“The Yellow Rose of Texas” is a traditional folk song. The original love song has become associated with the legend of “how a slave named Emily Morgan helped win the battle of San Jacinto, the decisive battle in the Texas Revolution.
The Center for American History at the University of Texas has an unpublished early handwritten version of the song, perhaps dating from the time of the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836. The author is unknown; the earliest published version, by Firth, Pond and Company of New York and dated September 2, 1858, identifies the composer and arranger as “J.K.”; its lyrics are “almost identical” to those in the handwritten manuscript, though it states it had been arranged and composed for the vaudeville performer Charles H. Brown.
The soundtrack to the TV miniseries James A. Michener’s Texas dates a version of the song to June 2, 1933 and co-credits both the authorship and performance thereof to Gene Autry and Jimmy Long. However, Don George reworked the original version of the song, which Mitch Miller made into a popular recording in 1955 that knocked Bill Haley’s “(We’re Gonna) Rock Around The Clock” from the top of the Best Sellers chart in the U.S. Miller’s version was featured in the motion picture Giant
The song is based on a Texas legend from the days of the Texas War of Independence. According to the legend, a woman named Emily D. West — a mulatto, and hence, the song’s reference to her being “yellow” — who was seized by Mexican forces during the looting of Galveston seduced General Antonio López de Santa Anna, President of Mexico and commander of the Mexican forces. The legend credits her supposed seduction with lowering the guard of the Mexican army and facilitating the Texan victory in the Battle of San Jacinto waged in 1836 near present-day Houston. Santa Anna’s opponent was General Sam Houston, who won the battle literally in minutes, and with almost no casualties. —Wikipedia
See other songs of the American Spirit in History and at Music
Original version, from the MS in the University of Texas archives
There’s a yellow rose in Texas, that I am going to see,
No other darky [sic] knows her, no darky only me
She cryed [sic] so when I left her it like to broke my heart,
And if I ever find her, we nevermore will part.
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 quite [sic] 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 togeather [sic], that we sung so long ago
We’ll play the bango gaily, and we’ll sing the songs of yore,
And the Yellow Rose of Texas shall be mine forevermore. [Chorus]
More than 25 years later, the lyrics were changed to eliminate the more racially charged lyrics. “Soldier” replaced “darky.” And the first line of the chorus was also changed to read, “She’s the sweetest little flower….”
Civil War song
The song became popular with Confederate Army troops, especially those from Texas, though the last verse and the chorus are slightly different. It was sung after the defeat of Gen. Hood’s Army at the Battle of Nashville in December 1864.
Oh my feet are torn and bloody, and my heart is full of woe,
I’m going back to Georgia, to find my Uncle Joe,
You may talk about your Beauregard, and sing of General (or Bobby) Lee,
But the gallant Hood of Texas, played hell in Tennessee.
This refers to famous Confederate generals Joseph Johnston, P. G. T. Beauregard, Robert E. Lee, and John Bell Hood.