You’ve heard the song, The Yellow Rose Of Texas, right? Have you ever wondered what it was about? (If you have, you’re probably a Texan). Regardless of all of the famous singers over the past 100 years that have sang a version of it, what would you say if I told you that that original song was written about a specific lady? And a specific “Colored” lady at that? Yep, there’s a story behind the song, and folklore behind the lady the song is about. Read Closely! Here are the oldest known lyrics of the song:
There's a yellow rose in Texas, that I am going to see, No other darky [sic] knows her, no darky only me She cried so when I left her it like to broke my heart, And if I ever find her, we nevermore will part. [Chorus] 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. When the Rio Grande is flowing, the starry skies are bright, She walks along the river in the quiet summer night: She thinks if I remember, when we parted long ago, I promised to come back again, and not to leave her so. [Chorus] Oh 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 forevermore. [Chorus]
Yes!!! It seems like it’s written by a poor, black, farm hand, who may, or may not be free, right?. This version above, was used in an old-timey, Minstrel show (blackface and all) called, Christy’s Plantation Melodies #2, in 1853. Over the years, words such as “darky” were replaced with words such as “Soldier”, and verses were re-written to be less specific about the song’s true origin.
Interestingly, this song would become a sort of cadence (soldier marching song), used by Confederate troops during America’s Civil War. ‘Because of this use by the soldiers, the song would gain a sort of Patriotic flavor, even after the Civil War, and especially to Texans.
‘BUT Why the “Yellow” Rose Of Texas?
“Yellow” is a term that was used to describe, light-skinned, black people (prior to the Asian thing in America). Even to this day, many light skinned, or mixed, people are described as “Yellow”, “High-Yellow” or “Yellow-boned” (by some of our grandmothers). Yea, It’s kind of racist if you think about it, but… what’re ‘ya gonna do?!?!
Emily D. West was a former slave, who was said to be extremely attractive. She was an indentured servant (or POSSIBLY slave) to James Morgan. Morgan was a central figure in the Texas fight for independence from Mexico. She would turn up at the Battle of San Jacinto as a captive of the Mexican army. She was beautiful enough that General Santa Anna himself, would take a personal interest in her. As a folklore however, she is said to have kept Santa Anna “busy” long enough for General Sam Houston’s forces to arrive, position themselves, and administer a systematic, and embarrassing beatdown to the Mexican Army during what would become one of the most one-sided victories in military history.
The Irony Of Texas
It’s ironic that Texans, around the time of Texas Independence, recognized the folklore of The Yellow Rose, but as Texas joined the Confederacy, the folklore had worn off. It says something that as Texas fought for its independence, many non-hispanic, Europeans (Texians) fighting for Texas Independence had married Mexican women. Many Americans migrating into Texas from the eastern (relative to Texas), Slave States, arrived and brought slaves, and slavery, with them.
It is truly fascinating that, if the folklore and stories are correct, The Yellow Rose Of Texas, was a mixed woman that apparently, many of the men in those times, whether, white, black, or hispanic, found attractive to the point, that she became; The Yellow Rose Of Texas.