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The title surely attracts attention, but as David Thomas relates in the preface to his new book, ‘Dirty Dave’ Rudabaugh, Billy the Kid’s Most Feared Companion, Rudabaugh’s contemporaries never applied the catchy “Dirty Dave” sobriquet to the gunfighter. Rudabaugh did join up with Billy the Kid, but just how feared Dave was is debatable. Certainly, in retrospect there wasn’t much reason to fear Rudabaugh (spelled Radenbaugh in the only U.S. census in which his name appears). The author does an excellent job of debunking the myth that Rudabaugh was a nasty and, yes, dirty bully who killed and brutalized people.

Rudabaugh was, according to Thomas, “an exceptionally smart, well-educated man” who mostly proved treacherous only to fellow wrongdoers. For example, while six men committed the Jan. 27, 1878, train robbery at Kinsley, Kan., Rudabaugh was the only one not to pay the price for that crime. He confessed and was freed after turning state’s evidence against his fellow robbers. After leaving Kansas, Rudabaugh hired on as a constable in Las Vegas, New Mexico Territory, not that a badge deterred him from partnering with two outlaws to rob a stagecoach 4 miles south of town on Aug. 14, 1879. Another trio was falsely arrested, but Rudabaugh later confessed and named his partners in crime. Just over a year later Rudabaugh repeated his performance—partnering with another pair of outlaws to rob a stagecoach north of Fort Sumner on Oct. 16, 1880, then later confessing and naming his accomplices.

Drawing on a never-before-published trial transcript, Thomas relates in detail how Rudabaugh was falsely accused and later convicted of the murder of jailer Antonio Lino Valdez during a visit Dave made with one John J. Allen to the Las Vegas jail on April 2, 1880. The pair got away clean, but a few weeks later Rudabaugh apparently did kill Allen, the one who actually murdered Valdez. By mid-October Dave was hanging out in Fort Sumner with Billy the Kid and cohorts. 

On Dec. 23, 1880, Sheriff Pat Garrett captured both Rudabaugh and the Kid at Stinking Springs. Like Billy, Dave was slated to be hanged but escaped that fate (both successfully broke jail in 1881). While Billy succumbed to a fatal bullet from Garrett at Fort Sumner on July 14, 1881, Rudabaugh found sanctuary in Mexico until shot down and beheaded by a grocer in Parral on Feb. 18, 1886. Thomas, a standout researcher who has produced 10 books in his Mesilla Valley History Series, provides the provenance of two well-known but controversial photographs in which the outlaw’s head appears minus the body.

‘Dirty Dave’ Rudabaugh, Billy the Kid’s Most Feared Companion

By David G. Thomas, Doc45 Publishing, 2023

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