Two years after her father's death when she was fourteen, Sally registered the brand for the cattle she had inherited from her father. Although she registered the brand in her maiden name, she noted on the application that she was the wife of Jesse Robinson, a man eighteen years her senior. The alliance lasted for ten years before Jesse filed for divorce in 1843 because she "was a hellion to live with, a shrew of the worst sort." Angered, she also filed for divorce. Custody of their children, Nancy and Alfred, was given to Jesse. Sally kidnapped Nancy, but the court forced her to return Nancy to Jesse.
Why is it some strong women pick weak husbands? Sally’s luck with her second--George Scull; third--John Doyle; fourth--Isaiah Watkins; and fifth husband--Chris Horsdorf (so despised by those who knew him he was called "Horsetrough"), was no better. In fact, each sounded less desirable or less intelligent than the one he'd followed. Perhaps she simply needed a malleable man. (Don't we all?) She went by the last name of her second husband, Sally Scull. It was while she was married to George Scull (sometimes spelled Skull) that she developed her love for and interest in horsetrading.
When John Doyle drowned crossing a river, she is reported to have said, "Damn the man! I don't give a damn about the body, I just want the forty dollars in his pocket." While she was losing husbands (with speculation that she might have assisted a couple of them in departing this life), Sally was gaining a reputation for marksmanship. Whether in skirts or pants, she always wore two pistols belted to her waist and usually wore a bonnet. She was a dead shot with both pistol and rifle, in either hand. A small woman with steel blue eyes, she weighed 125 pounds at most...not counting the pistols, of course. When confronted, she forced many a man to back down. Her rough language was notorious, and she spoke Tex-Mex as well as if it were her native tongue.
When she wasn’t traveling alone, she rode in the company of several Mexican vaqueros. And this cowgirl traveled! She roamed the sizable territory between the Sabine River and the Rio Grande, and south down into Mexico, making her headquarters at a small settlement called Banquette, about twenty miles west of Corpus Christi. The vaqueros who worked for her and other Mexicans who knew her called her “Juana Mestena,” Mustang Jane. She could outshoot any of her ranch hands, roped and rode with the best of them, and could drive a herd better than any of the wranglers in her employ.
Horsetrading was her primary business, a profitable one, and often under, er, um, somewhat questionable circumstances. After a trip into Mexico, she always returned with a nice herd of stock, yet allegedly her money belt was still full. Sally knew all the ranches in the area. Ranch wives sometimes hinted that while Sally made eyes at the menfolk, her vaqueros were busy cutting the best horses from the host's herd.
Sally worked hard and played hard. She was an avid poker player and her favorite haunts included Old St. Mary’s Saloon at Copano Bay, Pancho Grande’s in Corpus Christi, and several places in Refugio. She attended many a fandango due to her love of dancing. Can’t you imagine her dancing while wearing those two pistols belted around her waist?
Although she visited her children when they were in school in New Orleans, Sally supposedly had little to do with her son, Alfred, after he was grown. Reportedly, he lived with his father and stepmother and their eight children on Ramerania Creek, about fifty miles northwest of Corpus Christi.
|Caroline's dog, Webster|
No one knows what happened to Sally Scull, although some believe her fifth husband killed her for her money belt. Other rumors exist of her driving herds of horses as late as 1880. Texas mothers used to cajole their children to behave or “Old Sally Skull will get you.” I suppose every era has a bogeyman, but it's not the way I'd like to be remembered, would you?
Historian J. Frank Dobie wrote, "Sally Skull belonged to the days of the Texas Republic and afterward. She was notorious for her husbands, her horse trading, freighting, and roughness."
Sally Scull had defied all expectations of womanhood for her era or any other. She walked tall in a world of strong men and made anyone in her path step aside. Since no one knows where she's buried, it's nice that she's been honored with a Texas State Historical Marker in Refugio that says:
Dressed in trousers, Mrs. Scull bossed armed employees; was sure shot with the rifle carried on her saddle or the two pistols strapped to her waist. Of good family, she had children cared for in New Orleans School. Often visited them. Loved dancing. Yet during the war, did extremely hazardous "Man's Work".
Thanks to FROM ANGELS TO HELLCATS: LEGENDARY TEXAS WOMEN 1836-1880, by Don Blevins; http://www.legendsofamerica.com/; http://www.tshaonline.org/; and http://www.texasescapes.com/
Find out more about Caroline Clemmons at http://www.carolineclemmons.com/ or visit her blog at http://carolineclemmons.blogspot.com/