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Historically Speaking

Historically Speaking: Battle of San Jacinto

By Tom Morrow

Nearly every American has heard of “The Alamo,” but other than being a car rental agency, few know it’s an old Spanish mission located in downtown San Antonio where the 1836 Texas Revolution began against Mexico.

At the Alamo, the Texans were badly outnumbered and under siege by Mexican Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s 6,000-plus troops, making it impossible for the 200-odd Texas defenders to prevail. All were eventually killed. A smaller contingent of 300 Texas militia at Goliad was slaughtered by Santa Anna after they had surrendered. The Alamo and Goliad became rallying cries that fueled the revolution.

The battles at the Alamo and Goliad kept Santa Anna’s troops engaged giving valuable time for Sam Houston to gather and train his growing Texas army.

The climactic Battle of San Jacinto was fought on April 21, 1836, in what is present-day Harris County, Texas. It was the decisive battle of the revolution. Santa Anna had sent most of his troops back toward Mexico, leaving less than 1,500 with him. His victories at the Alamo and Goliad left Santa Anna over-confident. Houston’s rag-tag Texas Army of some 900 farmers, ranchers, cowboys, shopkeepers, and adventurers surprised the Mexican during siesta time. The Texans won a fight that lasted a mere 18 minutes. More than 600 Mexican soldiers were killed and another 700 captured. Only nine Texans died.

Santa Anna was captured the following day when he was discovered hiding as a common soldier among his POW troops. Santa Anna signed the peace treaty with Houston, which forced the entire Mexican army leave Texas.

The ultimate goal for most Texans was to join the United States, but before President Andrew Jackson and other Washington leaders would entertain such a move, Texas would have to free itself from Mexico. In 1845, Texas became a state with the proviso it could leave the union at anytime. It’s the only state with such a provision in its state constitution.

One of the more intriguing stories regarding the Texas Revolution has to do with a 21-year-old beauty by the name of Emily D. West. Her legendary activities during the Texas Revolution have come to be identified with a popular folk song.

West was born a free African-American woman of mixed race in Connecticut. Five days prior to the Battle of San Jacinto, West and other Texas residents were kidnapped by Mexican cavalry and forced to travel with Santa Anna.

According to legend, when Houston’s army attacked, Santa Anna was caught frolicking in bed with the olive-skinned beauty. This has never been substantiated, but the account was written by author William Bolliart, a story reportedly given him by Sam Houston.

In 1956, Emily West’s legend emerged, suggesting she fit the description of the girl in the popular folk song “The Yellow Rose of Texas.” The story has continued to grow and taken hold as a part of the state’s history. But, most historians have rejected that story, nonetheless, the Battle of San Jacinto is helped being kept alive by this entertaining legend.

One footnote to the Texas Revolution story has become legend. Whether it is true is arguable, but the song “The Yellow Rose of Texas” refers to a beautiful light-skinned African-American woman who supplied Houston with valuable military intelligence. As the story is told, The Rose seduced and ingratiated herself into Santa Anna’s bed, putting him off guard. As the legend goes, it was “The Yellow Rose’s” amorous talents that gave Houston the surprise advantage. True or not, the Rose has become one of the legendary heroes of the Texas Revolution for her part in the ultimate victory.


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