The Yellow Rose of Texas.
“You can talk about your dearest maids
And sing of rose-a-lee.
But the Yellow Rose of Texas
Beats the belles of Tennessee.”
So went the lyrics in an old song book my grandmother Crossley read to me. Wish I had it. Those lyrics antedate the recorded country-western versions.
You may have read that a mulatto woman, Emily Morgan, entertained Mexican General Santa Ana and distracted him during the Battle of San Jacinto, where the Texicans defeated the Mexican and won Texas its freedom. She became the Yellow Rose of Texas. That’s a great legend but probably without any basis.
Emily West (not Morgan) was a free woman of color in New York. She signed a one-year contract with a Texan planter, James Morgan, to be his housekeeper. When the Mexican army destroyed Morgan’s plantation they took with them all the slaves and Emily West as well. After the battle at San Jacinto, Emily found refuge with one Isaac Moreland. That much is known.
The legend of the Yellow Rose cropped up in the 1840s and was passed along in barrooms. Years later, the Texas writer Francis X. Tolbert included the legend in his book The Day of San Jacinto but cited no references. In the 1950s a Texas Historian from A&M said Emily was the girl described in the popular Mitch Miller version of The Yellow Rose of Texas. The legend grew and grew, with increasingly fantastic tales of the beauty of Emily the Yellow Rose.
There’s no documentation anyplace that suggests that any of this is real. The reports of the Mexican officers do not mention her. The victorious Texans are silent. She did not appear any place after the Battle of San Jacinto.
The real Emily West applied for and received a passport in 1837. She returned to New York, presumably on Morgan’s schooner along with Lorenzo de Zavala’s widow.
And I STILL maintain – always have – that the Yellow Rose of Texas is the bloom of the Opuntia cactus, so beloved in my childhood.
March 20, 2018. Happy Birthday, Chris.
“This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” – actor in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.