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The Outlaw "Dirty Dave" Rudabaugh

Updated on June 25, 2015

“Dirty Dave” Rudabaugh was born in Fulton County, Illinois in July of 1854 with the surname Rodenbaugh. Historians and writers have referred to him as “Dirty Dave,” claiming he got the moniker because he seldom bathed. But, it’s questionable if he ever actually used the name. In any case, it’s nothing to raise a stink about.

Rudabaugh was a notorious cattle rustler, stagecoach and train robber during the 1870s and 80s. He was known to have ridden with the infamous “Billy the Kid” and some say, the only man Billy ever feared.

Not much is known about his early years except his father was killed in the Civil War and the family moved several times between Illinois, Ohio and Kansas. Some researchers believe Rudabaugh left Ohio in 1870 or 71 because he participated in a train robbery there.

Others hold his outlaw career began about 1873 when he joined up with Mysterious Dave Mather and others along the Arkansas and Texas border that were rustling cattle and robbing stages. But when the law got on their trail the gang split up. Rudabaugh headed for the Black Hills where he continued robbing stage coaches.

It was around 1876 when Dave drifted into Dodge City. There he found two other shady characters, Mike Roarke and Dan Dement. They formed a gang which became known as “the Trio.” The three specialized in holdups and cattle rustling.

Within a short time three others teamed up with them and the group became known as the "Rudabaugh-Roarke Gang." The gang decided to expand their operations to include train robbing. This apparently wasn’t their specialty. They bungled their first attempt in January 1878 at Kinsley, Kansas and were forced to flee empty handed. The following day a small posse headed by famed lawman Bat Masterson captured Rudabaugh and another gang member. The rest of the gang was soon rounded up as well.

Dave might not have been a good train robber but he wasn’t stupid. In order to avoid prosecution he snitched on the other gang members, telling who did what to whom. He walked away a free man. He later signed on as a hired gun in the Royal Gorge War.

The Royal Gorge Railroad War was a historic event lasting about two years between the Denver and Rio Grande, Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroads. Since only one railroad could lay tracks through the narrow gorge a battle ensued over who would get the rights.

It was then Dave ran into John J. Webb, a man who had been in the posse that had captured him earlier. However, now they became fast friends and following the rail war in July of 1879, the pair moved on to Las Vegas, New Mexico Territory.

Dirty Dave, had always been a crook and he wasn’t about to go legit now. He and Webb hooked up with another group of bad guys called the Dodge City Gang. This gang of rogues who were more or less running the town had to “get out of Dodge,” so moved to greener pastures in Las Vegas.

Reputedly Dave's Head

The Dodge City Gang was still being headed up by Justice of the Peace Hyman G. Neill, also known as Hoodoo Brown. Once the gang became established in Vegas, Neill began appointing his guys as city officials and lawmen…including Dave and Webb.

When one of their gang was killed by three men, Dave and Webb, along with several other gang members retaliated by lynching the trio. After that it was back to business as usual robbing trains and stagecoaches. However, Webb’s criminal past caught up with him and he was arrested and sentenced to hang for the killing of a prominent cattleman in 1880.

Well, Dave wasn’t going to stand idly by while his pal got his neck stretched. He and gang member Jack Allen tried to bust Webb out of the Las Vegas jail. Unfortunately, Deputy Sheriff Antonio Valdez was shot and killed by Dave in the failed attempt. Dave later shot and killed Allen, who had a habit of talking too much and could have blown his cover.

Dave and fellow outlaw Tom Pickett left Las Vegas and made tracks for Fort Sumner where they ran into Billy the Kid and his mob of cattle rustlers. Their resume’s suited Billy just fine and he inducted the two into his outfit. In November of 1880, Dave, the Kid and another man named Billy Wilson, shot and killed Deputy James Carlyle at a ranch in the vicinity of White Oaks. That didn’t set well with newly elected Sheriff Pat Garrett.

In mid December Garrett got a crack at some of Billy’s crew as they were riding into town. Garrett had gotten wind Dave, Billy, Charlie Bowdre, Pickett, Wilson and Tom Folliard was heading into Fort Sumner. Garrett and a posse opened fire on them as they rode in. Folliard was killed in the opening volley. The rest high tailed it out of town.

However, a few days later, Garrett’s posse caught up with the desperados. Bowdre was killed and the rest captured. The news of their capture got back to Las Vegas before they did and the prisoners were greeted by a mob of angry citizens, intent on a lynching party. The posse was able to hold the rabble at bay while they were hustled into the jail. Shortly after Dave, the Kid, and Wilson were put on a train bound for Santa Fe to stand trial. As luck would have it, Dave’s old friend Webb was still languishing in the Santa Fe jail awaiting his fate.

In February 1881, Dave was sentenced to ninety-nine years in prison on several counts of robbing the U. S. mail committed during in the course of their stage holdups. He was also found guilty of murdering Deputy Sheriff Antonio Valdez and sentenced to death by hanging which would have made the other sentence a moot point.

But Dave wasn’t partial to that idea and he, along with Webb and a few others, managed to bust out. Once free, the pair headed in separate directions. Webb reportedly went to Arkansas and Dave headed towards Arizona. There were rumors he wound up in Tombstone and got mixed up in the Earp-Clanton feud.

Dave was next heard to be in Mexico where he had a gang of cattle rustlers and worked on several ranches. When he got caught rustling cattle from one of his employers in 1886 he was subsequently fired.

Rudabaugh next tried a different tactic, being a town bully. He moved into the quiet, peaceful town of Parral, Mexico and took it over unopposed. That was alright for the law abiding citizens of Parral…as long as he didn’t cause any trouble. But that wasn’t Dave’s nature. He was bound to cause a disturbance sooner or later.

It happened in February. Dave was playing cards in a cantina when one player accused another of cheating. In the next instance everybody had a gun in their hand. Dave shot and killed two men and wounded another. Dave walked out of the cantina unscathed planning to ride off into the sunset but his horse was nowhere to be found so he went back inside. But apparently the citizens of Parral had had their fill of Dave the bully. As he walked back inside he was shot several times. Dave sprawled dead on the floor. The outraged citizens also decapitated him. His head was then placed on a pole and paraded about town.

At least that’s what most historians have recorded. Some sources say Dave escaped, married, fathered three daughters and died an alcoholic in Oregon in 1928.


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    • profile image


      4 months ago

      Just fyi, the man in the first photo is not Dave Rudabaugh. It is an unidentified antique store find.

    • profile image

      Jeff Schaer 

      10 months ago

      A great wealth of information and history in this piece . Only one thing ,Why would one be considered intelligent for snitching out his crew I wonder ? Written by a true coward and snitch I'd say

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Great, thanks for sharing this awesome hub.Really thank you!

      Ron from Fitness Tips


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