John Joshua Webb – Lawman Turned Outlaw

John Joshua Webb

John Joshua Webb

Serving most of his adult life as a lawman, John Joshua Webb (J.J.) was also a hunter, teamster, surveyor, hired gun, and member of the notorious Dodge City Gang in Las Vegas, New Mexico.

Born on February 14, 1847, in Keokuk County, Iowa, J.J. was the seventh of twelve children born to William Webb, Jr. and Innocent Blue Brown Webb.

In 1862, the family moved to Nebraska and then, later, to Osage City, Kansas. Webb traveled west in 1871, becoming a buffalo hunter and then a surveyor in Colorado. He then drifted from Deadwood, South Dakota, to Cheyenne, Wyoming, to Dodge City, Kansas.

Over the years, Webb would lead an adventurous life from lawman to outlaw, meeting numerous characters, such as Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, and more.

The 1875 census of Ford County listed J.J. Webb as a 28-year-old teamster. Later he would serve as a business owner, peace officer, and a leader of Ford County’s mercenary force on the side of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad in their battle against the Denver & Rio Grande railroad for right–of–way through the Royal Gorge in Colorado.

Dodge City Kansas 1875

Dodge City, circa 1875

Numerous news articles from the Dodge City papers showed Webb to be a well-respected member of the Dodge City community. While there, he was deputized to ride in several posses. September 1877 found him riding with Ford County Sheriff Charlie Bassett and Under-sheriff Bat Masterson to Lakin, Kansas, in pursuit of Sam Bass and his gang, who had recently robbed the Union Pacific Railroad of $60,000 at Big Springs, Nebraska. The posse assumed the gang would pass through southwest Kansas when heading south to Texas. However, their search was unsuccessful, and Bass continued to elude lawmen for almost another year until he was finally killed on July 21, 1878, after an attempted bank robbery in Round Rock, Texas.

Bat Masterson

Bat Masterson, 1879

By January 1878, Bat Masterson had been made the new Ford County Sheriff. On January 29, he deputized Webb, along with two other men named Kinch Riley and Dave “Prairie Dog” Morrow, to help him track down six outlaws who had robbed the westbound train at Kinsley, Kansas, two days earlier. Two gang members, Edgar West and “Dirty Dave” Rudabaugh, were caught within days by the posse. During the arrest, 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 September 1878, southwest Kansas settlers were fearful and restless as word came that Cheyenne Chief Dull Knife and his band had fled from their reservation in Oklahoma and were headed to their home in the Black Hills. Exaggerated reports of killing and thievery committed by the Cheyenne on their journey began to be told in Dodge City. The bulk of the soldiers at nearby Fort Dodge was sent out to corral the Indians, leaving only about nineteen troops to protect the area. Unnecessarily frightened for their lives, Dodge City citizens wired the governor requesting arms and ammunition.

The weapons were received within days. Lieutenant Colonel William Henry Lewis, the Fort Dodge Commander, selected J.J. Webb, A. J. Anthony, Bill Tilghman, Robert Wright, and other experienced plainsmen to scout the area. The men soon brought back word that some 200 warriors were in the area, and the rumors of their acts continued to grow, with headlines screaming, “Not a child or a woman in Kansas or Nebraska is safe.” However, Dull Knife’s band only wanted to return to their ancestral home and soon removed themselves from the area, and things finally returned to normal.

It was in 1879 that Webb worked as a hired gun for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad in their battle against the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad for right–of–way through the Royal Gorge in Colorado.

Soon, John Joshua Webb moved again to Las Vegas, New Mexico. Though J.J. Webb had been counted among the leading citizens of Dodge City in Las Vegas, matters would take an entirely different turn. When he arrived, many of his acquaintances were there from Dodge, including Henry “Doc” Holliday, David “Mysterious Dave” Mather, Wyatt Earp, and his old nemesis, Rudabaugh.

Shortly after he arrived in Las Vegas, Webb partnered with Doc Holliday in operating a saloon, where Doc spent most of his time gambling. On July 19, 1879, the two were seated at a card table when a bully and former army scout named Mike Gordon began to yell loudly at one of the saloon girls. A former “girlfriend,” she had rejected him while he was trying to convince her to leave town with him. Furious, Gordon stormed out of the saloon shouting obscenities. When Doc followed the unruly man outside, a shot from Gordon’s gun whizzed past him. Calmly pulling his revolver, Doc shot one time, leaving Gordon in the dusty street. Gordon died the next day, and when word spread that Doc would be arrested for the killing, he fled to Dodge City.

Las Vegas, New Mexico

Las Vegas, New Mexico

In 1880, Webb accepted the position of Las Vegas City Marshal. In that capacity, he soon joined the Dodge City Gang led by Justice of the Peace Hyman Neill, known as “Hoodoo Brown.” The Dodge City Gang was firmly in control of a criminal cartel bent on thumbing their noses at the law. For two years, the members of the Dodge City Gang participated in several stagecoach and train robberies, organized cattle rustling, and were said to have been responsible for multiple murders and lynchings.

The Dodge City Gang consisted of men formerly from Dodge City, including Justice of the Peace Hyman “Hoodoo Brown” Neill; City Marshal Joe Carson, Deputy U. S. Marshal “Mysterious Dave” Mather, and police officer John Joshua (J.J.) Webb, and several gunfighters and outlaws, including “Dirty Dave” Rudabaugh, William P. “Slap Jack Bill” Nicholson, John “Bull Shit Jack” Pierce, Selim K. “Frank” Cady, Jordan L. Webb (no relation to J.J.), and several other hard cases. While Rudabaugh, Jordan Webb, Cady, Nicholson, Pierce, and the rest committed acts of thievery, Neill, Mather, Carson, and J.J. Webb, in their official capacities, helped to cover the outlaws’ tracks.

On March 2, 1880, Justice of the Peace, “Hoodoo Brown,” learned that a freighter named Mike Kelliher was allegedly carrying about $1900 and the unlawful Dodge City Gang was determined to relieve him of the cash. 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, entered Goodlet [a member of the Dodge City Gang] & 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.”

J.J. Webb, shackled in the center of the photo, next to his jailers at the Old Town Jail in Las Vegas, New Mexico.

J.J. Webb, shackled in the center of the photo, next to his jailers at the Old Town Jail in Las Vegas, New Mexico.

Despite his status as a City Marshal, Webb was convicted of murder and sentenced to hang. On April 30, Rudabaugh and a man named John Allen burst through the Sheriff’s office to free Webb. Though the jailbreak was unsuccessful, Rudabaugh murdered jailer Antonio Lino. Webb’s sentence was appealed, and commuted to life in prison.

Rudabaugh soon fled Las Vegas with another Dodge City Gang member, hooking up with Billy the Kid and his gang. However, Rudabaugh and Billy the Kid were captured on December 23, 1880.

After Dirty Dave’s conviction, he was in jail with J.J. Webb. Soon, the pair 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.

Allegedly, the head of Dirty Dave Rudabaugh

Allegedly, the head of Dirty Dave Rudabaugh

Two months later, Webb and Rudabaugh and 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, and Rudabaugh was later killed.

Later Webb returned to Kansas, where he took the name “Samuel King” and worked as a teamster. Somewhere along the line, he moved to Winslow, Arkansas working for the railroad. In 1882 he died of smallpox in Arkansas. John Joshua Webb never married.

© Kathy Alexander/Legends of America, updated November 2022.

Also See:

Dodge City Gang

Las Vegas, New Mexico – As Wicked as Dodge City

Lawman of the Old West

Outlaws Of the American West