the Scariest Siren in Texas
only to becoming famous as one of Jack the Ripper's victims would
be gaining celebrity as one of Sally Skull's husbands. A man would
be joining the ranks of a now-defunct exclusive club of five once-frisky
members. Some say Sally didn't always wait to get a divorce, and perhaps
took the easy way out. She killed them.
"I don't give a damn about the body, but I sure would like to have
the $40 in that money belt around it," muttered Sally, referring to
the drowned remains of Husband #4.
Such acquisitive sentiments were not uncommon with Sally, known throughout
Texas as a woman who could shoot, trade
horses, ride, and lasso as good as any man. Better. We know she could
shoot flawlessly, ride like a man, and cuss like a muleskinner. We
also know that she loved dancing and draw poker. Most of all, Sally
loved men. She had a total of five husband-notches in her gun belt,
all of whom felt her dominance. "Dogmatic and determined, she possessed
so much strength that none of her husbands could stand living with
her for very long," states the book, Outlaws in Petticoats.
was born Sarah Jane Newman in Pennsylvania about 1817 or 1818.
Her grandfather, William Rabb, was one of Stephen F. Austin's Old
Three Hundred and was given virgin land in exchange for building a
gristmill and sawmill in what is now Fayette
County. The family had to learn survival tactics, as they were
now in Comanche territory where something as simple as failing to
extinguish a burning candle could result in death, if marauding savages,
aided by the candlelight, shot their deadly arrows through cracks
in the cabin walls.
One evening, Sally's mother, Rachael Newman, spied a hostile Indian's
foot under the space between the bottom of the cabin door and the
dirt floor, trying to raise the door off its hinges. Rachel reached
for a double-bit ax, "raised it above her head, and with a quick,
swift motion, chopped off the heathen's toes. When other Comanche
tried to enter the cabin through the chimney, she set fire to a feather
pillow and sent smoke up the chimney," setting them ablaze. She was
courageous, crafty and audacious.
Sally inherited a strong constitution from her mother's examples and
showed great courage in the face of danger, even as a young girl.
Reports Outlaws in Petticoats, "Once she watched as two Indians
spied on them from the bushes. At the time, she, her sister, and mother
were entertaining a neighbor. When the visitor realized that Indians
were approaching, his nerve left him, and he pretended his gun was
broken. 'I wish I was two men,' he said feebly, 'then I would fight
those Indians.' 'If you were one man,' cried Sally, 'you would fight
them! Give me that gun!'"
Eventually, the Newmans moved to Egypt,
a safer territory, located upriver from present-day Wharton.
Unconventional Lifestyle had far-reaching effects on the women of
Texas. Four young women brazenly smoking in front of a photographer,
Photo Courtesy Nesbitt Memorial Library, Columbus, Texas
lived the life of a gunslingin', horsetradin', hardened man, some
of that talent having been learned from Husband #1, Jesse Robinson.
He was born in Kentucky in 1800 and his father had been a soldier
in the Revolutionary War. They say he came to Texas in 1827 and in
1831, he received title to one-fourth of a league of land in De Witt's
Colony in Gonzales County.
It was as a volunteer in a posse dedicated to the protection of Austin
colonists that Jesse first met Sally, then still a little girl. The
posse rescued the Newmans from 200 Waco and Tawakoni Indians who were
trying to burn them alive. Just imagine the heroic sight of Jesse
driving off the marauding savages and coming to the rescue of the
Newmans. That would have remained in the mind of any little girl,
as it did in Sally's. When she got older, she would marry her hero.
In 1839, Jesse received 640 acres of land for his participation in
of San Jacinto and he was present when Santa Anna surrendered
to General Sam Houston. In addition he received a certificate for
320 acres in 1838 for serving in the army from March to June 1836,
but sold it for $50. That may have been the influence of his new wife,
16-year-old Sally, whom he had married in May of that year. Jesse
and Sally subsequently had two living children, Nancy (more about
her later) and Alfred, who became a Texas Ranger and fought in the
No matter Mr. Robinson's heroic deeds, he became famous more for being
the first husband of Sally Scull than for any brave exploits in defense
of his kin and country. Legend tells us he should have received a
great deal of land just for putting up with Sally, who was not blessed
with a kind, serene, wifely nature.
excerpt from the memoirs of legendary Texas ranger Col. John S. "Rip"
Ford lends credence to the legend that she would soon become:
|'The last incident
attracting the writer's attention occurred while he was at Kinney's
Tank, wending his way homewards from Corpus Christi Fair, 1852. He
heard the report of a pistol, raised his eyes, saw a man falling to
the ground and a woman not far from him in the act of lowering a six-shooter.
She was a noted character named Sally Scull. She was famed as a rough
fighter, and prudent men did not willingly provoke her into a row.
It was understood that she was justifiable in what she did on this
occasion, having acted in self defense.'
wasn't only self-defense that got Sally riled up enough to shoot.
She was described as "a merciless killer when aroused" and there were
those who said it didn't take much to arouse her. She decided who
needed killing and obliged those hapless men who fell into that unfortunate
category. Occasionally, she just had a little gunslingin' fun, like
the time word got back to her of nasty remarks a stranger had made
behind her back. She found the man and menacingly snarled, "So you
been talkin' about me? Well, dance, you son of a bitch!" and began
blasting away at his boots with her six-shooters sounding like a Gatling
gun and aiming at his fast-moving feet like they were a pair of glass
bottles standing still on a stone wall. This caused him to do a mighty
fast dance in the dusty street. It sure couldn't have been a waltz.
Nobody knows the original remark that set Sally off but it must've
been awful insulting.
Another time, Sally ran into a freighter who owed her money. She grabbed
an ax and said, "If you don't pay me right now you son-of-a-bitch,
I'll chop the Goddam front wheels off every Goddam wagon you've got."
He did the only thing possible -- he came up with the money, paid
Sally, and lived to tell the tale. Presumably.
She could shoot equally skillfully left- or right-handed, and carried
a black-leather-handled, tooled whip with which she could snap the
heads off innocent flowers or the skin off the back of a man she believed
did her wrong. Not only was she adept at using the six-shooters in
the cartridge belt on her hips (French pistols hidden beneath her
skirts, when she wore skirts), she carried a rifle and was as good
a sharpshooter as Annie Oakley, long before Annie was born.
Jesse divorced Sally in 1843 calling her "a great scold, a termagant,
and an adulterer," naming as her lover a man called Brown, a fellow
who, according to court records, Sally had been harboring in an outbuilding.
Gossip suggests "Brown" might have actually been Sally's next husband,
Jesse also claimed Sally abandoned him in December 1841 and Sally
countersued, charging that she was the victim of his excessively cruel
treatment, claiming he wasted her inheritance and demanding he pay
back her dowry. Eventually, she left town with her two kids in tow,
planning to earn her living by trading horses, leaving Jesse to continue
raising race horses in Live
Oak County. (By some accounts, Sally was able to leave with only
one child, 6-year-old Alfred, after a bitter, unresolved custody battle
same year, 1843, Sally married George H. Scull (the ubiquitous
Mr. Brown?), a mild-mannered gunsmith known for his "gentle nature."
Poor George was a law enforcement volunteer serving residents of Austin
County, and the Sculls lived on land near Egypt
that Sally had inherited from her father. A year and a half later,
George and Sally left town in a hurry, reportedly due to rising heated
hostilities between Jesse and Sally concerning custody of the children.
When they moved, George and Sally sold the last 400 acres of her inheritance,
George's prized gun maker's tools, and all the farm equipment. On
December 30, 1844, she petitioned for custody of 9-year-old Nancy.
Custody was refused, so George and Sally did what they thought best
at the time. They kidnapped Nancy and headed for New Orleans. There,
Sally placed both children in a convent.
"In a rage, Jesse sniffed out their trail and followed their tracks..."
He pulled them out of the convent and placed them in a different New
Orleans convent but he didn't reckon on Sally's tenacity. She abducted
them yet again and placed them in a third school.
Scull vanished around 1849 and, when asked about him, Sally answered
tersely, "He's dead." People were more afraid of Sally than inquisitive
about George, and stopped asking. However, records in northeast Texas
indicate that around 1853, someone made George's mark on legal papers,
leaving a question about his death. We can speculate that he possibly
ran off as far as he could from his screaming spouse, or that he was
six feet under and that the mark was a forgery. If Jesse were pushing
up daisies, we can rest assured that they would've had their sweet
little daisy heads snapped off by a black widow wielding a long black-handled
1852, Sally Skull (Sally herself changed the spelling from Scull to
Skull because she liked it better) bought a 150-acre ranch in Banquete,
Nueces County, and married John Doyle who helped her turn Banquete
into a trade and ranching center. One of their friends was a practical
joker named W.W. Wright, who loved to engage Sally in a game of one-upmanship.
The following excerpt is from Outlaws in Petticoats:
|Once Sally sold
WW a horse with a blind eye, a feature John missed when examining
the animal. That afternoon, the nag was meandering behind Wright's
house when the poor creature stumbled on the underground cistern.
The horse plummeted headfirst into he ranch drinking water, where
it met a watery death. Wright was left with the huge task of trying
to remove the carcass that lay deep down in the cistern, out of reach
of normal ranch equipment.
Wright thirsted for revenge. He challenged Sally to a race, a favorite
diversion in Banquete.
In clear view, Wright paraded his newly acquired horse, Lunanca. Sally
knew that the name was Spanish for a horse that is "hipped," or with
one hip raised above the other. No fool, she saw this as a chance
to take her friend once again. She knew there was no way Lunanca could
outrun her mare. She laid down $500, high stakes at the time, and
Wright eagerly covered. The town watched as the sad-looking horse
hobbled to the starting line. When the shot fired, Lunanca, crazy
with excitement, took off like a bullet, leaving Sally's horse in
a cloud of dust. A seasoned horse trader, Sally had been taken by
a mischievous cohort and a second rate horse with bad hips who loved
husband Scull, husband Doyle disappeared leaving behind two speculative
and colorful versions of his demise. 1) He ambushed and tried to kill
his viper-tongued wife but she got to him first. 2) Sally and Doyle
were doing a drunken fandango in Corpus
Christi and stayed overnight in a hotel. Unable to awaken her
next morning, Doyle resorted to pouring a pitcher of cold water on
her head. Waking up instantly but still hung over, she grabbed a pistol
and plugged him deader'n a doornail. By accident, she said.
Yet a third version for those who don't believe either of the aforementioned,
is that one night, Sally caught her drunken husband swilling whiskey
from an open barrel; she pushed his head down and shouted, "There!
Drink your fill!" This, it is said, is how he really died.
If you don't like any of those theories, how about the one where Sally,
Doyle and a group of vaqueros on a freighting trip, came upon a swollen
river. Doyle walked down to stop the oxen and wagon from sliding down
the deep bank and into the surging water, except the team was unable
to stop, and slid down taking Doyle with them. They fought a losing
battle with the raging river and all drowned. For this story, Sally
is alleged to have said "I would rather have seen my best yoke of
oxen lost than my man." Some say Doyle could have swum free but was
too frightened of arousing his wife's ire at his having lost the team
the mid-1850s a European tourist recorded her activities and reputation.
of these bravos drew my attention to a female character of the Texas
frontier life, and, on inquiry, I heard the following particulars.
They were speaking of a North American amazon, a perfect female desperado,
who from inclination has chosen for her residence the wild border-country
on the Rio Grande. She can handle a revolver and bowie-knife like
the most reckless and skillful man; she appears at dances (fandangos)
thus armed, and has even shot several men at merry-makings. She carries
on the trade of a cattle-dealer, and common carrier. She drives wild
horses from the prairie to market, and takes her oxen-wagon, along
through the ill-reputed country between Corpus
Christi and the Rio Grande."
1855, Sally married #4 husband, Isaiah Wadkins, but left him
after only five months because, according to court records, he beat
and dragged her nearly 200 yards. He must've been pretty darned strong,
or else maybe he had her tied to the leg of a horse. The records don't
say. Sally also proved he was actually living with a woman named Juanita.
Her divorce was granted on the grounds of cruelty and adultery.
Some of her neighbors suspected that she was (gasp) a horse thief,
and did the dastardly deed of stealing stock from her friends. Her
method allegedly began with a friendly visit and, while Sally talked
amiably with her host, her vaqueros were casing the ranch, cutting
barbed wire and running the neighbor's horses off. Indians took the
fall for this treachery. Some even said bands of Comanche were on
Sally's payroll, so she got the stolen horses every which way she
could, and they were promptly given her Bow and Arrow brand, though
some sources have her brand as Circle S. It was also said that her
brands might not stand close inspection. However, entered in the Records
of Marks and Brands of DeWitt's Colony at Gonzales
on September 25, 1833, we find the following:
| Sarah Newman
wife of Jesse Robinson requests to have her stock mark and brand recorded
which she says is as follows, Ear mark a swallowfork in the left and
an underslope in the right and her brand the letters, J N which she
declares to be her true mark and brand and that she hath no other.
Sarah (herXmark) Newman [Records of Marks and Brands in the District
of Gonzales for 1829, DeWitt's Colony" (County Clerk's Office). Gonzales,
Texas, p. 51.]
instrument makes clear that the brand is hers and appears on her livestock.
Since her father died only two-and-a-half years before that time,
it is obvious that the brand, her father's initials, as well as the
cattle which bore it, was hers by inheritance).
Sally began to make the dangerous journey across the border into Mexico
for horses. Usually alone, carrying large sums of gold in a nosebag
hanging over her saddle horn, she bought herds of wild mustangs, which
she frequently sold in New Orleans. Most women would not have dared
to do anything so fraught with peril, but Sally was not most women.
She encountered a problem only once, in the territory of Cortina,
when a bandit and self-proclaimed governor jailed her for a few days.
Sally seemed to regard it as a sort of vacation and just sat and waited
for her vaqueros to arrive.
When the Civil War broke out, Sally saw a surefire way to make even
more money: Texas cotton, sorely needed by European manufacturers,
through Mexico to Europe and, on the way back, arms and other military
supplies from Europe through Mexico to the south by rail. The Camino
Real north from Matamoros to Alleyton
where the Houston railroad line ended, formed what became known as
The Cotton Road. Banquete
was the midway point.
When Sally was traversing The Cotton Road with her teamsters, her
favorite outfit was a buckskin shirt, jacket and chibarros, long rawhide
or coarse cotton bloomers tied at the ankles with drawstrings. During
winter, she often wore chibarros of bright red flannel. Her grandchildren
later remembered that she sometimes "sported a fancy wrap-around riding
skirt. Her two ever-present French pistols were always hidden in her
skirt when she wasn't sporting her holstered six-shooters."
Deno, Sally was no fashion figure. Old newspapers report her as
dressing solely in rawhide bloomers, making it easier for her to ride
astride Redbuck, like a man. Others say she rode sidesaddle and wore
a long skirt or dress and a bonnet. John Warren Hunter wrote "I met
Sally at Rancho Las Animas near Brownsville
... 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 -- this in brief is a hasty outline of my visitor
-- Sally Skull!"*
Sally spoke fluent Spanish, had a fondness for Mexicans, and hired
them to work in her business of freighting cotton by wagon train to
Mexico in exchange for guns, ammunition, medicines, coffee, shoes,
clothing, and other goods vital to the Confederacy. She had a reputation
of ruthlessness and of ruling the armed trail hands with the crack
of her whip, fueled by a hasty and nasty temper. Nonetheless, the
trail hands (teamsters) developed a healthy respect for such a woman
who knew so many cuss words, the type of words that would "scald the
hide off a dog." They were also impressed with her prowess with pistols.
Her expert cussing also impressed a preacher Sally met on the trail.
Sally was hauling freight to Mexico when she came upon the preacher
who had inadvertently mired himself and his two-horse buggy down in
the muddy road. All he could do was shake the lines up and down on
the horses' backs, to no avail. They refused to pull. Suddenly Sally
rode forward and yelled loudly as only she could, "Get the hell out
of there you sons of bitches!!! Get the hell out!!!" whereupon the
horses bolted, freeing themselves, the buggy and the preacher. They
were seen running on down the road. The preacher managed to get himself
and the buggy entrapped in the muck a second time, ran back to get
Sally, and said, "Lady, will you please come and speak to my horses
Sally's magnificent Spanish pony named Redbuck, was almost as famous
as she was. Gifted with legendary endurance, a necessary quality for
a horse who wanted to please his tempestuous owner, Redbuck was blanketed
in bright colors and ridden under a fine Mexican silver-trimmed saddle.
Sally failed to understand that she had passed on her affection for
Redbuck to her daughter, who felt the same way about a pet dog. Nancy
had been sent off to New Orleans to become a lady, and it was said
that Nancy became so refined that she valued her dog above people.
One day when Sally was visiting, she became enraged when the dog tried
to bite her, drew her gun and blew him to smithereens. Nancy never
spoke to her mother again.
was at her "peak of notoriety" when she met and married husband #5,
a man half her age named Christoph Hordsdorff, nicknamed "Horse Trough."
One old-timer who knew 21-year-old Horse Trough described him as being
"... not much good, mostly just stood around."
As the story goes, Horse Trough and Sally rode out of town together
one day. Only one rode back.
Horse Trough returned alone to Banquete.
"She simply disappeared," was all he said, which probably aroused
more gossip than if he had admitted outright that he plugged her.
Speculation abounded that he "blew off the top of her head with a
shotgun" for the gold in her saddlebag. Let's face it though, if he
was 21 to her 43, and good-looking enough to just have to "stand around,"
chances are she would've willingly handed the gold over.
A drifter later reported that as he was traveling over the prairie,
he came across the body of a woman buried in a shallow grave. He first
spotted it when he saw a boot sticking out of the ground, with only
circling buzzards marking the spot. There was no evidence that the
boot was on a foot connected to the body of Sally Skull. Presumably,
Horse Trough inherited her entire estate.
What if he didn't do old Sally in after all? Records indicate that
she faced perjury charges and was defendant in a lawsuit brought by
Jose Maria Garcia. Even though the San
Patricio County Courthouse burned down and official reports on
the case were lost forever, one form relating to the lawsuit survived.
Written across the bottom was the mysterious notation "death of Defendant
The infamous Sally Skull was portrayed in the 1989 mini-series, "Lonesome
Dove" by O-Lan Jones.
1964 a historical marker in her honor was erected two miles north
of Refugio, Texas,
at the intersection of U.S. Highway 138 and State Highway 202. It
horse trader, champion "Cusser."
Ranched NW of here. In civil war Texas, Sally Scull (or Skull) freightwagons
took cotton to mexico to swap for guns, ammunition, medicines, coffee,
shoes, clothing and other goods vital to the Confederacy.
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." (1964)
The Cowgirls by Joyce Gibson Roach
Outlaws in Petticoats by Gail Drago and Ann Ruff