As with a great number of old west legends, this month's lawman has been depicted as serving both sides of the law. John Joshua Webb met numerous famous individuals along the way, including Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, and Bill Tilghman. In his thirty-five years, Webb would distinguish himself as a skilled Army scout, lawman and finally adept gunfighter.
John Joshua Webb was the seventh of twelve children of William Webb Jr. and Innocent Blue Brown Webb on February 14, 1847, in Keokuk County, Iowa. His youth was one of constant change as the family moved often and settled in Nebraska (1862) and later in Osage City, Kansas. Webb would eventually strike out on his own, heading west in 1871. His travels would take him thru Deadwood, South Dakota to Cheyenne, Wyoming and eventually place him in Dodge City, Kansas. During this time he would work as a buffalo hunter and miner.
The Ford County Census of 1875 listed J.J. Webb as a 28 year-old teamster. His tenure in Dodge City has him depicted as a well-respected member of the community. He served as a businessman and lawman during this time but most historical notations are that he was a mercenary 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.
In September 1877, Webb was riding with the Ford County Sheriff Charlie Bassett and Under-Sheriff Bat Masterson in pursuit of the Sam Bass gang. Bass had recently held up the Union Pacific train in Big Springs, Nebraska and made off with $60,000 and headed south toward Texas. By January 1878 Webb was deputized by the new Sheriff of Ford County, Bat Masterson. He and two other deputies, Kinch Riley and Dave Prairie Dog Morrow were tasked to track down six gunmen who had robbed the westbound train at Kinsley, Kansas two days earlier. The posse caught two of the gang members within days of the holdup. Edgar West and Dirty Dave Rudabaugh surrendered and Rudabaugh informed on his accomplices for an acquitted sentence. Dirty Dave promised to go straight but moved to New Mexico and returned to his thieving ways.
Sometime after 1879 Webb would move to Las Vegas, New Mexico. Oddly, while the good people of Dodge City always saw John J. Webb as a standup law abiding citizen, his time in Las Vegas has been categorized in a completely different light. While in Las Vegas, Webb would renew many of his old acquaintances from Dodge City including Henry Doc Holliday, Dave Mysterious Dave Mather, Wyatt Earp and his once prisoner, Dave Rudabaugh.
Webb began a partnership with Holliday in a saloon operation where Doc would spend his days gambling. On July 19, 1879, Doc Holliday and J.J. Webb were seated at a card table when a former army scout by the name of Mike Gordon began harass one of the saloon girls. Apparently, this woman was a former girlfriend (possibly a working girl he had regularly patronized) and had rejected him while he was trying to convince her to leave town with him. Notably upset, Mike Gordon stormed out of the saloon shouting obscenities. When Holliday followed the unruly man outside, a shot from Gordon's gun whizzed past him. Calmly, Doc pulled his revolver and shot the man. He died the next day. Fearing an arrest Doc Holliday moved back to Dodge City.
In 1880 Webb was appointed Las Vegas City Marshall. Shortly thereafter he was connected with the Dodge City Gang. This group of men consisted of lawmen, justice of the peace and several Dodge City criminals. The two things they all had in common were that they wall came from Dodge City and were all hard cases.
The Dodge City Gang was suspected in a rash of stage couch and train robberies. Many of their members were arrested and acquitted over the years but the Ford County Globe (March 9, 1880) reported on altercation involving Webb specifically. The article was originally reported in the 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.
Webb's Marshall title not withstanding, he was convicted of murder and sentenced to hang. A jail-break was attempted by Rudabaugh and John Allen but was unsuccessful. The death sentence was eventually reduced to life in prison and two months later Webb and Rudabaugh along with five others, removed a stone block from the jail wall and escaped thru the 7 x 19 inch hole. Webb would return to Kansas and changed his name to Samuel King and again work as a teamster. He died in 1882 of smallpox, never having been married.