were up in arms over the killings, thefts, and general rowdiness of their fair city. Two more killings would occur before the Dodge City Gang would head for safer climates. On March 2, 1880, Hyman Neill learned that a freighter by the name of Mike Kelliher was carrying about $1,900 on his person. The Ford County Globe of March 9, 1880, reprinted the report from Las Vegas Daily Optic:
About four o’clock this morning, Michael Kelliher, in company with William Brickley and another man [a member of the Dodge City Gang], entered Goodlet & Roberts’ Saloon and called for drinks. Michael Kelliher appeared to be the leader of the party and he, in violation of the law, had a pistol on his person. This was noticed by the officers, who came through a rear door, and they requested that Kelliher lay aside his revolver. But he refused to do so, remarking, “I won’t be disarmed – everything goes,” immediately placing his hand on his pistol, no doubt intending to shoot. But officer Webb was too quick for him. The man was shot before he had time to use his weapon. He was shot three times–once in each breast and once in the head. . . Kelliher had $1,090 [$1,900] on his person when killed.
Though it was Webb who was arrested, Hoodoo Brown was said to have taken the money.
Shortly thereafter, the citizens of Las Vegas had finally had enough, assembled a party of vigilantes and posted this notice in the Las Vegas Optic on April 8, 1880:
To Murderers, Confidence Men, Thieves:
The citizens of Las Vegas have tired of robbery, murder, and other crimes that have made this town a byword in every civilized community. They have resolved to put a stop to crime, if in attaining that end they have to forget the law and resort to a speedier justice than it will afford. All such characters are therefore, hereby notified, that they must either leave this town or conform themselves to the requirements of law, or they will be summarily dealt with. The flow of blood must and shall be stopped in this community, and the good citizens of both the old and new towns have determined to stop it, if they have to HANG by the strong arm of FORCE every violator of the law in this country. “