John Joshua Webb

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John Joshua Webb (February 14, 1847 – April 12, 1882) was a noted lawman turned gunfighter and outlaw of the American Old West.

Early life

Webb was born February 14, 1847, in Keokuk County, Iowa, the seventh of twelve children born to William Webb Jr and Innocent Blue Brown Webb. Webb moved about often in his youth. The family moved to Nebraska in 1862, and later to Osage City, Kansas. Webb headed west on his own in 1871, working as a buffalo hunter and miner along the way.


Webb drifted to Dodge City, Kansas, where he came into contact with several notable personalities of the old west, including Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson. While there, he took part as a member of several posses and served periodically as a deputy. By January 1878, Bat Masterson was the newly appointed sheriff of Ford County. Masterson deputized Webb and two others, Kinch Riley and Dave "Prairie Dog" Morrow, to track down outlaws who had robbed a train.[1]

One of those outlaws was "Dirty Dave" Rudabaugh. The deputies caught up with the outlaws and, during the arrest, Rudabaugh went for his gun but was overwhelmed by Webb and disarmed. Rudabaugh informed on his cohorts, and they received prison sentences, whereas he was later released.

In September 1878, exaggerated reports of Cheyenne raids on the populace prompted the government to send firearms to Dodge City to be used for self-defense by the citizens. Army Lt. Colonel William Henry Lewis selected Webb, Bill Tilghman, and others to serve as Army scouts.[1]

In 1879, Webb was selected to serve as a hired gun by Bat Masterson during the fight for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway during the Railroad Wars in Royal Gorge Colorado. He moved on from there to Las Vegas, New Mexico, joining Dave Mather, Doc Holliday and others, to include Dave Rudabaugh. Shortly after arriving there, he partnered with Doc Holliday in running a saloon, where Doc spent most of his time gambling. On July 19, 1879, the two were seated when a former Army scout named Mike Gordon began yelling loudly at one of the saloon girls. When the man stormed from the saloon, Doc Holliday followed him. Gordon produced his pistol and fired one shot, missing. Holliday immediately drew and fired, killing Gordon.[1] On July 26, 1879, the Las Vegas Daily Gazette reported that eyewitnesses had not identified the shooter. No town records have been found to confirm if Holliday was ever identified or charged with the crime. Not until two years later was Holliday cited by Optic editor Russell Kistler as the "identical individual who killed poor, inoffensive Mike Gordon." [2] In 1886, Masterson remembered the day of the Gordon shooting, saying, "Gordon raised his revolver to fire a second time, but before he could pull the trigger, 'Doc' had shot him dead." [3] His account was also reprinted in the Tucson Weekly Arizona Citizen on August 14, 1886.

In 1880, Webb was appointed town marshal of Las Vegas, New Mexico. Soon afterwards he was made a member of the Dodge City Gang, led by Justice of the Peace Hoodoo Brown. The gang participated in several train and stage coach robberies and were alleged to have taken part in lynchings and murders.[1]

Arrest for murder, jailbreak

On March 2, 1880, Webb and a deputy entered the Goodlet and Roberts Saloon in Las Vegas, where they observed a man named Michael Killiher, armed with a holstered pistol. When ordered to relinquish the pistol, Killiher refused. He then drew his pistol, but Webb quickly drew his own pistol and shot Killiher three times, twice in the chest and once in the head, killing him. Although seemingly justified, rumors quickly spread that JOP Hyman Niell had information that Killiher (a freightor by trade) had in his possession $1,900, and he had sent Webb to take it from him.[1]

Whether this was true was never verified, but Webb was arrested for the shooting. He was shortly afterwards convicted of murder and sentenced to hang. It was likely that the general dislike of the Dodge City Gang weighed more on his conviction than his actual guilt in this particular instance. However, on April 30, 1880, Dave Rudabaugh and a man named John Allen burst into the jail to free Webb. The jailbreak was unsuccessful, but Rudabaugh did shoot and kill the jailer, Antonio Lino. Rudabaugh escaped capture but was later arrested, while working with Billy the Kid, on December 23, 1880. Webb's sentence was later commuted to life in prison, and he and Rudabaugh were held together in prison.[1]

Determined to escape, Rudabaugh, Webb and two other men named Thomas Duffy and H. S. Wilson, attempted to shoot their way out again on September 19, 1881, but again they were unsuccessful, and Duffy was killed by lawmen. Two months later, Rudabaugh, Webb and five others chipped rocks from the jail wall and successfully escaped.

Rudabaugh and Webb fled to Texas, then on to Mexico, where they separated. Rudabaugh was killed shortly afterwards. Webb drifted, changing his name to "Samuel King" and working for the railroad, eventually moving to Winslow, Arkansas, where he died of smallpox on April 12, 1882.[4]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 John Joshua Webb - Lawman Turned Outlaw.
  2. Las Vegas Daily Optic: July 20, 1881
  3. Las Vegas Daily Optic: August 4, 1886>
  4. "J.J. Webb Died of Small-pox." Dodge City Times, April 20, 1882.


DeMattos, Jack. "Gunfighters of the Real West: John Joshua Webb." Real West, April 1981.

Snell, Joseph W. "Wretched Webb." Frontier Times, March 1973.