'The sweetest
little rosebud
'we never knew'
Yellow Rose still unsolved

KENT BIFFLE'S TEXANA, Sunday, April 13, 1997, 47A-48A
©1997, Dallas Morning News

Now, all together, gang."She's the sweetest little rosebud that Texas ever knew . . ."Whoa. Hold on. Let's sing that line as ". . Texas NEVER knew . . ."Sure, we've all heard that this ditty, The Yellow Rose of Texas, was inspired by a gorgeous slave girl who swapped her virtue for Sam Houston's victory at San Jacinto in 1836. Not so, concludes an expert. Texas Folklore Society's F.E. "Ab" Abernethy said, "I've never found anything to tie the song to the Texas Revolution or to San Jacinto.

"YRT isn't a folk song," he said, noting that it was a commercial song, printed as sheet music in 1858, composed by someone signed "J.K." And the slave girl story remains an unsolved mystery of Texas history. Among sleuths trying to crack that case is North Carolinian James Lutzweiler. He's made a startling find. And I'll get to that. Untold 120 years.

The spicy tale was untold for 120 years after Houston's troops won Texas independence from Mexico at San Jacinto. Then it showed up as a footnote in a book published in 1956-William Bollaert's Texas. The volume was a collection of observations made by a British traveler in the Republic of Texas.

A July 7,1842, entry from Buffalo Bayou says: "We gazed with some interest on the battlefield of San Jacinto." Immediately following is the tale, oddly reduced to a footnote by editor W. Eugene Hollon: "The Battle of San Jacinto was probably lost to the Mexicans, owing to theinfluence of a mulatto girl- [Emily] belonging to Colonel Morgan-who was closeted in the tent with General Santa Anna at the time the cry was made `the enemy! they come! they come!' and detained Santa Anna so long that order could not be restored readily again."

Until the delayed publication of the Bollaert papers by the University of Oklahoma Press, the story was virtually unknown. For example, there's no mention of the girl, the story, or the song in the original Handbook of Texas, published a couple of generations ago by the Texas State Historical Association.

But the New Handbook of Texas, published last year by TSHA, included an update from historian Margaret Swett Henson of Houston: "Emily D. West, erroneously called Emily Morgan by those who presumed her a slave of James Morgan and, The Yellow Rose of Texas by 20th century myth makers, was born a free black in New Haven, Conn. She signed a contract with agent James Morgan in New York City on Oct. 25, 1835, to work a year as housekeeper at the New Washington [Texas] Assn. hotel, Morgan's Point . . .

Seducing Santa Anna

"A story was told ... that Emily had helped defeat the Mexican army by a dalliance with Santa Anna."

The Bollaert papers are the only known l9th century documentation for the dalliance, said Dr. Henson. She wrote that the 1956 footnote "launched prurient interest on the part of two amateur historians who concocted the modern fiction. Francis X. Tolbert, a prolific journalist [for The Dallas Morning News] says in his [1959 book] Day of San Jacinto that Emily was a 'decorative longhaired mulatto ... Latin-looking woman of about 20.' No footnote documents this description or the statement that she was in Santa Anna's tent . . .

"Henderson Shuffler, also a journalist who became a publicist, added she was a fitting candidate for the identity of the girl in the then-popular Mitch Miller version of The Yellow Rose of Texas. Shuffler credited Tolbert for bringing Emily's story out into the open and then manufactured more fantasies. He suggested that a stone might be placed at the San Jacinto battleground 'in honor of Emily who gave her all for Texas . . .'

"In 1976 a professor of English at Sam Houston State University, Martha Anne Turner, published a small book, The Yellow Rose of Texas: Her Saga and Her Song."

At a TSHA meeting, researcher Lutzweiler called Professor Turner's writing "the yellow rose of Texas." He said, "For Turner, Emily D.West was a 'long-haired ,lovely, gold-skinned girl resembling a Latin goddess.' She was not only intelligent, but exceptionally so. She may even have played the piano for Santa Anna in his tent in between modeling dresses and sampling chocolates stolen from the Texans.

"Turner also portrayed Emi!y as passing along Mexican military intelligence to Sam Houston - who on the morning of the battle 'climbed a tree and watched Emily serve Santa Anna breakfast' while making an aside to [Texan scout] Deaf Smith, 'I sure hope that slave girl makes him neglect his business and keeps him in bed all day."'

Well, gag me with a grapefruit spoon.

After three visits to the Newberry Library in Chicago, repository of the Bollaert papers, Jim Lutzweiler determined that the globe-trotting Brit got the sensational story from no less than old San Jacinto himself - General Sam Houston.

In unedited Bollaert papers, the researcher discovered that the piece of manuscript on which the Santa Anna-Emily affair was penned had been removed from one spot and pasted to another.

Replacing the torn or cut piece, he said, reveals that General Houston was the source. Just above the cut or tear, William Bollaert had given his source of the Emily story: "The following is a copy of an unpublished letter written by General Houston to a friend after this extraordinary battle." The balance of the letter is missing. Mr. Lutzweiler's professor at North Carolina State University is a scholarly Texan, James E. Crisp, who tells me he accepts the grad student's findings, which are a part of his master's thesis.

One question is why no one but William Bollaert recorded the tale. Who was the addressee ofthe Houston letter? And why doesn't the letter or another one relating the same anecdote turn up in collections of Houston letters? A good collection just issued by the UNT Press -The Personal Correspondence of Sam Houston - 1839-1841- includes no references to hanky panky in Santa Anna's tent.

Was he pulling someone's leg? Not everything Sam Houston uttered was a scientific fact. And he was occasionally hitting the bottle as late as 1843 while practicing a sort of Houston style abstinence ?

We know Mexican soldiers seized Emily and other black servants at New Washington on April 16, 1836. Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna arrived at New Washington the next day, and after three days of resting and looting the warehouses, he ordered the buildings set afire.

He rode off to challenge Sam Houston's army, encamped about 10 miles away on Buffalo Bayou.

Dr. Henson said, "Emily was forced to accompany the Mexican army, doubtless already a rape victim.

"She may have been in Santa Anna's tent when the Texans charged the Mexican camp on April 21, but not by choice. She could not have known Houston's plans, nor could she have intentionally delayed Santa Anna."

After San Jacinto, she drifts off history's radar screen. But, for losing Texas, Santa Anna became a sitting target. He was energetically despised by many of his officers at San Jacinto.

A number of them mercilessly criticized him in print. But not one reported his daliance with woman at San Jacinto. This, historians Henson and Crisp agree, is the most telling arguement against acceptance of what became in our time the Yellow Rose legend.

See Also:
In Search of the Yellow Rose of Texas
Texas history is full of legend and lore. One such tale is the "Yellow Rose of Texas" - a legend commemorated in song. Mark Whitelaw examines the legend and the song.

Historian disputes claim Santa Anna had battlefield tryst
Even if Sam Houston says it's so, the story that a beautiful mulatto girl distracted Santa Anna and helped make the Mexicans lose the pivotal Battle of San Jacinto still doesn't ring true.

©1996-1997, Randell Tarin. All Rights Reserved