“Dirty Dave” Rudabaugh, Billy the Kid’s Most Feared Companion
By David G. Thomas
This book is about David Rudabaugh, a man whose life is both obscure and wildly mythologized.
Rudabaugh’s obscurity begins with the spelling of his surname. In the only U.S. census in which he appears, his name is spelled Radenbaugh. His father, in his Civil War service record, spelled his name Rodenbaugh. Rodebaugh is the spelling David uses in his first public document, his confession to an attempted train robbery. Yet, throughout his life, he answered to Rudabaugh, and was usually referred to as such in newspaper accounts and legal documents. That is also how most historians have chosen to spell his name.
“Dirty Dave,” a sobriquet whose original source is unknown, was never applied to Rudabaugh by contemporaries. Its use is relatively recent. The primary source that may have suggested the label is probably this statement in the December 27, 1880, Las Vegas Daily Optic:
“[Rudabaugh was] dressed about the same as when in Las Vegas [nine months earlier], apparently not having made any raids upon clothing stores.”
One of the oft-repeated myths about Rudabaugh is that in the early 1870s he was the leader of a gang of cattle rustlers in Texas (or in Arkansas in some accounts) –- and he even killed a man! In fact, as of March 1, 1875, Rudabaugh was living at home on a farm with his 46-year old, single mother and three younger siblings, two brothers and a sister.
The stories continue: that on leaving Texas, he became the boon companion of such famous Dodge-City personalities as Wyatt and Morgan Earp and John Henry “Doc” Holliday. Supposedly, he taught Doc Holliday how to fight with a gun (or a knife in some accounts). There is no evidence for any of that, and it is not true.
Another myth about Rudabaugh is that he was a “nasty, treacherous bully” who “stole and killed and brutalized people… Dirty Dave would try anything, as long as it was crooked.” Not true. Another fictitious accusation is that Rudabaugh shot a jailer in cold blood. The true account of jailer Antonio Lino Valdez’s fatal shooting is presented for the first time in this book, based on the never-before-published trial transcript. The unquestionable trial evidence shows that it was another man who shot the ill-fated jailer, not Rudabaugh.
Following the jailer’s killing, Rudabaugh fled. Now a wanted man, Rudabaugh teamed up with Billy the Kid and participated prominently in Billy’s final gun battles with authorities. (Rudabaugh and Billy had never met previously.) Famously, Rudabaugh was captured along with Billy at Stinking Springs by Deputy Sheriff Pat Garrett and his posse.
After his capture, Rudabaugh was tried for Valdez’s killing and sentenced to death by hanging. He escaped jail and went to Mexico.
On February 18, 1886, Rudabaugh was killed by a Winchester rifle shot to the chest in Parral, Mexico, by a grocery man named José. Following his killing, Rudabaugh was decapitated by José. His head was placed on a pole and paraded around the Parral plaza. Present at Rudabaugh’s beheading was Albert W. Lohn, a nineteen-year-old photographer.
Lohn took four photographs of Rudabaugh’s decapitated head. The two negatives he printed were confiscated by Mexican authorities. The other two negatives remained in Lohn’s files for 57 years, entirely forgotten by him. The story of how these two negatives were acquired by an avid collector of Western memorabilia is given in this book.
Rudabaugh’s life story is mesmerizing. It is as adventurous as that of any Wild West figure. The events of his life include being both a wanted man and a lawman, a failed train robbery, two successful stage hold-ups, being sentenced to death by hanging, an ingenious jail escape, and an eight month association with Billy the Kid — an association that made him almost as famous in Wild West outlaw history as Billy.
194 pages, 45 images, many never published before. 194 pages.
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-952580-20-8
Hardback ISBN: 978-1-952580-21-5
Table of Contents
List of Images
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