Texas Women’s History Month: Emily D. West
Emily D. West
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 adds a colorful twist, 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.