It was said of Texas that it was a splendid place for men and dogs, but hell for women and horses. Every now and again though, there were women who embraced the adventure with the same verve and energy that their menfolk did; and one of them was a rancher, freight-boss and horse trader in the years before the Civil War. She is still popularly known as Sally Skull to local historians. There were many legends attached to her life, some of them even backed up by public records. Her full given name was actually Sarah Jane Newman Robinson Scull Doyle Wadkins Horsdorff. She married – or at least co-habited – five times. Apparently, she was more a woman than any one of her husbands could handle for long.

Sarah Jane, later to be called Sally was the daughter of Rachel Rabb Newman – the only daughter of William Rabb, who brought his extended family to take up a land grant in Stephen F. Austin’s colony in 1823; an original ‘Old 300’ settler. (In Texas, this is the equivalent of having come on the Mayflower to New England, or with William the Conqueror to England.) Rabb and his sons and daughter, with their spouses and children – including the six-year old Sally – settled onto properties on the Colorado River near present-day La Grange. Texas was even then a wild and woolly place, and several stories about those years hint at how the frontier formed Sally the legend – well, that and the example of her mother, a formidable woman in her own right. One story tells that Rachael and her children were safely forted up in their cabin, with hostile Indians trying to break in through the only opening … the chimney. Rachel threw one of her feather pillows onto the hearth and set fire to it, setting a cloud of choking smoke up the chimney. Another time – or possibly the same occasion – an Indian raider was trying gain entry by lifting the loose-fitting plank door off it’s hinges. When the Indian wedged his foot into the opening underneath the door, Rachel deftly whacked off his toes with one swipe of an ax.

Sally first married in 1831, two years following the death of her father. She was only 16; not all that early in a country where women of marriageable were vastly outnumbered by men. Her husband, Jesse Robinson was twice her age, also an early settler, and had a grant on in the DeWitt colony near Gonzales. At about that time, Sally registered a stock brand in her own name; she did not go undowered into the wedding, which turned out to be a bitterly contentious one. She had inherited a share of her father’s herd – but signed the registry with an ‘x’ indicating that she was most likely illiterate. But if Sally had been shorted in the matter of book-learning, she had not been when it came to making a living in frontier Texas. Sally rode spirited horses, and astride – not with a lady-like side-saddle. She tamed horses, raised cattle, managed a bullwhip and a lariat, spoke Spanish fluently and was a dead shot with the pair of revolvers which customarily hung from a belt strapped around her waist. There are no daguerreotypes or any sketches from life of Sally, only brief descriptions by those who met her and took note now and again.  “…Superbly mounted, wearing a black dress and sunbonnet, sitting as erect as a cavalry officer, with a six shooter hanging at her belt, complexion once fair but now swarthy from exposure to the sun and weather, with steel-blue eyes that seemed to penetrate the innermost recesses of the soul…”  was the testimony of one obviously shaken individual. More »