The Yellow Rose of Texas

The yellow rose of Texas is an American traditional folk song. The earliest version known is handwritten, the author is unknown. Possibly the song is dating from the time of the Battle of San Jacinto, to which the song refers. The first published version is dated September 2, 1858.

The song is believed to be based on a Texas legend from the days of the War of Independance. 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 1896.
Santa Anna's opponent was General Sam Houston, who won the battle literally in minutes, and with almost no casualties. According to the legend, Santa Anna was with Emily West when General Houston's troops arrived. Santa Anna had to flee without weapons or armor and enabling his capture the next day.

This are the basic historical facts: Emily West was a mulatto, possibly from Bermuda, of mixed race ancestry. The original lyrics refer to her as the "Yellow" rose, in keeping with the term "High yellow" which was commonly used as a descripion of light skin among people of color in the South. She was brought to Texas by James Morgan, who immigrated to Texas in 1830. He was an entrepreneur from Philadelphia with extensive holdings. Morgan was eager to capitalize on the cheap land and business opportunities in the Mexican colony, which would ultimately become Texas. Texas did not permit slavery and Morgan wanted to bring 16 with him. So he circumvented the law: he converted his slaves into 99-year indentured servants. One of the indentured servants was Emily West "an Eastern import with extraordinary intelligence and sophistication". According to some records she volonteered to be endured, most possibly to escape prejudice against her mixed race.
Emily West was left in charge of loading flatboats destined to feed the army. When in 1836 General Santa Anna moved his troops to attack the Texas rebels, he approached New Washington, where he found Emily. Immediately he was struck by her beauty. He captured her, together with a young Yellow boy, Turner. Santa Anna cajoled Turner to  lead his Mexican scouts to the Houston encampement. But West convinced the young man to escape and rush to Houston's camp to inform him of the Mexican general's arrival.

Although Santa Anna was married to a woman in Mexico, he remarried one of his captives from his Texas campaign. Now he had seen Emily he wanted her too. He ordered immediate setting up of his encampement on the plains of the San Jacinto, despite protestations from his colonels who insisted the location violated all principles of wartime strategy. They were right. Houston, as Turner had told him about Santa Anna's location, moved his troops into the woods within a scant mile of Santa Anna's headquarters.
By afternoon the final battle for the independance of Texas was engaged. The Mexican army was caught completely by surprise, Santa Anna was caught, running away from the battle, his shirt open and concealed under a dead soldier's blue smock, put on in a hurry during his attemted escape. E. West survived the battle and made her way back to New Washington.

Today the heroic acts of Emily West are still commemorated by the members of the Knight of the Yellow Rose of Texas each April 21 at San Jacinto.

During the Civil War the song became popular among Confederate soldiers in the Texas Brigade. General John Bell Hood introduced it as a marching song, as he took command of the Army of Tennessee in July 1864. The final verse and chorus were slightly altered by the remains of Hood's force after their disastrous Tennesse campaign at the Battle of Nashville in December of that year: 
      And now I'm going southward, for my heart is full of woe,
      I'm going back to Georgia, to find my Uncle Joe, 
      You may talk about your Beauregard, and sing of Bobby Lee,
      But the gallant Hood of Texas played hell in Tennessee.

Some of Hood's troops were so disoriented after the loss, they actually thought the war was over and started returning home, singing The Yellow Rose of Texas.
The yellow rose of Texas
There's a yellow rose in Texas, that I am going to see,
No other darky knows her, no darky only me
She cryed 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 rose of color this darky ever knew,
Her eyes are bright as diamonds, they sparkle like the dew;
You may talk about your Dearest May, and sing of Rosa Lee,
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 quite [sic] summer night:
She thinks if I remember, when we parted long ago,
I promised to come back again, and not to leave her so. 


Oh now I'm going to find her, for my heart is full of woe,
And we'll sing the songs togeather [sic], 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. 


More than 25 years later the lyrics were changed to eliminate the more racially charged lyrics.
"Darky" was replaced by "soldier" and also the first line of the chorus was changed: "the sweetest rose of colour" 
was changed into "She's the sweetest little rosebud"
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