I’ve heard of this song (the first published edition of which was copyrighted by Firth, Pond and Company of New York on September 2, 1858.), but never actually heard the song itself. I don’t get the feeling that this is the proudest moment in “mulatto history”, but if these are indeed the facts, it was a moment so…
Group will shed light on minorities’ role in the settling of the West
BY MITCH MITCHELL
Our ancestors kept secrets.
The secrets they kept, and the secrets their parents kept from them, left holes in our histories.
Minorities helped create Texas and the nation and helped tame the West, but they barely get a mention in most history books.
On Tuesday, a group of people who can shed light on that era will gather at the Palace Arts Theater in Grapevine. Author Liz Lawless, along with amateur historians and living-history storytellers Wendell Prince and Rosieleetta Lee Reed, will attempt to fill some of those historical gaps while dressed in period costumes.
Reed specializes in stories about frontier women, like stagecoach driver Mary Fields… But if you take Reed aside and ask, she may tell you a story about Emily D. West, perhaps a hero of the Battle of San Jacinto, who was made famous by a song that historians say had nothing to do with her: The Yellow Rose of Texas.
Historians are almost certain that West was a free woman of mixed race who migrated from Connecticut to Texas. Documents place her in Galveston in the employ of Col. James Morgan in 1835, and later at the Battle of San Jacinto.
Beyond that, little is known for sure. Santa Anna’s account is that he was asleep when the Texian army attacked and could not rouse himself to stem the ensuing chaos and his army’s ultimate defeat, said Jeff Dunn, amateur historian and an expert on West. Some say they believe that Santa Anna was involved in a dalliance with West at the time of the attack and that she detained him long enough to ensure a Texas victory.
“Some argued that she was his concubine, and some argued that she was a white woman,” Reed said. “She was black. She was contraband.”
Mexican troops burned Morgan’s property in Galveston and captured West and several of Morgan’s servants days before the epic battle.
“The only reason we know this story exists is because William Bollaert wrote about it to a friend, and then tried to tell him to keep it quiet,” Dunn said. “Off to the left-hand margin he writes ‘private’ and he underlines it three times.”
Bollaert wrote the following, stating that this came from a letter written by Houston to a friend, Dunn said.
“The battle of San Jacinto was probably lost to the Mexicans, owing to the influence of a Mulatto 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, that order could not be restored readily again.”
It was not until the 1950s, when Henderson Shuffler, another amateur historian and later a publicist for Texas A&M University, linked The Yellow Rose of Texas and West forever, according to the Handbook of Texas Online. However, historians believe that the song was written by an African-American man longing for his light-skinned sweetheart and was linked to West erroneously.
Frontier Texas was a very fluid place racially speaking, said Sam Haynes, University of Texas-Arlington history professor and the director of its Center for Southwestern Studies. Marriages between different racial groups are evident in the state’s early history, Haynes said.
The real ‘Stagecoach Mary’ story:
Mary Fields, Black Mary, and ‘Stagecoach Mary’ are all one of the same person. Mary was born in 1832, a slave in Tennessee and was owned by a Catholic family; the father was a businessman and Judge who had a single girl child the same age as Mary. Mary’s mother was the House Slave Servant and the judge’s favorite cook; therefore Mary was always in the main house, in the kitchen and not in the fields, as a Field Slave. Mary’s father was a Field Slave, and Field Slaves were not allowed in the Main House, much less, to court a House Slave. Mary’s mother became pregnant by Mary’s father and he was beaten and sold to another plantation for getting Mary’s mother pregnant. After Mary’s birth, Mary’s mother and her were allowed to stay in the main house, and Mary became the Judge’s daughters’ playmate, therefore being the Judge’s daughter’s playmate, Mary was allowed to read and write, a rarity for that time.
After the emancipation and coming into adulthood, Mary was 6 feet tall and weighed over 200 pounds. Mary became her own woman and traveled solely from Tennessee, up and down the Mississippi River, to Ohio, then finally to Montana where she got her nickname at the turn of the 20th Century. She earned this nickname by working for “Wells Fargo” delivering the United States Mail through adverse conditions that would have discouraged the most hardened frontiersmen of her time. All by herself, she never missed a day for 8 years, carrying the U. S. Mail and other important documents that helped settle the wild open territory of central west Montana.
Mary had no fear of man, nor beast, and this sometimes got her into trouble. She delivered the mail regardless of the heat of the day, cold of night, wind, rain, sleet, snow, blizzards, Indians and Outlaws.
Mary was a cigar smoking, shotgun and pistol toting Negro Woman, who even frequented saloons drinking whiskey with the men, a privilege only given to her, as a woman. However, not even this fact, sealed Mary’s credentials given to her, her credentials boasted that, “She would knockout any man with one punch”, a claim which she proved true.
Her fame was so acclaimed, even the Actor, Gary Cooper, two time Academy Award Winner, told a story about her in 1959 which appeared in Ebony Magazine that same year. While, Annie Oakley and Martha Canary (Calamity Jane) were creating their history with Buffalo Bill, Stagecoach Mary was making “her Epic Journey!”
Despite Mary’s hardness, she had another side of her, a kindness so strong, even today, in the beginning of the 21st Century, the town of Cascade, Montana, and other surrounding communities celebrate her birthday.
The Epic movie is in pre-production mode. Check out website at http://www.stagecoachmary.net
Hello Yellow Rose.
Beautiful and Fantastic…you are doing a great service to American History, African-American/Black History, our history, not his-story.
“If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.” Dr. Carter G. Woodson 1875 -1950
“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” Marcus Garvey 1887 – 1940
“A tree without roots can not bare fruit and will die.” Erich Martin Hicks 1952 – Present
Spread the word.
It is interesting how the lyrics have changed to suit the purpose. Thanks for sharing Tiff.
Awesome blog. Really Wonderful.