Theme Song Thursday: Yellow Rose of Texas

4 Apr


While I was painting yellow roses on some wine glasses the other day, I couldn’t help but hum to myself…”There’s a Yellow Rose in Texas, That I am going to see, Nobody else could miss her, Not half as much as me.” Since we moved here to Texas nine years ago, I find myself painting a lot of yellow roses and bluebonnets. Must be something in the air. My artistic and writing endeavors have flourished with the warm Texas air and the friendly atmosphere. Yes, a glorious golden yellow rose is the perfect symbol for Texas.

I never knew all the words to the song or the history behind it, so I Googled it. TMI!!! I didn’t realize there were so many folklore tales about who the yellow rose was, and what the song was really about. If you weren’t born in Texas, and unfamiliar with the history, this might be interesting, maybe not. Gosh! I learn something new every day.

The song is based on a Texas legend from the days of the Texas War of Independence. According to the legend, Emily D. West (also known as “Emily Morgan”) was seized by Mexican forces during the looting of Galveston. She seduced General Antonio López de Santa Anna, President of Mexico and commander of the Mexican forces. The legend credits her supposed seduction of Santa Anna with lowering the guard of the Mexican army and facilitating the Texan victory in the Battle of San Jacinto waged in 1836 near present-day Houston. Santa Anna’s opponent was General Sam Houston, who won the battle literally in minutes, and with almost no casualties. West was a mulatto, of mixed race ancestry. The song refers to her as the “yellow” rose, in keeping with the historical use of term “high yellow” as a description of light skin among people of color in the South.
Historians assert that if West was with Santa Anna, it was not by her choice, nor did she play any part in deciding the battle. The seduction legend was largely unknown until the publication in the 1950s of a version of the lyrics based on William Bollaert’s account. Bollaert, a British subject, spent two years in Texas—1842 to 1844—and was a prolific writer, publishing more than 80 articles on various subjects.[4]
The basic facts[5] are that Emily West, a free person of color, migrated to Texas from New York City in late 1835 as an indentured servant under contract to the agent James Morgan. She was born free in New Haven, Connecticut.[6] Sources describe her as a teen or as a woman of twenty. She was to work as a housekeeper at the New Washington Association’s hotel, near what was then called New Washington and is now Morgan’s Point. Historians say she became known by West’s surname, as was the custom at the time for indentured servants and slaves.[6]
Santa Anna reportedly saw West in April 1836 when he invaded New Washington prior to the Battle of San Jacinto. West and other black servants were taken to his camp, along with some white residents who were captured.[6] According to legend, Santa Anna was with her when Texan General Sam Houston’s troops arrived, forcing him to flee suddenly without weapons or armor and enabling his capture the next day.[6] (Note: The seduction of a military leader by a beautiful woman who brings about his downfall, is featured in the “Book of Judith,” in the Apocrypha of the Bible.)

Who knew? Anything is possible. They wrote a song about it, didn’t they? Must be true.

2 Responses to “Theme Song Thursday: Yellow Rose of Texas”

  1. hoping4astory April 5, 2013 at 2:01 am #

    You learn something new every day. I just thought it was based on a yellow rose growing in Texas!

  2. Dan Hennessy April 5, 2013 at 3:53 am #

    I admire your ability to keep up your daily posts . They’re fun . Thanks .

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