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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Cannonball's Tales"

SALLY SCULL:
Texas' Pioneer "Bad Girl"

By W. T. Block
Sally Scull, the pioneer Texas 'bad girl" was a combination Belle Starr, Calamity Jane, and Annie Oakley. She was born Sarah Jane Newman in 1817 in Madison County, Illinois Territory, the daughter of Joseph Newman and Rachel Rabb. In 1822 her parents and grandfather, William Rabb, were among the first settlers of Stephen F. Austin's "Old Three Hundred" in Austin's colony, which in Texas was the equivalent of arriving on the Mayflower.
Rabb's Prairie Historical Marker, Texas
Marker on Hwy 77 north of La Grange includes not a word on "black sheep" granddaughter Sally. TE photo, April 2007
Early in life Sally scoffed at the idea of a sun-bonneted, straight-laced Southern lady, who wore hoopskirts, rode side saddle, and prized an impeccable reputation. Although Sally retained her sun bonnets, she was believed to be the first Texas woman, who wore only riding skirts, rode astride in the saddle like a cowboy, and whose reputation was quite tainted.

In Texas folklore she "cussed like a mule skinner, rode like a man, roped like a vaquero, and picked wildflowers with her bullwhip..." She always wore two revolvers strapped to her waist, and she shot with either hand with the skill of a gunslinger.

While living in Dewitt County, she married Jesse Robinson at age 16 in 1833, bore him two children, and divorced him ten years later. Soon afterward she married a gunsmith named George Scull, who disappeared six years later. When asked where he was, she always answered: "He's dead!," spoken with a scowl so severe that it discouraged further questioning. Her third husband, John Doyle, also disappeared very quickly.

In 1852, after moving to her 640-acre spread at Banquette in Nueces County, she hired several Mexican vaqueros to break and care for her horses, for Sally became the best-known horse trader in South Texas. She spoke Spanish with equal fluency. Once or twice annually, Sally would cross the Rio Grande with her vaqueros and return with a large herd of Mexican ponies.

By then Sally's scowl and reputation as a desperado also discouraged questions about bills-of-sale or her horses' origins. Once when a man questioned those items, Sally fired several shots at his feet, as her antagonist learned to two-step in a hurry.

In 1852, during the first Lone Star State Fair at Corpus Christi, John S. "Rip" Ford heard a gunshot. He turned as a man with a pistol in his hand fell to the ground, and Sally was returning her six-shooter back in its holster. Several onlookers swore she had fired in self-defense.

In 1855 Scull married her fourth husband, Isaiah Wadkins. He too disappeared, but in a less questionable manner. He found a more attractive woman in Rio Grande City and ran away with her. Hence Sally divorced him.

In 1861, Sally Scull entered one of the few legal episodes of her life, the wagon-freighting of Confederate cotton from Alleyton, near Columbus, to Matamoros, Mexico where she sold her cotton for fifty cents per pound. Sally owned ten freight wagons, each of which could carry ten bales, along with many mules and yokes of oxen; and she had used her vaqueros as teamsters. By 1861, a Houston railroad had been completed to Alleyton, leaving the 400-mile distance to be completed by wagon train. On her return journeys, she brought back muskets, gunpowder, coffee, and medicines for the Confederate soldiers. Sally reputedly earned a $35,000 fortune in gold during her wagon train days.

After the Civil War, Sally's fifth husband, "Horse Trough" Horsdorff reputedly murdered Sally in order to obtain her gold fortune, but he was never charged with the offense since no body was ever found. Without a doubt, Sally Scull, profane, provocative, and treacherous, was one of the most colorful figures ever to dot the Texas landscape, and stories about her will continue to fill the tales of folklore in Texas.
W. T. Block, Jr.
"Cannonball's Tales" >
May 1, 2007 column


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