The Yellow Rose of Texas: The Elusive Truth
It's certainly one of the spicier tales in Texas lore: Connecticut native Emily West was a 20-year-old indentured servant on landowner James Morgan's plantation near present-day Baytown. Legend has Gen. Santa Anna taking a fancy to the striking mulatto when, in April 1836, his army passed through the area looking for supplies. On the morning of April 21, Sam Houston is said to have spied West making a champagne breakfast outside Santa Anna's tent, and reportedly remarked, "I hope that slave girl makes him neglect his business and keeps him in bed all day." With the general thus distracted, Houston's ragtag band of irregulars surprised the Mexican army at San Jacinto, securing Texas' independence and West's place in Lone Star legend. But she's not the yellow rose of the beloved song. Texas Folklore Society secretary Francis E. Abernethy's essay "The Elusive Emily West," published in 2001 as part of 2001: A Texas Folklore Odyssey (University of North Texas Press), reveals that the song was in fact printed as sheet music in 1858 by Firth, Pond, and Co. of New York City and is credited to a mysterious "J.K." "I cannot find anything," writes Abernethy, "that makes me think that 'Yellow Rose of Texas' is anything more than a successful generic minstrel song of its time."
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