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The Dodge City Gang

The Dodge City Gang were a group of Kansas gunfighters and gamblers who dominated the political and economic life of Las Vegas, New Mexico in 1879 and early 1880. It attracted a number of opportunists and outlaws. The gang was composed largely of fighters from the recent Railroad Wars of Raton, New Mexico, and Royal Gorge, Colorado. These included John Joshua Webb, "Dirty" Dave Rudabaugh, and Mysterious Dave Mather. The gang was a loose-knit association, and its putative leader was Hyman Neill, better known as Hoodoo Brown, who had secured the position of justice of the peace. Doc Holliday was in town and was friendly with gang members, though he is not generally listed as a member.

The gang managed to get members or friends into local law enforcement positions, with the idea being, for the most part, that their actions were to control the gambling establishments and rake in huge profits. Some members, notably Dave Rudabaugh, seemed unsatisfied with this and were suspected of several stagecoach robberies and other criminal acts. The town's rough reputation drew a number of lawless characters. Billy the Kid passed through in 1879, as did Jesse James, though neither was ever a part of the gang. A local legend has the two famous outlaws meeting for dinner in the Old Adobe Hotel in nearby Hot Springs, New Mexico. Supposedly Jesse invited Billy to come to Missouri and join his gang but the Kid declined. However, that is generally viewed as legend, and it is not confirmed that the two ever even met.

Mysterious Dave was rumored to have been a descendant of Cotton Mather. His sobriquet accurately describes the true extent of knowledge about his background and final years. It is known that by 1873 this native of Connecticut was involved with rustlers in Sharp County, Arkansas. A year later he was hunting buffalo, but after suffering a stomach slash in a Dodge City knife fight he went to New Mexico, where he consorted with horse thieves and stage robbers. While in Mobeetie, near Fort Elliott in the Texas Panhandle, Mather reputedly killed a man following a quarrel.

In 1879 Dave H. Mather and several other shady characters were arrested with the notorious outlaw Dutch Henry Born. Mather was soon released, but within months he was again arrested for complicity in a train robbery in the vicinity of Las Vegas. After trial he was acquitted, and almost immediately he secured an appointment as a constable in Las Vegas. For a few months he was quite active as a peace officer, but in the spring of 1880 he traveled with three other prospectors to the gold fields of Gunnison, Colorado.

By November Mather was back in Las Vegas. He helped some friends break from the city jail and then went to Texas. He was first in San Antonio, then went to Dallas and finally to Fort Worth, where he was arrested for stealing a gold ring and chain from a Negro woman.

In 1883 Mather moved to Dodge City and was appointed deputy city marshal and deputy sheriff of Ford County. There were complaints that Mysterious Dave was a bully and was too cooperative with criminals, and when he ran for city constable in February, 1884, he was defeated.

A few months later an old feud with Deputy Marshal Tom Nixon erupted into bloodshed. In June, Nixon wounded Mather in the streets of Dodge, and three days afterward Mysterious Dave shot Nixon to death. Mather eventually won acquittal and briefly turned to farming, but in May, 1885, he became involved in another fatal gunfight in Ashland, Kansas. While awaiting trial, Mather jumped bail and turned up as city marshal of New Kiowa, Kansas. In 1887 he rode into Long Pine, Nebraska, where he had occasionally worked at the depot hotel. But after a year Dave mysteriously and permanently faded into anonymity.

David Rudabaugh was a thorough scoundrel whose first notoriety came in the late 1870's as leader of a gang of thieves and rustlers in Texas. By 1878 he had shifted his activities to Kansas, where he led four men in a train holdup at Kinsley on Sunday, January 27. But a few days later Rudabaugh and Edgar West were caught in camp by Bat Masterson and a posse; Dave went for his gun, but was forced to surrender when John Joshua Webb threw down on him. Later, two of Dave's other accomplices were arrested, but Rudabaugh won release by giving evidence against his fellow thieves.

Rudabaugh piously pledged "to earn his living on the square," but he soon drifted to New Mexico and resumed his customary activities. In 1879 he was involved in stagecoach and train robberies in the vicinity of Las Vegas. In Las Vegas he was reunited with several Kansas associates who plagued the town for six months with thievery and confidence games. This "Dodge City gang" was supported by City Marshal John Joshua Webb, but when the marshal was arrested for murder in March, 1880, the gang dispersed.

Rudabaugh, who obviously had forgiven Webb for arresting him two years earlier, attempted to break the wayward lawman out of jail. Rudabaugh suc- ceeded only in killing a peace officer, however, and he then fled and joined Billy the Kid's band of outlaws. With the Kid he was involved in rustling and shooting scrapes. Following a dogged pursuit by Pat Garrett, Rudabaugh surrendered with the Kid in December, 1880. Convicted of murder and sentenced to be hanged, he was incarcerated in Las Vegas, where John Joshua Webb was serving time.

Rudabaugh, Webb, and two others tried to shoot their way out of jail in September, 1881, and two months later Rudabaugh, Webb, and five other prisoners successfully escaped by digging through the walls. Rudabaugh and Webb went to Texas and on to Mexico, where Webb disappeared. Rudabaugh became foreman of a ranch owned by the governor of Chihuahua, but following rustling difficulties he fled to Parral, where, after robbing and shooting incidents, he was beheaded in 1886.

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, III and Innocent Blue Brown Webb. Sometime between 1838 and 1840, the family moved to Sangamon County, Illinois, and in 1862, moved again to Nebraska. 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.

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 and Santa Fe railroad in their battle against the Denver & Rio Grande railroad for right-of-way through the Royal Gorge in Colorado.

Numerous news articles from the Dodge City papers showed Webb to be a well-respected member of the Dodge City community. J.J. Webb was a deputized to ride in several posses during his stay in Dodge. In September of 1877, Webb went to Lakin, Kansas, with Ford County Sheriff Charlie Bassett and Under-sheriff Bat Masterson in pursuit of the Sam Bass gang who were heading south toward Texas. Bass and his gang had recently robbed a Union Pacific train of $60,000 at Big Springs, Nebraska. Their expected route home would lead them through southwest Kansas. The search was unsuccessful; Bass eluded numerous posses to finally meet his death July 21, 1878, in Round Rock, Texas.

On Tuesday, January 29, 1878, Webb was deputized along with two other men by new Ford County Sheriff Bat Masterson to aid him in pursuit of a six-member gang who had robbed the westbound train at Kinsley, Kansas, two days earlier. He and his accomplice Edgar West were caught within days by Sheriff Bat Masterson and his posse, which included John Joshua Webb. 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 of 1878, considerable fear and excitement swept through southwest Kansas as Cheyenne Chief Dull Knife and his band were heading for their ancestral home in the Black Hills. Reports of killing and pillaging perpetrated by the Indians were flooding into Dodge City daily. As only nineteen soldiers remained at nearby Fort Dodge, the rest were out hunting Dull Knife and his starving band, the citizens of Dodge City wired the governor to send them arms and ammunition. The requested weapons were sent at once. Colonel William H. Lewis, Commandant of Fort Dodge selected J.J. Webb; Bill Tilghman; A. J. Anthony; and Robert Wright, and other experienced plainsmen, to scout the area. They brought back a report that 200 warriors were in the area. As more reports of atrocities continued to pour into Dodge, Dull Knife's band quickly swept out of the area and things again returned to normal.

It was in 1879 that Webb worked with as a hired gun for the Atchison, Topeka and 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 on to 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 nemisis, Dave Rudabaugh.

In 1880, Webb accepted the position of City Marshal. While City Marshal, he 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 stage coach and train robberies, organized cattle rustling, and were said to have been responsible for multiple murders and lynchings.

The Dodge City Gang was comprised of a judge, a group of peace officers, and several known outlaws with ties to Dodge City who were tormenting the citizens in and around Las Vegas at the time. The "gang" consisted of Justice of the Peace Hyman G. "Hoodoo Brown" Neill, City Marshal Joe Carson, Deputy U. S. Marshal and later Las Vegas marshal "Mysterious Dave" Mather, policeman John Joshua (J.J.) Webb, hard cases "Dirty Dave" Rudabaugh, Selim K. "Frank" Cady, William P. "Slap Jack Bill" Nicholson, John "Bull Shit Jack" Pierce, Jordan L. Webb (no relation to J.J.), and various other notorious gunmen. While Rudabaugh, Cady, Nicholson, Pierce, Jordan Webb, and the rest would commit acts of thievery, Neill, Carson, Mather and J.J. Webb, in their official capacities, were suspected of helping cover their tracks.

On March 2, 1880, Hyman Neill learned that a freighter by the name of Mike Kelliher was carrying about $1900 on his person. 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.

Regardless of his status as a City Marshal, Webb was convicted of murder and sentenced to hang. On April 30th, Rudabaugh, along with a man named John Allen burst through the Sheriff's office to free Webb. Though the jail break was unsuccessful, Rudabaugh murdered jailer Antonio Lino in the process. Webb's sentence was appealed and commuted to life in prison. Rudabaugh soon fled Las Vegas along with a Dodge City Gang member, hooking up with Billy the Kid and his gang. However, Rudabaugh, along with Billy the Kid were captured on December 23, 1880.

After Dirty Dave's conviction, he found himself in jail with J.J. Webb. Rudabaugh, Webb, 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.

Two months later, Webb and Rudabaugh, along with 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 on to Winslow, Arkansas working for the railroad. In 1882 he died of smallpox in Arkansas. John Joshua Webb never married.

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