The Yellow Rose of Texas

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Most Texans can hum the tune, some can recite the legend, but few can tell you the true story of the mysterious woman known as the Yellow Rose of Texas. And little wonder, in the 180 years since the Battle of San Jacinto, her role in that decisive day has been embellished and exaggerated, the line between fact and fiction forever blurred.

Mystery Woman

Photo: gratisography.com

Emily D. West was a multiracial woman born free in New Haven, Connecticut in the early 19th century, although the exact date is unknown.  In New York City in 1835, West signed a contract of indenture to James Morgan of Philadelphia, a merchant, land speculator, and agent of Texas real estate development company New Washington Association, headquartered in New Washington, Texas, now known as Morgan’s Point. Witnessed by Reverend Simeon Jocelyn (a prominent abolitionist), the indenture contract provided that Morgan would pay Emily D. West $100 to work for one year as housekeeper at the New Washington Association’s hotel in New Washington and would arrange for her transportation to Texas.

Morgan's Point

Photo: wikimedia.org

Emily landed in Texas in December 1835 and soon drew admiration from many in New Washington for her beauty, intellect, and sophistication. As was common practice at the time for indentured servants and slaves, Emily was now known by her employer’s surname and thus became Emily Morgan. Just a few months following her arrival, on April 16, 1936, Mexican advance cavalrymen stormed into New Washington, seizing Emily along with many other servants, workmen, and residents. General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna joined his troops the next day and after a brief respite, ordered his forces to continue to Buffalo Bayou, where they intended to oppose Sam Houston’s army. Emily Morgan, now a prisoner of war, was forced to make the march with them.

The Battle of San Jacinto (1895)

Photo: wikimedia.org

The events of April 21, 1836 are well-documented, especially by Texas historians. But the truth of Emily West’s actions that day has been lost to the past. She may have been a beautiful “Yellow Rose” and she may have been in Santa Anna’s tent when Texas forces ambushed the encamped Mexican army, but it is highly unlikely that she or any of her fellow prisoners of war knew of General Houston’s plans or aided them in any way. Yet, very soon after the Battle of San Jacinto, tales of her supposed deception whirled around campfires and spread through saloons, eventually evolving into the song and story we know today.

Quill Pen Writing

Photo: flickr/jeffnelson

Meanwhile, the real Emily D. West continued to live in Texas until 1837. Following San Jacinto, West lived under the protection of Captain Isaac N. Moreland, an artillery officer who was later promoted to commandant of the Galveston garrison. It was Moreland who assisted Emily in attaining a passport when she decided to return home, vouching that he had met her in April, 1836, a free woman and that her “free papers” had been lost on the field of battle at San Jacinto.

Sheet Music

Photo: pixabay.com

After her return to New York, little is known of Emily D. West’s remaining years. In fact, there is scant mention of her in any records past the New York 1840 census. However, her life and the legend surrounding it will always be remembered as long as there are Texans to sing her song, “The Yellow Rose of Texas”.