Why Celebrate Texas Independence with a Glass of French Champagne?
Texas history is rife with tales and legends. At times, it is hard to know the difference between historical fact and its embellishments. One such legend is of the “Yellow Rose of Texas”; but just the same, it has become ingrained in Texas lore.
April 1836 was a troublesome time for the Texians of the newly proclaimed Republic of Texas. The Alamo had fallen in San Antonio with all rebel forces killed or summarily executed, the Texian battalion in Goliad had been massacred, and the newly elected government was in flight from the Mexican forces. Sam Houston, in command of an untested volunteer army was busily conducting a strategic retreat to the east in the face of Santa Anna’s more seasoned troops, using the time to add to his forces and over extend the Mexicans line of supply.
As the story goes, the Yellow Rose was a woman named Emily. Some accounts give her last name as “West” and some give it as “Morgan”. Most agree that Emily came to Texas in 1835. Some accounts state that she was a free black woman while others maintain that she was of mixed race. “Yellow” was a term given to Americans of mixed race in those days. Emily was a member of the household staff of James Morgan, who had made his fortune in Texas real estate, residing in his settlement of New Washington near the mouth of the San Jacinto River.
On the misty spring day of April 17, 1836, while Morgan was away commanding his rebel troops on the tan sandy shores of Galveston, Generalissimo Santa Anna and his forces arrived proudly in New Washington flush with their previous victories. The army that Santa Anna led across the coastal plains of Texas in pursuit of Sam Houston’s forces was formidable, but it was definitely not speedy. It was burdened transporting Santa Anna’s three-roomed carpeted tent with silk curtains, his opium cabinet and a large supply of French Champagne. His possessions in tow reportedly also included chocolates, meat and other fine foods, and a piano all obtained from the sacking of Harrisburg.
Legend claims that Santa Anna had left a wife in Mexico, took a second “bride” in a teenage Texan captive, and now sought the company of yet another pretty woman. Santa Anna apparently took a fancy to Emily in New Washington. It is not known whether she went willingly as a Texian spy or if she was taken captive. However, the tale that has been passed down in history reveals that she sent another servant to Sam Houston’s encampment to inform him of Santa Anna’s campsite location at San Jacinto.
In the crisp morning air of April 21, 1836, on a rise in the marshy field abutting the San Jacinto River to the east and Buffalo Bayou to the north, Emily made Santa Anna a breakfast that he would not soon forget. Santa Anna’s breakfast was a grand meal accompanied by a great quantity of his French Champagne. This fact was reported back to Sam Houston by his scouts that gazed out unobserved from a nearby field of reeds. By early afternoon with Sam Houston’s forces only half a mile away, Santa Anna lay in his tent, well imbibed, taking a siesta with Emily and his troops similarly relaxing in the surrounding field. At just this time, the Texians mounted their charge on Santa Anna and his army yelling, “Remember the Alamo, remember Goliad!”
The battle was over in what was reported to be less than a half hour with Santa Anna fleeing out of his tent half-dressed. What the Texans found alongside Santa Anna’s tent was a case of empty Champagne bottles, the remnants from Emily’s Champagne breakfast with the general. This event was a pre-celebration of sorts for Texas’ freedom as a sovereign nation, the Republic of Texas.
The whereabouts of Emily following the battle has been lost. Some say she left Texas to go east, perhaps New York. However, she remains dear to the hearts of Texans, known only in song as;
The Yellow Rose of Texas
As Bastille Day in France approaches, join me in celebrating Texas freedom and a moment in Texas wine heritage with a French connection. Let’s hoist a long and deserving toast to the role of French Champagne in the Texian victory at the battle of San Jacinto in April 1836. However, if you want to keep your wine dollars closer to home, try toasting with a glass of wine (maybe even a sparkler) from one of over 170 Texas wineries across the state. For a list of Texas wineries by region in the state from the Texas Department of Agriculture, see the link below:
1. L.W. Kemp and E. Kilman, The Battle of San Jacinto and San Jacinto Campaign, http://the-alamo-san-antonio.com/battle_san_jacinto_tamu.htm
2. M. Winkler, “The Yellow Rose of Texas, The Mistress of Santa Anna who Helped Win the Battle of San Jacinto, Aug. 10, 2008, http://americanhistory.suite101.com/article.cfm/the_yellow_rose_of_texas#ixzz0L92GApAU&C
3. S. Harrigan, “The Yellow Rose of Texas”, Texas Monthly, http://www.texasmonthly.com/ranch/readme/yellowrose.php
4. R.T. Moore, Cartoon – “San Jacinto was a disaster…I ran out of Champagne and Caviar”, Texas Escapes, April 21, 2006, http://www.texasescapes.com/Cartoons/Champagn-San-Jacinto-042106.htm