Many stories have been told about this mysterious woman, some of
much truth is lost in the mist of 177 years, in the smoke of campfire
stories and in the exaggeration of battlefield braggadocio about
Emily Morgan, The Yellow Rose of Texas, said to be a beautiful mulatta
seductress, a camp follower present on the battlefield
at San Jacinto when General
Sam Houston defeated Mexican General Santa Anna to win Texas
Independence from Mexico in April 1836. Legend credits Emily with
distracting Santa Anna in his tent so the Texian army could spring
a surprise attack and quickly defeat the Mexican army. If Emily
were there, she was not there willingly. And she could not have
known the Texians were planning a surprise attack.
Moreover, her name wasn't Emily Morgan; it was Emily D. West. She
was not a Mexican army camp follower. She was a woman of color,
of mixed race, newly arrived in Texas
as one of several indentured servants of Colonel James Morgan, a
promoter and entrepreneur from Philadelphia with business interests
in New York and Texas.
Emily stated to Morgan she was born free in New Haven, Connecticut,
when he hired her in New York in late 1835 to come to Texas
to work for $100 a year in his hotel at what was then New Washington,
Point. Noted abolitionist, Reverend Simeon Jocelyn, witnessed
the New York indenture papers she signed with Morgan.
Emily boarded a boat in New York belonging to Morgan and arrived
in Texas where she became known by
Morgan's surname as was the custom at the time for indentured servants
and slaves. It was noted by locals in New Washington that she was
an eastern import of intelligence and sophistication. She was said
to be beautiful and attracted admiring attention in New Washington.
Shortly after Emily's arrival in New Washington, Santa Anna's army,
on the way to San Jacinto, captured her at Morgan's Hotel. She was
now a prisoner of war and held at San Jacinto for two days until
of San Jacinto.
Santa Anna, the arrogant, self-styled Napoleon of the West, was
a notorious womanizer although he had a wife in Mexico, and the
Mexican army did not take prisoners unless they had a use for them.
On the day of the battle, one of General
Houston's officers, using a spy glass to watch the Mexican camp,
reported seeing a handsome mixed race woman entering Santa Anna's
tent during afternoon siesta.
Anna failed to post sentries while he was engaged with Emily in
his tent, giving the Texians opportunity to slip unobserved through
the tall prairie grass and launch a surprise attack on the casually
camped Mexicans. The Mexicans were caught completely off guard.
The first warning was Mexican troops shouting, "The enemy, they
come, they come!" But it was too late.
With shouts of "Remember the
Alamo" and "Remember Goliad,"
two recent battles where the Mexican army had slaughtered the outnumbered
Texian soldiers, the rag-tag, still outnumbered Texians furiously
attacked the Mexican camp. Confusion and panic reigned over the
surprised Mexicans and they were never able to restore order. One
Mexican officer, Colonel Pedro Delgado, later wrote that Santa Anna
ran around in confusion, wringing his hands, unable to give an order.
History records that the fiercely fighting Texians defeated the
Mexican army in just eighteen minutes, although it took until well
into the next day to round up the Mexican soldiers who were in hiding
after they ran away from the battlefield. Those eighteen minutes
live in history as one of the most decisive battles in U.S. history
because Santa Anna, hiding in disguise, was captured the next day
and forced to sign the two Treaties
of Velasco. In the treaties, soon to be violated by both sides,
Texas gained independence from Mexico which eventually led to the
U.S. annexation of Texas as a state, as well as the U.S. acquisition
of New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, California and parts of Colorado,
Kansas and Oklahoma in the Mexican American War, in all more than
one million square miles. The only money that changed hands was
$18.5 million the US paid Mexico and assumed $3.5 million in Mexican
debt owed to the United States. Perhaps an unknown, unpaid debt
was owed to Emily.
evidence that Emily was at the battle was found in a chance conversation
in 1842 between a visiting Englishman named William Bollaert and
Bolleart recorded in his journal, "The Battle
of San Jacinto was probably lost to the Mexicans, owing to the
influence of a Mullata girl (Emily) belonging to Col. Morgan, who
was closeted in the tent of G'l Santana." Bollaert had marked the
story "Private" and underlined it three times. General
Houston had related the story to Bollaert soon after visiting
Isaac Moreland on his deathbed in June 1842.
Emily had told her story to Moreland, the artillery officer present
at the Battle
of San Jacinto who had obtained her replacement passport for
her return to New York in 1837. Moreland wrote a letter to the secretary
of state saying he had met Emily in April 1836, a thirty-six year
old free woman, who had lost her "free papers" on the San Jacinto
Battlefield, and she was anxious to return home to New York. This
passport application is housed in the Texas State Archives. No official
record of Emily D. West exists after the New York 1840 census.
after the Battle
of San Jacinto, soldiers, slaves and indentured servants began
embellishing stories and singing a romantic song about The Yellow
Rose of Texas. The song's popularity spread to the parlors of Texas
and beyond, and it was later sung by soldiers in the War Between
the States from 1861-1865. The University of Texas Center for American
History has an unpublished early handwritten variation of that song,
perhaps dating from the Battle
of San Jacinto in 1836. The first published version is 1858.
Emily's legend endured through the years, and in 1955 musician Mitch
Miller's reworked version of the old song hit the top of the best
seller charts. Miller's version was featured in the motion picture
Giant. The words, in part, are:
"Where the Rio Grande is flowing, the starry skies are bright,
She walks along the river in the quiet summer night:
I know that she remembers when we parted long ago,
I promised to return again and not to leave her so….
The Yellow Rose of Texas will be mine forevermore"