Dave Rudabaugh was known as an outlaw from Dodge City, Kansas to Texas and to the New Mexico Territory. Quite possibly, he was born David Raudebaugh. At least one account says that he was orphaned when his father was killed in the Civil War, but another likely family history is that he came from a very large family who lived mostly in and around Wayne County, Ohio. Indications now are that Dave may have been born in 1854 to John A. Raudebaugh (1826 – 1910) and Susanna Soliday Raudebaugh (1830 – 1910). While the genealogy records on this family are somewhat thin at this time, the 1860 federal census showed a David Raudebaugh of the right age as the second of five children to a farming family by that last name. The 1870 federal census shows this same David as the second oldest of six siblings of what appears to be the same family unit. This particular family is mentioned later in local Ohio newspaper accounts from time to time, usually around Wooster, Ohio. Dave or David is not mentioned in newspaper accounts among the very few than refer to this family. So, the two census records indicate that Dave may have been part of that family unit at one time, but there are no obvious records that tie him as an adult back to the Ohio family.
After 1870, Dave is believed to have moved to the West where his outlaw life began. He is first mentioned in the area north of Abilene at the town of Fort Griffin that grew up alongside the military fort of the same name. There he is rumored to have been part of an area gang that committed robberies and cattle rustling.
The town of Fort Griffin developed as a way point for cattle drives and passing buffalo hunters as well. It consisted of saloons, bordellos, gambling houses and the like. Gamblers and gunmen who were known to patronize the town included Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, Pat Garrett and many others. It had an attraction for passing criminals as well. At its peak it is estimated to have had a population of around one thousand people. It had other domestic services such as boarding houses, livery stables, bakeries, a barber shop and for a short time even had its own newspaper. The military fort was in existence for about fifteen years, from about 1867 to 1881. Once the buffalo herds were hunted down, the cattle drives were replaced by shipping via rail and the threats from area tribes were reduced, the town died out.
By late 1877 and early 1878, he is said to have relocated to Kansas. He and his gang were accused of robbing a Santa Fe railroad construction camp in late 1877. Then in early 1878, they were accused of robbing a train in Kinsie, Kansas. This attracted the attention of authorities and in late January was captured by a posse led by Bat Masterson. A member of the posse named John Joshua Webb had been instrumental in the arrest. Rudabaugh escaped punishment for this crime by turning against his fellow robbers and promising to go straight, though this promise was quickly broken.
The names of Rudabaugh and Webb would be mentioned together at least twice more. Rudabaugh had come to the New Mexico Territory with another group of outlaws including Dave Mather in an area in which Webb was working as Marshall. There, they began to rob trains and stagecoaches. Webb was serving as a lawman in Las Vegas, New Mexico where he is said to have tacitly allowed Rudabaugh and his associates (a group that came to be known as the “Dodge City Gang” and included “Mysterious Dave” Mather, Joe Carson, “Hoodoo” Brown and others) to operate until Webb himself was charged with murder after a fatal shooting in a Las Vegas saloon. Local papers have Webb being convicted of the murder of a man named Kelliher. Webb was sentenced to hanging, though that sentence was later commuted by the territorial governor and reduced to life in prison. About 1880, Rudabaugh and an associate tried to break Webb out of the Las Vegas jail, but were unsuccessful on this occasion, although another lawman was killed in the process.
Rudabaugh then became associated with Billy the Kid, possibly through another former “Dodge City Gang” member named Pickett. A December 16, 1880 paragraph in the Daily New Mexican out of Santa Fe attributes the Las Vegas Optic of saying Billy the Kid, Rudabaugh and another outlaw named Billy Wilson were all three killed by lawmen, but that turned out to be false. Rudabaugh, Billy the Kid and other outlaws including Pickett were later arrested by Sheriff Pat Garrett after a rural shootout in 1881 and were taken to jail in Las Vegas, New Mexico. As luck would have it, John J. Webb was also lodged in the same jail. In late 1881, Webb, Rudabaugh and five others managed to escape this jail by removing stones in the wall and creating an opening just large enough for them to squeeze through.
Rudabaugh is often now referred to as “Dirty Dave” Rudabaugh, presumably from his disregard for personal hygiene. However, in newspaper archives, and the articles about him are not that numerous, none during his lifetime mention any nicknames for Rudabaugh. Mather, on the other hand, was called “Mysterious Dave” Mather in newspaper articles that refer to him by his nickname. “Hoodoo” Brown also went by his nickname in period newspaper articles. Billy the Kid, of course, had a proper name, but was quite often just referred to by his nickname.
After escaping into Texas, Rudabaugh and Webb parted ways for what would be the final time. Webb headed northeast to Arkansas and changed his name. Rudabaugh headed to Mexico. Webb’s story soon ended, though not by violence. He was successful in avoiding being recaptured for his earlier New Mexico conviction, but he died of smallpox in 1882.
Rudabaugh first settled into a life of cowboying for a Mexican landowner. Living in Chihuahua, he seemed to be safe from United States authorities, but trouble still managed to find him in 1886. The generally accepted account of his demise is that he got into a shooting match over a saloon card game. Rudabaugh managed to kill two of the other players, but after leaving the scene for a while, he returned to the saloon only to be overcome by local citizens. The legend ends with him being decapitated. Like many other outlaws, there is also a parallel story that he escaped this fate and instead he was married, had a family and died many years later.
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