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July 14, 1854
Fulton County, Illinois, USA
|Died||February 18, 1886
Parral, Chihuahua, Mexico
David Rudabaugh (July 14, 1854 – February 18, 1886), was an outlaw and gunfighter in the American Old West. Modern writers often refer to him as "Dirty Dave" on account of his alleged aversion to water, no evidence has emerged to show that he was ever referred to as such in his own lifetime.
Rudabaugh was born as David Rodenbaugh in Fulton County, Illinois. His father was killed in the Civil War when Dave was a boy. The family moved around following this, spending time in Illinois, Ohio, and Kansas.
The outlaw career of Dave Rudabaugh began in earnest in Arkansas in the early 1870s. He was part of a band of outlaws who robbed and participated in cattle rustling along with Milton Yarberry and Mysterious Dave Mather. The three were suspected in the death of a rancher and fled the state. By some accounts all three went to Decatur, Texas, but other accounts have Rudabaugh heading to the Black Hills of South Dakota, where he became a stagecoach robber.
Sometime around 1876, Rudabaugh joined Mike Roarke and Dan Dement to form the outlaw band known as the "Trio." There is a disputed story from around this time that Rudabaugh taught Doc Holliday to use a pistol while Doc taught him the finer points of playing cards.
In 1877, Wyatt Earp was tracking the Trio from Dodge City to Fort Griffin, Texas, in the hope of arresting them. He never caught up with them but befriended Doc Holliday and Big Nose Kate while in Fort Griffin. The Trio eluded capture and built up their gang to six members, which was then known as the Rudabaugh-Roarke Gang, and set about attempting to rob trains.
Capture and release
Rudabaugh's gang made their first attempt on a train on January 22, 1878, near Kinsley, Kansas. The robbery was a failure, and the gang came away with no loot. The next day, a posse led by Bat Masterson, including John Joshua Webb, captured Rudabaugh and fellow gang member Ed West. The rest of the gang was captured shortly after. Rudabaugh struck a deal for immunity with the prosecutor and testified against his partners.
Dodge City Gang
During this time he became a very close associate of John Joshua Webb, whom he had met during his earlier arrest. After the railroad wars, he and Webb traveled to the town of Las Vegas, New Mexico, where they became important members of the Dodge City Gang. This gang was a band of ruffians and gamblers who were dominating the political and economic life of the growing community. The leader was Hyman G. Neill (aka Hoodoo Brown). Webb was arrested for murder in the spring of 1880. Dave Rudabaugh and another gang member attempted to break him out of jail on April 5, 1880. The attempt failed, and Rudabaugh shot and killed deputy Antonio Lino Valdez in the process.
The Rustlers and capture
At Stinking Springs (near present-day Taiban, New Mexico), On December 23, 1880 a posse led by Pat Garrett captured Rudabaugh, Billy the Kid, Billy Wilson, and other members of the gang. They were taken to Las Vegas, but the danger of a lynch mob prompted the officers to move them to Santa Fe. In February 1881,while in court, Rudabaugh pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 99 years in prison for several counts of mail robbery. He was then found guilty for the murder of Las Vegas deputy Lino Valdez and was sentenced to death by hanging.
Imprisonment and escape
Rudabaugh was reunited with Webb in jail. After a botched escape attempt in which a fellow prisoner named Thomas Duffy died, he and Webb broke out. Rudabaugh fled to Arizona where he joined the Clanton faction in their feud against the Earps. Dave may have even participated in the murder of Morgan Earp and the attempted murder of Virgil Earp, and may also have been present at the gunfight at Iron Springs in which Curly Bill Brocius was killed. 
As the Clanton gang broke up, Rudabaugh headed down to Mexico where he worked as both a cowboy and a rustler. On February 18, 1886, Rudabaugh was involved in a gunfight with locals in Parral, Chihuahua. The fight began over a card game. He drew his pistol and killed two men and wounded another. He left the saloon unharmed, but unable to find his horse, he re-entered a few moments later, which turned out to be a fatal mistake. He was shot several times from the shadows, then was decapitated with a machete and his head placed on a pole.
- Dave Rudabaugh was the only outlaw said to have crossed paths with Dave Mather, Bat Masterson, Pat Garrett, Wyatt Earp, Billy The Kid and Doc Holliday.
- Dave lived to be 31 years, 7 months and 4 days old.
- Dave's decapitated head was placed on a stake for almost three weeks after his death.
In popular culture
- Dave Rudabaugh was played by Christian Slater in the movie Young Guns II. In the film the character is known as "Arkansas Dave" though the historical Rudabaugh never used this name.
- Rudabaugh is a character in the 1951 film The Texas Rangers. The fictional tale has him and real-life outlaws Sam Bass, John Wesley Hardin, Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid forming a gang, then squaring off against two convicts recruited by John B. Jones to bring them to justice.
- Rudabaugh is a character in the 1959 film The Gunfight at Dodge City. In this mostly fictional tale, Rudabaugh is portrayed as the assassin of Bat Masterson's brother Ed Masterson, and additionally is killed in a gunfight after assaulting Lily, the saloon owner of the Lady Gay. Both of these events are fictional.
- Wyatt Earp first meets Doc Holliday while Wyatt is hunting Rudabaugh, in the movie Wyatt Earp.
- A song called the "Ballad of Arkansas Dave Rudabaugh", is on Pat Green's 1997 album George's Bar. The events in the song bear no similarity to the actual events of Rudabaugh's life.
- A song called "Arkansas Dave", on George Strait's 2009 album Twang (album). The song is part fiction, but depicts Dave's documented death. The song was written by George's son Bubba Strait.
- Dave Rudabaugh appears as a character in the weird western novel Merkabah Rider: The Mensch With No Name (by Edward M. Erdelac, 2010, ISBN 978-1-61572-190-0). He robs the titular character of his signature Volcanic pistol during a train holdup.
- Dave Rudabaugh is the name of a character in the video game GUN.