A Texas-size legend has grown up around Emily West, often known as Emily Morgan, the "Yellow Rose of Texas." She is thought to have been a free black woman who came to Texas in 1835 with Colonel and Mrs. James Morgan. The name "West" may have come from her association with Mrs. Emily West de Zavala, the wife of Lorenzo de Zavala.
According to legend, Emily D. West was captured by Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna as he marched to fight General Sam Houston at the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836. Myth credits West with sending word of Santa Anna's whereabouts to Houston and then entertaining the Mexican general, distracting him enough that Houston's troops swept in and defeated the Mexican army in 18 minutes. The song "The Yellow Rose of Texas," first published in 1858, popularized this myth. There is no reliable evidence that this story is true.
After Texans won the battle, Emily West applied for and received a passport back to her home in New York, probably around 1837.
Written by Nancy Baker Jones
Read by Angela Shelf Medearis
Legends about women who have seduced the leaders of powerful enemies, thereby causing their defeat, have existed since early time. Texas has its own such story, called "The Yellow Rose of Texas." It’s the tale of a light-skinned slave woman who "distracted" Mexican General Santa Anna in his tent at San Jacinto long enough to allow General Sam Houston’s army to take the Mexican army by surprise and win the Texas Revolution in 1836.
Although the legend is colorful, there is little truth to it. The Yellow Rose was thought to be Emily Morgan, the slave of a Texan commander named James Morgan. There was a woman at San Jacinto, but her real name was Emily D. West, a free woman from the east coast employed as Morgan’s housekeeper. She was probably taken prisoner, along with other Black servants, by Mexican soldiers as they spread through the area, in which case she could have been at Santa Anna’s camp site. Given the history of female prisoners of war, however, it is more likely that she was a victim of sexual assault than that she seduced General Santa Ana to save Texas.
In 1837, saying she had lost her "free" papers at San Jacinto, Emily West asked for and was granted a passport to leave Texas. She most likely did that as soon as she could.
Dunn, Jeffrey D. "'To the Devil with your Glorious History!': Women and the Battle of San Jacinto," in Mary L. Scheer, ed. Women and the Texas Revolution. Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2012.
Winegarten, Ruthe. Black Texas Women: 150 Years of Trial and Triumph. Austin: The University of Texas Press, 1995.
Margaret Swett Henson, "WEST, EMILY D.," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fwe41).
Biography Source Information
Biographies are reprinted from the Foundation for Women’s Resources (now Women’s Resources), Dallas, Texas. They originally appeared in "From Gutsy Mavericks to Quiet Heroes: True Tales of Texas Women," video study guide, Austin: The Foundation for Women's Resources, 1997. Death dates have been added where needed.
Audio Source Information
Our project, "Texas Women's History Moments," received the 2012 National Council on Public History Outstanding Public History Award and the American Association for State and Local History Leadership in History Award. The audio clips were broadcast on KUT radio from 2011-2016 during Women’s History Month.