Emily D. West and the "Yellow Rose of Texas" Myth

By Phillips, Michael | The Journal of Southern History, May 2015 | Go to article overview

Emily D. West and the "Yellow Rose of Texas" Myth


Phillips, Michael, The Journal of Southern History


Emily D. West and the "Yellow Rose of Texas" Myth. By Phillip Thomas Tucker. (Jefferson, N.C., and London: McFarland and Company, 2014. Pp. [viii], 267. Paper, $45.00, ISBN 978-0-7864-7449-3.)

Readers will be disappointed by the end of Phillip Thomas Tucker's book Emily D. West and the " Yellow Rose of Texas" Myth that they have learned virtually nothing about the woman or the myth mentioned in the title. This is not entirely Tucker's fault. Virtually no evidence exists documenting the life of Emily D. West, who became a central character in a likely false story about Mexico's defeat in the Texas Revolution's decisive 1836 battle of San Jacinto. A free African American woman originally from New Haven, Connecticut, who spent a few months as a servant in Texas during the revolution, Emily West somehow transformed in public memory into the mythical Emily Morgan.

According to legend, Morgan was a mixed-race slave who distracted Mexican president General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna with a sexual tryst just as Texan general Sam Houston's troops launched a surprise attack. No Mexican or Texan witnesses to the battle alluded to this incident in the years immediately following. The whole story seems to rest on one paragraph in an unpublished manuscript written by an English author, William Bollaert, who traveled through Texas from 1842 to 1844. Bollaert attributes the story to a now-vanished letter purported to have been written by Sam Houston to an unnamed friend. "The Battle of San Jacinto was probably lost for the Mexicans owing to the influence of a Mulatta Girl (Emily)," Bollaert quotes from the letter (p. 11). This story first became widely known upon publication of the Bollaert papers in 1956 (William Bollaert's Texas, edited by W. Eugene Hollon and Ruth Lapham Butler [Norman, 1956], 108n24), one year after Mitch Miller and his orchestra recorded a hit cover of the old minstrel song, "The Yellow Rose of Texas. …

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