with her grandparents from San
Saba to Austin a couple
of days after her graduation from Texas Women's University in 1960,
Marilynn Johanson discovered that while she had succeeded in getting
a college education, she still had much to learn about her own family.
"I was driving and my grandfather was sitting next to me," Johanson
recalled. "Somewhere between Lampasas
my grandfather looked out at the prairie there where it seems like
you can see forever and said, 'I never come to Austin
without thinking about how your great-great grandmother rode by
herself from Travis
County to San
Saba with her two little children.'"
It's roughly 120 miles from the Capital
City to San
Saba, a two-and-a-half hour drive at most. But that's today,
along paved highways. When Vollie Ann Warren made her ride in 1863,
she followed only a winding, two-rut wagon road. She also had to
cross numerous creeks and ford both the South and North forks of
the San Gabriel River. On top of being a difficult trip, in riding
alone through that stretch of the state in that era, she risked
her life and the well-being of her children.
Born Dec. 9, 1841 in Hardeman County, Tenn., Vollie came with her
family to Texas in 1847. They
first settled in Travis
County, but in 1855 her parents decided to move to the frontier
in San Saba County.
Then 14, Vollie had her own ideas. She stayed behind, marrying a
young man named Jerry Robinson. They set up housekeeping in Bastrop
County and within six years had two children, a boy and a girl.
When Texas joined other Southern states
in seceding from the Union following the election of Abraham Lincoln
as president, Robinson and many other able-bodied men from Bastrop
County signed up for Confederate military service and marched
off to war in 1861. Most of the volunteers, including Vollie's husband,
never returned. They died not from Yankee bullets, but an outbreak
learning of his son-in-law's demise, Jeff Warren wrote his daughter
to tell her that he would send her a good horse so she could come
home with her children. Her father intended Vollie to join others
in making the trip, but for reasons not known to her descendants,
she either decided to go it alone or the larger traveling party
did not materialize.
Holding her 18-month-old daughter on the saddle in front of her
while her three-year-old son sat behind her, the new widow left
Austin for her parents'
home. A rider working a horse hard can make roughly 30 miles a day.
But a young women with two young children could not possibly have
kept that pace. Even at 30 miles a day, Vollie faced a four-day
ride. Likely her trip look a week or more.
"The story I heard was that she would ride until she came to someone's
cabin and then ask to stay the night," Johanson said. "In the morning,
they'd tell her, 'Ride yonder way to the next place and you can
spend tonight there.'"
Clearly one tough Tennessee-born, Texas-raised lady, Vollie had
undertaken a ride even an armed man would have been reluctant to
make alone. With most able-bodied men away at war, hostile Indians
enjoyed near free reign along the state's frontier. And in 1863,
little law enforcement existed. Beyond avoiding Indians who would
happily take her honor, life and scalp while making her children
theirs, Vollie had to be wary of outlaws, draft dodgers and Union
What little protection frontier settlers did have came from the
Texas Rangers. One of those rangers happened to be another Tennessean,
Newton Dickens McMillan. He had come to what became San
Saba County about the time the Warren family put down roots
there along the upper Colorado River. In 1858, he served in the
ranger company that chased a Comanche war party and recovered two
small children the Indians had kidnapped after killing their parents
and older siblings. The event in what is now Mills
County came to be known as the Jackson Massacre.
Not long after Vollie and her children arrived unharmed in San
Saba, she met "the Captain," as he was called. He surely admired
her pluck as well as her beauty. Within a year, he asked her to
"When he proposed," Johanson said, "he was 48 and Vollie was 23.
He told her, 'If we have no children I will love and take care of
yours as if they were my own."
They married at her parents' home on July 26, 1864.
McMillan honored his pledge. While he was at it, he helped raise
the other nine children he and Vollie went on to have. (Two others
died in infancy, for a total of 13 children born to Vollie.)
The old ranger died at 87 on the Fourth of July, 1903. Vollie would
live another 12 years.
On the evening of July 16, 1915, after attending a revival, Vollie
sat with one of her daughters and her son-in-law on the porch of
their house. A light south wind felt good, and the stars shined
nearly bright enough to read by. Finally excusing herself for bed,
Vollie told her daughter: "I don't believe I will be with you much
longer." Before falling asleep that night, maybe she thought about
the long, perilous ride she had made as a young mother, and the
tough but kind-hearted ranger she married. In the morning, her family
found her dead.
© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" June
23, 2016 column
Related Topics: Columns
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