Depending upon where you may have heard of Sally Scull, you might get the impression that she was a Texas Civil War heroine, a “black widow” husband-killer or just about anything between the two. You may also see her name spelled Skull as well as Scull, but for this purpose, we will use the latter. She had a reputation for being able to shoot as straight with her left hand as with her right. She usually carried two six shooters, often wore mens’ clothing and had a rough vocabulary that she used freely, and often.
Sally was born into the Old 300 Rabb family, as her grandfather was William Rabb of the Austin Colony. It is believed that Rabb moved to the Spanish controlled area that now constitutes Texas around 1820 and that he received a grant of much of the area now making up much of the town of La Grange in Fayette County, where he settled in the early 1820s. Rabb had a number of children including one daughter Rachel who married Joseph Newman. Sarah (Sally) was their daughter, born around 1817-1818. The families had a number of encounters with the local Indians and apparently for safety’s sake moved one more time down near the present location of Wharton, Texas.
Sally’s father died in 1831 and around 1833 Sally married Jesse Robinson, who had moved to Texas around 1822 and served in the Battle of San Jacinto and other major battles. Robinson was almost twice Sally’s age when they married. Robinson resided on his land that he had been granted in the DeWitt colony. He continued to serve as a soldier during their short marriage, but sued for divorce in 1843 alleging adultery on the part of Sally. The couple had two children that survived infancy, Nancy and Alfred. Their divorce was granted in early March 1843 and eleven days later, she married George H. Scull, a gunsmith. Scull and Sally resided on her family’s land located in what is now Wharton County.
Not much is known of Scull and Sally’s life together save that in December, 1844, Scull and Sally sold the remaining acreage she had inherited from her father, Joseph Newman. Sally and Jesse Robinson continued to have disagreements over the two children of their marriage. Scull’s ultimate fate is unknown, though in 1849, Sally executed a land transaction as a single woman. Scull was considered deceased in this transaction, but a few years later, either he or someone posing as him placed his mark on another real estate transaction.
In the 1850s, she was living in DeWitt County and later in Nueces County where there was a report of someone returning home from a fair and hearing a pistol shot. When the witness (John “Rip” Ford) located the place where it had come from, he said that he saw a man fall and someone thought to be Sally Scull lowering a six shooter. Scull was never arrested and the incident was portrayed as a shooting in self defense.
Sally’s third husband was John Doyle, whom she married in 1852. Sally was known to be a horse trader in the 1850s, sometimes being in business with a cousin, John Rabb, and operating out of the Banquete Creek area. Rabb had an associate and friend by the name of W. W. Wright. The story is told of Sally having traded Wright a horse that was blind in one eye. Wright used the horse until it walked off into a cistern and drowned. Wright determined to get even with Sally and upon an occasion challenged her to a horse race for $500 with Wright riding a horse that was visibly malformed at the hip. Sally quickly agreed to the race, but Wright’s horse took off at the report of the starting pistol shot and won the race. This may have been a rare occasion where Sally Scull did not prevail, one way or the other.
Doyle’s fate is also unknown, although there are numerous legends surrounding his possible demise. One such story, undocumented, was that the couple had stayed at a hotel on the Gulf after a night of drinking and dancing. When Doyle could not rouse her the next morning, he poured a pitcher of water on her to wake her. In her panic, she drew her gun and shot him dead.
Her fourth husband was and Isaiah Wadkins, though they were only married from about 1855 to 1858. Sally was divorced from him charging him with adultery and physical abuse. She was married a fifth and final time in December, 1860 to a Christoph Horsdorff, called “Horsetrough” as a play on his unfortunate name.
The label of heroine comes from her actions during the Civil War. The Union blockade had effectively shut down the Gulf exports of southern cotton and forced the improvising of other ways to trade with allies such as Mexico. All the ports were blockaded except Matamoros and Brownsville. Sally was known to have been involved in the so called “Cotton Road” that ran from Matamoros, Mexico up to near Columbus, Texas. Sally spoke Spanish like a native and was comfortable working with people of Mexican descent on her team. Freighters like Sally would haul mule trains of cotton south and return with munitions and other goods that were then shipped elsewhere in the South by rail. She is well known to have been involved in this trade thoughout the war.
After the Civil War, the documented records of Sally Scull fade. There are a couple of legal proceedings in which her name was mentioned but beyond that, nothing is known of her ultimate end. Horsdorff remarried and lived in the North [but see addendum below] from about 1868 on. As for Sally Scull, how she met her fate is unknown. Did she die of old age? Was she killed by someone? Nevertheless, she will be remembered either as a desperado, a colorful “Annie Oakley”-style frontier woman, a killer or a Civil War heroine.
Was Christoph Harsdorff married to Sally Scull? Perhaps not.
A great grandson of Christoph Harsdorff wrote that Christoph had joined the Union Army in 1864 in Brownsville, Texas and served until his discharge in 1865 in San Antonio. The great grandson has a large amount of his great grandfather’s memorabilia and notes that it makes no mention of any marriage, or any other relationship, with Sally Scull. Had there been a relationship, his support for the Union would have been at odds with Scull’s support for the Confederacy.
The great grandson mentions a considerable amount of documentation concerning his great grandfather’s service in the Union Army and it is known that Christoph eventually received a Civil War pension, after some initial difficulty verifying his service. Christoph was a stockman for the remainder of his working years. Further, it appears that Harsdorff resided in Texas after the Civil War and until his death. He married Mary Rushig Mayrhofen Muenzler in 1968 and Lucinda Taylor about 1876. Harsdorff had a large family and lived until New Year’s Day, 1917. He is interred in the National Cemetery in San Antonio.
Many thanks to the great grandson for providing this excellent information. To read more about Christoff Harsdorff, please see his FindAGrave listing and also this web page that contains a July 28, 1912 clipping from the San Antonio Express newspaper calling him one of the few remaining poineer stockmen in the area.
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