Thursday, November 17, 2022

The Legend of the Yellow Rose of Texas and a 200 year old somg

My husband and I have just finished a tour of the Southwestern United States. One place we visited was the Alamo. I’m a real history nerd and I love reading all the plagues in the museum and on the statues outside surrounding the museum. I was surprised to see one honoring the Yellow Rose of Texas. No, it wasn’t a giant bronze flower but a lovely woman. There was a real person behind the song. Now I was intrigued. Not being from Texas, I assumed it was a sweet love song dedicated to all the women of Texas.

photo by Cindy Huff  

According to the information on the plaque the fair maiden depicted on the statue was Emily D. West, an African -American woman from Connecticut, who contracted as a housekeeper for a man from New York, Colonel James Morgan when he traveled to Texas in 1835. She was said to be intelligent and very beautiful. There are two versions of who she was and how she came to Texas. The first, she was a free-born black looking for a new start, another that she was of mixed-race who signed on as a servant to avoid the prejudice she suffered back East.

Whatever her back story, she was in Texas during the Battle of San Jacinto, when she was taken captive by Santa Ana’s troops. The story goes Santa Ana took a liking to Emily and had a relationship with her. It is unclear whether she encouraged the dalliance or was forced into it.  

The legend is she kept him distracted enough to aid the Texans in defeating and capturing the general. While others think it was merely a coincidence. How would Emily have known Sam Houston’s battle plans? Yet, the spy legend stands. Santa Ana’s troop were massive but moved very slowly due to his many creature comforts, such as his three roomed carpeted tent that had to be hauled along with the troops. He had acquired a piano from a previous sacking of a village, and Emily was probably another spoil of war.

After Santa Ana’s defeat, Miss West requested a passport back to New York. All blacks needed passes in order to travel unmolested across the country. General Morgan provided it and she disappeared into obscurity. Apparently, she did not wish to be a celebrity.

In 1850, the song the Yellow Rose of Texas was composed by someone with the initials JK. The original lyrics referred to her as a mulatto ( mixed-race) and the narrator of the song being a “darkie” searching for his lost love. In 1955, the musician and songwriter Mitch Miller took out all the racial references and recorded it as the song we know today. Here’s is Mitch Millers version.

Here’s a link  to a site that shows various version of the song.

It was amazing to discover the variety of lyrics that evolved though the years. Even Elvis recorded his own version.

Another interesting tidbit I discover when I did further research was the Society of the Knights of the Yellow Rose. This secret society sole purpose is to insure she isn’t forgotten. They claim if one walks the grounds of San Jacinta’s battle site at night you might see her ghost. Which seems even more far-fetched as there isn’t even a reference to her at the battle site. It is more likely died back east.

Whether she was a spy or a woman in an unfortunate situation, she made her mark in Texas history through the lyrics of an almost two century old song.


Have you ever heard of the Yellow Rose of Texas?

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting today! I never realized the song was anything more than just a nice ditty about an obscure girlfriend.