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Texas | Columns | Somewhere in the West

The Mysterious
Yellow Rose of Texas

by Linda Kirkpatrick

This is a story about Texas. It is the story of a woman---a mysterious woman closely related to the song, “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” This story first began as just a research into the song, “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” As I further delved into the research, I found a story beyond anything that I had imagined. Is it myth or is it fact, I do not know but I will share my discoveries and you can decide for yourself.

In March of 1836, after General Sam Houston heard the news of the fall of the Alamo, he ordered the settlers of South Texas to evacuate Mexico-Texas for Louisiana. He thought that in doing this they would be safe. He was right, but the trip was nearly 500 treacherous miles.

The refugees, mostly women, children and the elderly, walked, fled in crude carts and rode horse-back. They left fires burning in the fireplaces and food on the table. Most left all their belongings, though their belongings were few, behind. They ran in fear of Santa Anna and his Mexican army.

It rained and it rained but they trudged on through the cold and the mud. The rivers were flooded making crossing difficult at best. There was death, there was illness and there was Santa Anna and yet they continued towards Louisiana.

After the Battle of San Jacinto, many of the women returned to burned-out, looted homes. Some never returned at all. They saw no reason. One woman in particular left as soon as she could.

The Poem

The Yellow Rose of Texas

By H. B. C. (circa 1836)

There’s a yellow rose in Texas
That I am going to see
No other darky knows her
No one only me

She cryed so when I left her
It like to broke my heart
And if I ever find her
We never more 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
Beats the belles of Tennessee

The Story

The first version of the poem dates to around 1836. The author signed only with his initials, “H. B. C.” It is obvious that the author is a young black man, separated from his sweetheart. The question remains though about the identity of this young woman that he calls his yellow rose.

In 1836, this poem became associated with the newly formed Republic of Texas and later it became linked to a particular woman. The popularity of the song came later as well, but back to the mysterious woman of myth, fact, and fiction. This woman is easily connected to several men: H. B. C, the author of the original poem; James Morgan of New York and the Republic Texas; I. N. Moreland of the Republic of Texas; General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna; and Lorenzo de Zavala Vice-President of the Republic of Texas. Such a variety of associations only adds to the confusion over the identity of this elusive lady or ladies.

Myth allows us to connect a woman by the name of Emily with the original poem however researcher John Davis, of the Institute of Texan Culture in San Antonio, states, “No evidence links the music and an often-misidentified woman called Emily. But the link is a vague possibility and a fine temptation—and in some people’s mind, those make a fact.”

There are about as many questions and arguments about Emily as there are versions of the song. The story is one of intrigue that weaves itself deep into the warp and weft of Texas history. In many cases I have written the words as I found them with credits at the end of the story.

Emily D. West

Around 1800, in the state of Connecticut, Emily D. West was born. This Emily was a free person of color. But how much color no one knows. Could there have been enough color to make her residence in the Republic of Texas questionable. Could she be able to pass as white, or did she even care?

At the time in Mexico-Texas, persons of color had a difficult time. Free blacks could come into Mexico-Texas but they could not stay. Thus, a free person of color like Emily D. West could easily come to Texas as long as they did not keep permanent residence. But what if that person really wanted to stay, would they attempt to pass for white and create a cover in case their identity was questioned?

Again, there is nothing documented in history that can connect Emily to the song but she became the legend behind the song just the same. There are a few documented facts about Emily D. West, some are sketchy and there are a few “fictional facts” as well.

What is known for sure is that a Emily D. West of Connecticut birth signed on with James Morgan to work as a housekeeper in the new settlement of New Washington, Mexican-Texas. Morgan’s ship, The Flash, arrived in December 1835 on the shores of Galveston Bay, Mexico-Texas. Emily D. West was listed as a passenger on that ship.
Emily West de Zavala

There was another passenger on the same ship, The Flash, at the same time as Emily D. West. This other passenger was Emily West de Zavala. This Emily was the wife of Lorenzo de Zavala, the soon to be vice president of the Republic of Texas. Emily West de Zavala was born September 9, 1809 in New York City. She and her husband were the parents to three children, a daughter and two sons. This Emily also arrived on the shores of Galveston Bay, Mexico-Texas in December of 1835, the same ship and same time as Emily D. West.
The Twist

So now what have we here? Were there actually two women with similar names, close to the same age, going to the same place on The Flash or was there just one woman trying very hard to protect her identity? To add some explanation to this story, if the wife of Lorenzo de Zavala was of black descent, as some suspect, then she just may have double entered herself as a free black in case her identity was questioned. Throughout history, questions have surfaced about her color, but it is as much of a mystery today as it was in 1836.

The trail of the Texas Revolution is a long and sometimes bloody trail. The Convention of 1832 and 1833 sparked this revolution. The early Anglo settlers of Mexico-Texas met in Mexico City to express dissatisfaction with the government. Several skirmishes followed over the next three years that have held their place in Texas history as foundations for the birth of the Republic. The Texas Declaration of Independence was signed in 1836 and with that, the Republic of Texas was born.

At this point the speculation, the myth and the mystery of the Yellow Rose begins. This is the story of Emily D. West Morgan and Emily West de Zavala and the story will end with your own conclusion.

Fredonia and the Texas Revolution map
Fredonia and the Texas Revolt 1835-1836
Courtesy Phillpott collection

The Emily’s

The Flash, with Emily D. West and Emily West de Zavala aboard, departed New York City on November 2, 1835. It is confusing but possible that two women with such similar names, on the same ship, going to the same destination, could have happened. Further research just muddies the water floating The Flash to the distant port in Mexico-Texas.

There are a couple of documented facts that support the existence of one Emily West but even these don’t unravel the mystery of how many women named Emily West were connected with this tale. What these facts do prove is that there was at least one Emily West, a woman of color, a woman connected with James Morgan, a woman by that name at the Battle of San Jacinto, and an Emily West who was married to Lorenzo de Zavala. Other than these documented facts the rest are literally buried with Adina de Zavala, the granddaughter of Emily West and Lorenzo de Zavala. Adina, known as the family historian, could have settled the silt in the water. However, she chose not to, leaving the complete story of her grandmother an unsolved mystery.

Located in the Philpott Collection is a very important document that supports the identity of Emily West. It is an 1835 employment contract written in New York. Emily D. West, New Haven, Connecticut and Col. James Morgan signed this document. In it Emily agrees to come to Texas to work, “at any type of house work she is qualified to do,” at an annual wage of $100.00 If there were two women with the name Emily West, then the one in this document is Emily D. West.

Emily D. West sometimes takes the identity of Emily Morgan. Many times slaves took the last name of their owners. This is how the name Emily Morgan, the name so commonly associated with “The Yellow Rose of Texas” came about.

The other woman aboard The Flash was Emily West de Zavala, the wife of Lorenzo de Zavala. According to Adina de Zavala, this Emily, her ancestor was not of black ancestry. Being of black descent would have been a disastrous piece of information in Mexico-Texas in 1835. It appears that the lives of both women were closely paralleled, making the one woman theory a possibility.

Colonel James Morgan

Colonel James Morgan
Colonel James Morgan
Courtesy Phillpott collection

Colonel James Morgan played a major role in settling early Texas. He came to Mexico-Texas in 1835 when the Mexican province stood on the verge of open rebellion against the national government. Morgan founded a mercantile company and followed that up with real estate schemes. He was an entrepreneur and like most speculators, had Eastern investors backing his projects in soon to be Texas.

Also in 1835, Morgan—who was from Philadelphia—and his partner, Lorenzo de Zavala, laid out the town of New Washington, Texas. The community, located just north of Galveston Island at the mouth of the San Jacinto River, would hopefully flourish. Morgan imported Scot highlanders and blacks from Bermuda and New York to populate the new land and soon Morgan’s Point was born.

Lorenzo de Zavala

Lorenzo de Zavala
Lorenzo de Zavala
Courtesy Phillpott collection

Lorenzo de Zavala was born in the Yucatan. He spent his life involved in the politics of Mexico and later with the new Republic of Texas. By the year of 1835, he had served in the Mexican National Congress and had twice served as Governor of Mexico. He fled his home country in 1835 with a price on his head and dictator General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna hot on his heels. Alas, this fire would get hotter.

Santa Anna

Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna Perez de Lebron
Santa Anna
Courtesy Phillpott collection

Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna Perez de Lebron was born in Jalapa, Vera Cruz, Mexico on February 21, 1794. His family was considered middle class and he did manage to receive some education. Santa Anna’s military career began in 1810. He proved to be a force within and outside of his military life.

In 1835 his goal was to crush the rebellion in Texas. Sam Houston’s army captured Santa Anna after the battle of San Jacinto. Santa Anna was then sent to Washington D. C. and from there he was released to return to his home country of Mexico. He resumed his military career. He died on June 21, 1876.

The Texas Revolution

October 2, 1835 – April 21, 1836

Texas Declaration Of Independence 1836
Texas Declaration Of Independence 1836

During this volatile time, in this vast, wild region of Mexico-Texas, a small abandoned mission became the scene of one of the most remembered battles in history. The walls of this mission were the only defense for the approximately 200 brave volunteers who attempted to hold off the forces of thousands of Mexican troops. These troops, under the leadership of General Santa Anna, fired upon the mission for thirteen days. Eventually, on March 6, 1836, the Alamo fell. As the smoke from the funeral pyres darkened the skies, Sam Houston and his ragtag army abandoned the community of Gonzales and the Runaway Scrape began.

The Runaway Scrape was a panicked evacuation of Mexico-Texas led by Sam Houston. His army and the settlers who were living between San Antonio and Louisiana fled east. The thought being that if they could reach Louisiana, thereby leaving Mexico, they would be safe.

During the evacuation, myth says that Santa Anna took with him a captured mulatto woman, by the name of Emily, along with a young black boy. All the while, he continued to plow his way across the landscape, in hot pursuit of Sam Houston. If the mulatto woman did happen to be one of the Emily’s there is an explanation that could easily have put both Emily D. West and Emily West de Zavala in a situation where Santa Anna might have captured either.

One story states that Emily D. West Morgan stayed behind along with a young black boy to secure the holdings of James Morgan. Another says Emily West de Zavala failed to board a ship that would take her to safety because she returned to her home to get the family chest of silverware. Either situation put them in the path of Santa Anna.

It was truly a time of panic and the panic was justified. Santa Anna, an opium-addicted tyrant, amassed thousands of organized troops. Settlers had good reason to flee in fear. Santa Anna left a trail of dead bodies and burning buildings as he pursued Houston. But if all the tales are true, Santa Anna made one big mistake.

Stories say that an Emily was in the tent of Santa Anna on the day of the battle of San Jacinto. So how did or could all of this happen? And keep in mind this is all just…. “how it could have happened!”

The Tall Tale or Is It?
Santa Anna snatched Emily D. West Morgan and the young boy named Turner as they tried to secure the holdings of James Morgan. The two were to complete the job and then flee to Louisiana but that never happened.

Emily West de Zavala, hurrying to catch the boat with her silver, ended up watching in horror as the boat left without her. She sadly returned to her home.

As this tale goes, the Casanova of the West plucked an Emily from her home. Keep in mind that Santa Anna only had one Emily with him, but which one. He considered himself as a lady’s man and felt that Emily would make a nice addition to his harem.

Traveling along the mosquito-infested coastal territory, did the captured Emily realize Santa Anna’s intention? Did she plan to get word to Houston about the strategy and location of this tyrant? Did Emily, with a little covert planning, send word to Houston through the young boy named Turner to warn him of the approaching horde of Mexican soldiers? Did Turner escape and manage to elude the Mexican surveillances, making his way to Houston’s army as many stories tell?

Houston prepared for attack on the prairie of San Jacinto. On the morning of April 21, 1836, after Santa Anna’s troops crossed the San Jacinto River, Houston ordered the bridges burned. There would be no escape…for anyone.

Around mid-afternoon, Houston’s army crouched in position. Then with the cry, “Remember the Alamo, remember Goliad!” and a volley from the Twin Sisters cannon, the rag tag army of Houston charged. The Mexicans, in the middle of their siesta, were caught completely off guard. The Twin Sisters—matching cannon donated by the city of Cincinnati to aid in the battle for independence—made their way from Galveston to Morgan’s Point aboard The Flash. It seems like The Flash spent a lot of time transporting women of importance to and from Texas. The Battle of San Jacinto lasted about eighteen minutes, with the victory going to Houston.

Some say that an Emily was in the tent entertaining Santa Anna. Some say that the General, caught by surprise, could not utter an order. Some say that she was never there at all. Yet some believe that she was at the scene of the battle because women in the camps were not that uncommon, but if there was an Emily there which Emily, Emily D. West Morgan or Emily West de Zavala? Hmmmmmmm??
The following three documents possibly put a mulatto girl named Emily in Mexico-Texas during the time of the Revolution.

1. The first document is the contract drawn between James Morgan of New York and Emily D. West:

This agreement, made & entered into by and between Emily West of New Haven, Conn. of the one part & James Morgan of Texas of the other part, Witnesseth that the said West, hereby binds herself that she will go out in said Morgan’s vessel to Texas and there work for said Morgan at any kind of house work she, said West is qualified to do and to industriously pursue the same from the time she commences until the end of twelve months and not to quit or leave said Morgan’s employ after she commences work for him , at any time whatever without said Morgan’s consent, until the end of twelve months aforesaid, said Morgan hereby binding himself to the said West out to Texas on board said Morgan’s vessel, free of expense, and to set said West to work within one week after she gets there if not sooner, said Morgan agreeing to pay said West at the rate of one hundred dollars pr. year, said wages to be paid every three months if required.

In witness there of the parties have hereunto set their hands and seal in New York this “5th day of October 1835. In the presence of Frederick Platt, Simeon L. Jacilyn, J. Morgan, Emily D. West.

2. The second document, written after the battle of San Jacinto, was penned by Isaac N. Moreland, an artillery captain at that time. If the document is factual, then he obviously knew Emily and James Morgan and the document supports the fact that there was a woman named Emily at the battle. The document is as follows:

Capitol, Thursday morning
To the Hon. Dr. Irion
The bearer of this – Emily D. West has been since my first acquaintance with her, in April of –36 a free woman—she emigrated to this country with Col, Ja’s Morgan from the state of N. York in September of 35 and is now anxious to return and wishes a passport—I believe myself, that she is entitled to one and has requested me to give this note to you.

Your Obd’t Serv’t
I.N. Moreland
Her free papers were lost at San Jacinto as I am informed and believe in April—36

3. A document written by Englishman William Bollaert states in an entry from a private source which may have been Sam Houston:

“The Battle of San Jacinto was probably lost to the Mexicans, owing to the influence of a Mulatta girl (Emily) belonging to Col. Morgan who was closeted in the tent with G’l Santana, at the time the cry was made. “The enemy! They come! They come!” detained Santana so long, the order could not be restored readily again.”

The letter supporting this document has never been located. It is believed that someone who was on the battlefield of San Jacinto passed this story to Houston.

Oh my! What now? What became of Emily D. West Morgan? Well, no one really knows for sure. Some say that what probably happened is that she returned to New York wanting to get out of Texas as fast as she could, especially if she had secrets that she wanted to keep.

The other Emily, what about her? Well, Emily West de Zavala was honored to be the wife of the first Vice-President of the Republic of Texas, Lorenzo de Zavala. Lorenzo de Zavala died at the age of forty-eight, some seven months after Texas became a republic. The Flash returned his widow to New York. Hmm was this another coincidence that both women returned to New York?

The web site www.theoutlaws.com/people1.htm states the following:

It should be mentioned at this point that at least one descendant in the de Zavala family claims there was only one Emily West, and that she was his ancestor, Emily West de Zavala, that Emily D. West [Morgan] did not exist. It should also be mentioned that researchers have been trying very hard for years to prove that Emily West de Zavala WAS the Yellow Rose, something the de Zavala family has been trying equally as hard to dispute, since it would interject racial tones into their ancestry. So far, all that has been proved is nothing, and which party, if either, is on the right track is not known.

And the poem, what about it?

Another version called, “Emily, the Maid of Morgan’s Point” appeared. Confederate soldiers marched to the tune, “The Yellow Rose of Texas” during the Civil War.

Oh my feet are torn and bloody
And my heart if 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,
He played Hell in Tennessee.

In 1955, Mitch Miller recorded the version of the song we know today. The lyrics again changed, but the real Yellow Rose is still as unidentified in the song as she was in real life:

There’s a yellow rose in Texas,
That I am going to see,
Nobody else could miss her,
Not half as much as me.

She cried so when I left her
It like to broke my heart
And if I ever find her
We never more will part.

She’s the sweetest little rosebud,
That Texas ever knew
Her eyes are bright as diamonds
They sparkle like the dew.

You may talk about your Clementine
And sing of Rosalee,
But the Yellow Rose of Texas
If the only girl for me!

When 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 promise to return again
And not to leave her so.

And now I’m going to find her
For my heart is full of woe
And we’ll sing the songs together
That we sung so long ago.

We’ll play the banjo gaily
And we’ll sing the songs of yore.
And the Yellow Rose of Texas
Shall be mine forever more!

And yet another version added!

When I get back from Austin
How happy I will be
With the Yellow Rose of Texas
A sittin’ on my knee!

Yee Haw!

The End!

Without the following sources, I could not have learned or compiled the wonderful information about the mysterious Yellow Rose of Texas.


Making Myth of Emily, Denise McVea, Auris Books, copyright 2006, (ISBN10:0-9773465-0-1 and ISBN 13: 978-0-977465-0-9)

The Yellow Rose of Texas: Her Saga and Her Song, Martha Ann Turner, Shoal Creek Publisher, Inc. P.O. Box 9737 Austin, Texas 78766 (ISBN 0-88319-028-1)

Narrations at the Alamo: 9/12/2007

The Yellow Rose of Texas. www.theoutlaws.com/people1.htm

Philpott Collection. www.libraries.uta.edu/speccol/crost0-4/philpott.htm

Sons of DeWitt Colony Texas, www.tamu.edu/ccbn/dewitt/dewitt.htm (Wallace L. McKeehan, ed.) 10/2007

Ancestry.com – New Your City Marriages, 1600’s - - 1800’s

Handbook of Texas Online, s.v.”,” http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ZZ/fza8.html

© Linda Kirkpatrick
Somewhere in the West April 1, 2010 Column

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