Wednesday, January 8, 2014


 Texas was not settled solely by men. Their mothers, sisters, and wives were not just along for the ride. Many Texas pioneers who made huge contributions in civilizing the state were women.
Honorable women. Women of strength and character. Courageous women.

Mary Crownover Rabb was such a women. She was born in 1805 in North Carolina, but her father moved the family to Arkansas Territory in 1820. There she met and married John Rabb, with whom she eventually had nine children.

In 1823 at age eighteen, Mary left Arkansas with her husband and infant to begin a new life in Stephen F. Austin's colony in Texas--The Old Three Hundred. They brought with them a few cattle and horses.

One of the horses was a "large iron gray." Mary, in her own written account, said,
"This horse was very tall and his name was Tormentor, and that horse and I rode to Texas."
Mary and her baby rode the horse one hundred miles on their way to the Colorado River. Since she rode Tormentor, she said her feet didn't even get wet while others struggled across the river.
In one place where they built a cabin, Indians roamed all around at night. Mary's husband had built a spinning wheel for her, and when the men had to leave to work away from the cabin, she bolted the door and ran her spinning wheel. The loud whirring it made covered the sounds the Indians made outside as they sought something to steal.
Since they'd steal axes and saws, along with all the horses, John Rabb put a chain around Tormentor's neck every night and padlocked him to corner of the cabin.

In another place they lived, her husband and another settler were clearing six acres. At the end of the week, they left their axes, malls, and iron wedges there, expecting the tools to be there on Monday morning when they returned to work. Later, they found the Indians had made a pen out of the rails the men put aside as they cleared the field,  and had captured all of John Rabb's horses. The pen was still there, but all the horses were gone.

That left only Tormentor because he was chained to the corner of the cabin.

John's father gave him a horse named Nickety Poly. John told Mary he would not live in a place where the Indians were so bad, so he left home for a time, searching for a new place to build--about fifteen miles away.

While he was away for ten days, Mary continued chaining Tormentor to the house every night.
Soon, they moved to the new place, and once again, Mary rode Tormentor.
However, on the next move, Tormentor died.

John Rabb moved his growing family dozens of times over the next couple of decades, trying to escape Indians, gnats, sand flies, alligators, or mosquitoes.
One seemed as bad as the other.
They lived in Fayette County and up and down the Colorado and Brazos Rivers . Some of the moves were short distances. Other moves were farther away.

In Mary's memoirs and other writings about her, she never seemed to resent whatever her husband asked of her.

Mary was a small women with a brave heart. But she did have fears.
She feared --alligators that might eat her babies;
--the Indians who were a constant presence but never seemed to harm anyone;
--the gnats and mosquitoes and sand flies that could torment one to distraction;
--flood waters that filled their cabin to the bed before she noticed;
--and most of all the Mexican Army who forced them to join the Runaway Scrape, in which her infant son Lorenzo died.

Though all the years, Mary lived in small cabins, tents made of quilts and sheets, a lean-to shed during one winter, and a mere campsite under the shelter of trees.

She gave birth to eight children to add to the one she had before she arrived in Texas. And all during these times, she was never settled into a permanent home.

Their last home was on the banks of Barton Springs in Austin, Texas. John built a small cabin for them. They had amassed land in Fayette County, and wealth from cattle operations. With the wealth and prosperity they now enjoyed, they gave funds to start Rutersville College, the first college in Texas and a precursor of Southwestern University.

Her beloved John passed away around 1861.

In 1867, Mary built a two-story house of limestone near the old cabin by Barton Springs. Safe at last from floods, alligators, and Indians, she continued ranching operations to support the Methodist Church until she passed away on October 15, 1882.

I wonder if she often thought of Tormentor, the huge horse that brought her to Texas. The horse she loved.
The Handbook of Texas On-Line: Texas State Historical Association (TSHA)
Texas Tears and Texas Sunshine-Voices of Frontier Women-Texas A&M University Press
Wikipedia-Old Three Hundred; John Rabb; Mary Crownover Rabb
Wikimedia Commons
Celia Yeary
Romance...and a little bit of Texas


  1. What a story of bravery and preserverence. I can't imagine trying to raise 9 kids in such austere circumstances--and with her husband gone so often. It seems to me that people used to move around the country more than people do today. Maybe it's because we're more tied to jobs than our ancestors were.
    Chaining Tormentor to the cabin reminded me of chaining a bike or a motorcycle. I can really see the advantage of a tall horse crossing rivers.
    This was such an interesting post, Celia. It gave such a perspective on how living in the U.S. used to be.

  2. Celia,
    What a strong woman you've showcased. I greatly admire her spirit and her ability to keep going without complaining, even in her journal. She must have been wired like the Energizer Bunny to accomplish so many moves with children. Her faith must have carried her through all her trials.

  3. Terrific post, Celia! Mary was very brave and strong to follow her husband time after time like that. She must have loved Tormentor a lot. I bet she cried when he died. Thanks for sharing her story!

  4. I must say she had some very realistic fears, but she was very courageous!

    Morgan Mandel

  5. Sarah--yes, I think her story is most bizarre because of the large number of times they moved. In her memoirs--in Texas Tears and Texas Sunshine--she begins her story with the words, "Now, my children, I will tell you how your father got all this land for you." She always gave John the credit for their wealth.
    I know I would not have been as strong as she was. That's why she is chosen as one of a significant group of pioneer Texas women.
    Thanks so much for your comment.

  6. Maggie--true. What amazes me is how she kept on moving on being pregnant so many times, and giving birth, and probably got right up and started working again.
    I left out the part about her deep faith and her solid support of the Methodist church. Her husband did not join in her religious feelings, until he was older. Then he became as faithful as she was.

  7. LYN--She was truly an amazing woman. I found a photo of her--but it was so faded it wouldn't show up. She was very small, wiry. Tough as nails, I guess, but loved her family.
    Thank you for commenting!

  8. Morgan--Some women today would have made good pioneers--not me, though! But who knows, really.
    In Fayette County, they lived near swamps--filled with alligators. I'm be afraid of those, too.

  9. Women had such hard lives before the 20th century. Some still do. I feel very fortunate to be married to a wonderful husband who has always been a good provider as well as good father.

  10. Caroline--I believe the Nineteenth Century was especially hard because the country was on the move. Go west, young man! And wasn't it always the man's idea? Of course, it was. The woman went along or got left behind. I get shivers thinking about how they had to live, and how in the world did they stay healthy.
    Thank you for commenting.

  11. I just loved this post, Celia. There are so many women who probably suffered the same type of hardships that Mary did. Going west was not for sissies! And of course, the women had to be the ones to figure out what everyone was going to eat and wear and so on. I wonder why John never built Mary a nicer home--since she was able to do it after he died, I must assume that he didn't see the need for it, or something--the money must have been there. It looks like he would have wanted to have a permanent, safe structure for them. My grandmother's sister was born in a covered wagon in Indian Territory. They stopped for two days, for her to have the baby, then traveled on. She had 2 other children, as well. I don't know how women did it back then. But I love your story about Mary. She was some woman!

  12. Hi Celia,
    What a brave woman Mary was, but there were many unsung heroines who supported their men without question or complaint. I am glad you brought her deeds to light.



  13. Cheryl--Yes, I wondered, too, why John didn't settle sooner and build her a nicer home. The cabin on the banks of Barton Springs pool in Austin (which today is a huge draw for swimmers and visitors. It has become part of a prominent park in Austin.)--was okay for the day, but the one she built, the two story limestone house--still stands to day as a historic home. I need to drive over there and see it.
    Thanks so much for your thoughts. I always wait to see what you will say.

  14. I love looking at the lives of our pioneer ancestors. It puts our daily problems in perspective.

  15. I love looking at the lives of our pioneer ancestors. It puts our daily problems in perspective.

  16. I love looking at the lives of our pioneer ancestors. It puts our daily problems in perspective.

  17. What a glorious horse, that Tormentor. And awesome name! Sob. I got weepy when I read he died.

    But even better, this strong, loving spirited woman. Wow. I feel like such a big baby when I read about women like Mary.

    You find the most interesting topics to feature and I always learn cool new stuff. Thank you!!!!

  18. Gerald--yes, if nothing else, we could look at ourselves and make a comparison. Goodness, right now I'm complaining because it's 55 degrees--and I'm in warm, toasty house.
    And I didn't have to kill and dress a chicken for dinner!
    The pioneer days fascinate me, probably because I know I couldn't have done it, and I want to admire someone who could.
    Thanks so much.

  19. Tanya--thanks! I do love to find unusual women. They interest me more than the men. And you know, as much hardship she endured and gave birth nine times throughout it all, her husband died many years before she did. She lived on and built her on limestone house, and started the college.


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