How can a ragtag army of misfits and rapscallions soundly defeat one of the best-trained armies in the world? And in only twenty minutes, give or take a minute or so?
Some of you already know what I’m talking about. And no, it isn’t Gaddafi’s forces and the rebel Lybians.
The battle of which I speak took place 175 years ago on the banks of the San Jacinto River and Buffalo Bayou.
The battle at San Jacinto, April 21, 1836, when Sam Houston and his makeshift army routed a far superior military force in the blink of an eye by historical time.
Screaming at the top of their lungs “Remember the Alamo; Remember Goliad,” the savgage Texians charged across the Mexican fortifications, stampeding the nodding Mexicans. The outnumbered Texians, at the cost of nine lives, killed more than 600 soldados and overran the rest, according to historian Kent Biffle.
Since that date, historians have cussed and discussed just how in the blazes Sam Houston pulled off such a victory.
There have been numerous theories posed, but one of the most intriguing is the story of Emily West who came to be known as the Yellow Rose of Texas.
It was she, many historians claim, who delayed Santa Anna long enough so the surprised soldados could only stumble about in confusion from lack of leadership.
Says Biffle, “The Yellow Rose of Texas is fancifully famous for bedazzling Santa Anna out of his fancy pants at the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836.”
Possibly he gleened that information from William Bollaert, an English ethnologist who wrote in an 1842 essay “The battle of San Jacinto was probably lost to the Mexicans, owing to the influence of a Mulatta Girl (Emily) belonging to Col. Morgan. She was closeted in the tent with General Santana at the time the cry was made ‘the Enemy! They come! They come!’ She detained Santana so long that order could not be restored readily again.”
Could all this be true? Could the great state of Texas have been given birth with the midwifing help of a ‘mulatta girl’? And was she the real ‘Yellow Rose of Texas’?
Chances are a fairly certain ‘yes’ to both questions.
A long time friend of Houston, James Morgan, of Morgan’s Point, sought to bring emigrants to the fledging colony that would soon be Texas. One of the emigrants was Emily West, a mulatto, from Bermuda.
Emily was a bright young woman who volunteered to be indentured to escape the prejudice against her mixed race. As custom for indentured workers, they took their employer’s last name, so she became known as Emily Morgan. She had met Houston on more than one occasion at her employer’s plantation.
Colonel James Morgan’s settlement, New Washington, sat on the shores at the mouth of the San Jacinto River where he loaded flatboards with various supplies for Houston.
With Santa Anna’s approach on April 18, settlers fled New Washington; however, Emily and a young black boy named Turner were captured by the Mexican army. Santa Anna was struck by her beauty.
Emily convinced Turner to escape and inform Houston of the Mexican general’s arrival. Turner has to be the ‘mysterious visitor’ some historians say paid Houston a clandestine visit a couple nights before the battle.
Santa Anna was a ladies’ man. Though married to a woman in Mexico, he remarried teenage captives throughout his Texas campaign. Emily appeared to be a suitable replacement.
So, he set up camp on the plains of San Jacinto despite vehement protestations from his colonels who insisted the location severely violated wartime strategy.
They were right.
On April 21, Houston, said to be perched in a tree, saw Emily preparing a champagne breakfast for Santa Anna. His supposed comment was “I hope that slave girl makes him neglect his business and keeps him in bed all day.”
And the rest is history.
Morgan was so impressed by Emily’s heroism that he repealed her indenture and gave her a passport and funds back to New York where all trace of her faded away.
Did it happen that way?
Well, the stories hold water, and ‘Yellow Rose’ was the expression for mulatto females during that period. And James Morgan did spread her story to anyone who would listen all the way from Texas to his influential partners in New York.
Now, whether true or not, the tale does make for a good story. And I believe it.