Decapitated head of Dirty Dave Rudabaugh
Dirty Dave Rudabaugh (original family name was Rodenbaugh, although the name has been spelled about a dozen different ways) was born in Fulton County, Illinois on July 14, 1854. Most of Dave's early life is shrouded in mystery, but this we do know: his father was killed in the Civil War and Dave and his family moved from Illinois, to Ohio, back to Illinois, and finally to Eureka, Kansas. It's possible that the family left Ohio because Dave and an accomplice robbed a train there in 1870 or 1871. In the early 1870s, Dave left his family in Eureka for parts unknown. He became an outlaw around 1873 when he began holding-up stagecoaches and rustling cattle with Mysterious Dave Mather, Milt Yarberry, and others on the Texas-Arkansas border. When the law began chasing them, they split up and Dave headed North. He may have started robbing stagecoaches in the Black Hills around this time. Around 1876, Dave traveled to the Dodge City, Kansas, area. He joined up with Mike Roarke and Dan Dement to form a group of cattle rustlers and hold-up men called "the Trio." It has been said that Dave taught Doc Holliday how to use a gun and Doc taught Dave how to play cards around this time, but it seems a little unlikely, to say the least. Wyatt Earp was said to have tracked Dave and Roarke in 1877 to Fort Griffen, Texas, but they doubled back to Dodge City and evaded him. Others say it was Virgil Earp that tracked them. By late 1877, the Trio gained three more members, namely Tom Golt (or Gott), Edgar West, and J. D. Green and became known as the "Rudabaugh-Roarke Gang." The gang decided to rob trains now and made their first attempt at train robbery on January 27, 1878 at Kinsley, Kansas. However, the robbery went sour and the gang was forced to flee the scene of crime without a dollar of loot. The next day, Dave was captured with Ed West by Bat Masterson and a small posse. The others were captured soon after. Dave decided to testify in court against his accomplices since he would then get complete immunity for himself. After he testified, Dave was released. He later signed on as a hired gun in the Royal Gorge War, where he met up with John Joshua Webb, who had been in the posse that captured Dave and West. Dave and Webb became best friends and after the war, in early July of 1879, they went to Las Vegas, New Mexico Territory. There, they joined the Dodge City Gang, a gang of killers, thugs, gamblers, highwaymen, and train robbers that had relocated to Vegas from Dodge. The gang was led by Justice of the Peace Hyman G. Neill (AKA: Hoodoo Brown), so Neill made all the other gang members law officials, including Dave and Webb, who were both made policemen. Another gang member was Mysterious Dave Mather, Rudabaugh's old friend from Arkansas. When gang member Joe Carson was killed by three men, Dave, Webb, Mather, Neill, and several other gang members lynched the three killers. In the next few months, the gang robbed one train and two stagecoaches, Dave participating in each exploit. In the spring of 1880, Webb was arrested and sentenced to hang for the killing of local cattleman Michael Kelliher and on April 30, 1880, Dave and gang member Little Jack Allen attempted to break him out of the Las Vegas jail. Deputy Sheriff (and jailer) Antonio Lino Valdez was shot and killed by Dave in the process of the escape attempt, but Webb was not rescued. Dave, Allen, and fellow Dodge City Gang member Tom Pickett traveled south to the Fort Sumner area and got work there on the Thomas Yerby ranch as a cover. Allen was eventually shot and killed by Dave, possibly because Dave feared Allen would betray him. In late May or so, Dave and Pickett were introduced to Billy the Kid by fellow Yerby ranch-hand Charlie Bowdre. The two men then joined the Rustlers, Billy the Kid's gang, and participated in many of the gang's raids throughout New Mexico and the Texas panhandle. On Nov. 27, 1880, Dave, the Kid, and Billy Wilson killed Deputy James Carlyle at the ranch of Jim Greathouse and Fred Kuch, forty miles or so north of White Oaks. On Dec. 19, 1880, while Dave, Billy, Bowdre, Pickett, Wilson, and Tom Folliard were riding into Fort Sumner, Sheriff-elect Pat Garrett and his posse opened fire on them. In the melee, O'Folliard was killed as was Dave's horse. A few days later, on Dec. 23, 1880, Dave, Billy, Pickett, and Wilson were captured and Charlie Bowdre killed by Pat Garrett and his posse. They were taken back to Las Vegas, where a mob had gathered for the purpose of lynching Dave for the murder of Dep. Valdez. The Garrett posse stood off the mob though and Dave, the Kid, and Wilson were taken by train to Santa Fe. There, in February 1881, Dave was indicted on two charges of robbing the U. S. mail in connection to the stage robberies, and one charge of attempted mail robber in connection with the train robbery. He pleaded guilty to all charges and was sentenced to ninety-nine years in prison. He was then tried in Santa Fe on the murder charge of Lino Valdez, was found guilty, and sentenced to death by hanging, with the date slated as May 20, 1881. He was reunited with Webb in jail and after one very unsuccessful escape attempt in which one fellow prisoner was killed, the pair eventually escaped with a few others. Dave and Webb split up once they were free, with Webb going to Arkansas and Dave going to Arizona. Dave may have gone to Tombstone and joined the Clanton Gang during the infamous Earp-Clanton feud. Dave possibly participated in the attempted assassination of Virgil Earp and the assassination of Morgan Earp. He was very probably in the gunfight at Iron Springs in which Wyatt Earp killed Curly Bill Brocius. Dave later traveled to Mexico and led a gang of rustlers there. He also worked on several ranches in Mexico, all the while stealing the cattle of his employers. When he was fired from a ranching job for stealing cattle in early 1886, Dave went to the town of Parral, Mexico. Dave took over the town basically and no one tried to stop him. By February 18, the town got tired of him. On that day, Dave was in the local cantina causing trouble. He started playing a card game with a few locals. Someone called someone else a cheater and everyone drew their guns. Dave shot one man through the head, killed him, shot another through the heart, killed him, and another in the arm, wounding him. Dave was unhurt. He left the cantina to get his horse, but couldn't find it, so he reentered the cantina. As he entered the dark room, he was shot several times by a group of outraged citizens hiding shadows. He fell dead, and the same citizens who just killed him decapitated him. His head was then placed on a pole and gladly paraded around town, with a few photos being taken of the memorable event. Afterwords, his body and head were either buried in a unmarked grave fit for a rabid dog, or left on a hillside for the vultures to consume. However, some other sources say Dave escaped and died in Oregon in 1928, a destitute rancher.
Dirty Dave Rudabaugh's head on a pole
This is a photo of Dave's head, placed on a pole by Parral, Mexico citizens. The pole was paraded around the town plaza with Dave's head on top of it.