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.