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There's a Yellow Rose in Texas

Updated on July 12, 2011

The Surrender

Battle of San Jacinto

In what was to become known as the Battle of San Jacinto, Sam Houston’s tattered band of rebels routed Santa Anna on April 21, 1836. Most accounts say the battle took just 18 minutes. This is significant since they had previously been fleeing from Santa Anna’s massive forces. What could have happened to turn the tide of battle?

Some say it was the "Yellow Rose of Texas." "Yellow" was a term given to Americans of mixed race in those days, mostly mulattos. And "Rose" was a popular feminine nineteenth century name. Legend has it, it was a woman who kept the Mexican general distracted in his tent long enough for Houston’s army to “get the drop” on him. By the time he realized his army was under siege it was too late to do anything but steal an enlisted man’s uniform and run.

"Yellow Rose of Texas"

The popular song by the same name produced in the 1950’s was originally written as a folksong in early Colonial Texas history. It is thought the lyrics tell of a black American soldier who left his sweetheart, a "yellow rose" and longs to return to her. The first copy of the "Yellow Rose of Texas" was handwritten on a piece of plain paper sometime around 1836, either shortly before or just after the Battle.

Could the story be true? In the 1950’s, historians generally laughed at such a notion. However, more recently facts have come to light suggesting there is some truth to the story.

But, who was the “Yellow Rose?” To find out one has to know a little history. It begins in 1830 when James Morgan, an entrepreneur from Philadelphia immigrated to Texas with sixteen slaves. Morgan intended to capitalize on business opportunities in the Mexican colony which would ultimately become Texas. However, the law there did not permit slavery. So to circumvent it, he made his slaves 99-year indentured servants.

'The Yellow Rose Of Texas' - 78rpm 1955

Emily D. West

Morgan returned to New York in 1835 to recruit more workers for his settlement. One was a twenty year old woman named Emily D. West who was intelligent and sophisticated. She was mulatto, possibly from Bermuda. West volunteered to be indentured and as was the custom for an indentured worker at the time, she changed her last name to Morgan.

On San Jacinto Day, Texan’s lift their glasses in a toast to a mixed-race woman named “Emily” who distracted the Mexican tyrant long enough for Sam Houston’s soldiers to become victorious.

With their battle cry “Remember the Alamo,” ringing in the air they charged. Although extremely outnumbered, the Texans had only only nine casualties. On the other hand, Santa Anna’s fancily dressed army lost more than 600.

On the morning of April 21, Houston reportedly climbed a tree to spy on Mexican camp. He saw Emily preparing breakfast for Santa Anna, and was said to say, "I hope that slave girl makes him neglect his business and keeps him in bed all day."

More than a century after the battle historians learned about Emily from a long buried footnote. In 1956 the University of Oklahoma Press published an account on how Houston’s group managed to be victorious at San Jacinto: “The battle of San Jacinto was probably lost to the Mexicans, owing to the influence of a Mulatta Girl (Emily) belonging to Col. Morgan who was closeted in the Tent with G’l Santana, at the time the cry was made ‘the Enemy! They come! They come!’ & detained Santana so long, that order could not be restored readily again.”

Today the story is generally accepted by historians and Emily West is celebrated on San Jacinto Day all across Texas. At the battlefield is the towering San Jacinto Monument.

The following version of the "Yellow Rose of Texas” is from the 1955 Mitch Miller rendition:

“There's a yellow rose in Texas, that I am going to see,
Nobody else could miss her, not half as much as me.
She cried so when I left her, it like to broke my heart,
And if I ever find her, we nevermore will part.

She's the sweetest little rosebud that Texas ever knew,
Her eyes are bright as diamonds, they sparkle like the dew;
You may talk about your Clementine, and sing of Rosalee,
But the yellow rose of Texas is the only girl for me.

When the Rio Grande is flowing, the starry skies are bright,
She walks along the river in the quiet summer night:
I know that she remembers, when we parted long ago,
I promise to return again, and not to leave her so.

She's the sweetest little rosebud that Texas ever knew,
Her eyes are bright as diamonds, they sparkle like the dew;
You may talk about your Clementine, and sing of Rosalee,
But the yellow rose of Texas is the only girl for me.

Oh now I'm going to find her, for my heart is full of woe,
And we'll sing the songs together, that we sung so long ago
We'll play the bango gaily, and we'll sing the songs of yore,
And the yellow rose of Texas shall be mine forevermore.

She's the sweetest little rosebud that Texas ever knew,
Her eyes are bright as diamonds, they sparkle like the dew;
You may talk about your Clementine, and sing of Rosalee,
But the yellow rose of Texas is the only girl for me.”

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