True story: Yellow Rose of Texas saved Texas at the Battle of San Jacinto

April 21, 2015

This is mostly an encore post, for the 179th anniversary of the Battle of San Jacinto.

After suffering crushing defeats in previous battles, and while many Texian rebels were running away from Santa Anna’s massive army — the largest and best trained in North America — Sam Houston’s ragtag band of rebels got the drop on Santa Anna at San Jacinto, on April 21, 1836. Most accounts say the routing of Santa Anna’s fighting machine took just 18 minutes.

San Jacinto Day is April 21. Texas history classes at Texas middle schools should be leading ceremonies marking the occasion — but probably won’t since it’s coming near the end of the state-mandated testing which stops education cold, in March.

Surrender of Santa Anna, Texas State Preservation Board

Surrender of Santa Anna, painting by William Henry Huddle (1890); property of Texas State Preservation Board. The painting depicts Santa Anna being brought before a wounded Sam Houston, to surrender.

San Jacinto Monument brochure, with photo of monument

The San Jacinto Monument is 15 feet taller than the Washington Monument

How could Houston’s group have been so effective against a general who modeled himself after Napoleon, with a large, well-running army? In the 1950s a story came out that Santa Anna was distracted from battle. Even as he aged he regarded himself as a great ladies’ man — and it was a woman who detained the Mexican general in his tent, until it was too late to do anything but steal an enlisted man’s uniform and run.

That woman was mulatto, a “yellow rose,” and about whom the song, “The Yellow Rose of Texas” was written, according story pieced together in the 1950s.

Could such a story be true? Many historians in the 1950s scoffed at the idea. (More below the fold.) Read the rest of this entry »


True story: Yellow Rose of Texas, and the Battle of San Jacinto

April 15, 2007

After suffering crushing defeats in previous battles, and while many Texian rebels were running away from Santa Anna’s massive army — the largest and best trained in North America — Sam Houston’s ragtag band of rebels got the drop on Santa Anna at San Jacinto, on April 21, 1836. Most accounts say the routing of Santa Anna’s fighting machine took just 18 minutes.

San Jacinto Day is April 21. Texas history classes at Texas middle schools should be leading ceremonies marking the occasion — but probably won’t since it’s coming at the end of a week of federally-requested, state required testing.

Surrender of Santa Anna, Texas State Preservation Board Surrender of Santa Anna, painting by William Henry Huddle (1890); property of Texas State Preservation Board. The painting depicts Santa Anna being brought before a wounded Sam Houston, to surrender.

San Jacinto Monument brochure, with photo of monument

The San Jacinto Monument is 15 feet taller than the Washington Monument

How could Houston’s group have been so effective against a general who modeled himself after Napoleon, with a large, well-running army? In the 1950s a story came out that Santa Anna was distracted from battle. Even as he aged he regarded himself as a great ladies’ man — and it was a woman who detained the Mexican general in his tent, until it was too late to do anything but steal an enlisted man’s uniform and run.

That woman was mulatto, a “yellow rose,” and about whom the song, “The Yellow Rose of Texas” was written, according story pieced together in the 1950s.

Could such a story be true? Many historians in the 1950s scoffed at the idea. (More below the fold.) Read the rest of this entry »


Based on a true story — except, not Texas. Not a chainsaw. Not a massacre.

October 8, 2006

Nota bene: Be sure to see update, here.

First, there was the woman who squealed in class when I mentioned Travis County, the Texas county in which resides Texas’s capital city, Austin. She said later she had thought it was a fictional county. By the way, she asked, was the rest of the “Texas chainsaw massacre” story true, too? (I have never seen any of these movies; I understand the 2003 version was set in Hewitt, Texas, which is a real, small Texas town near Waco, between Dallas and Austin — but not in Travis County. I’m not sure what Travis County has to do with any of the movies.)

Logs awaiting processing at a sawmill in Nacogdoches County, Texas - Ron Billings photo

Victims of a real Texas chainsaw massacre: Victims await “processing” at a sawmill in Nacogdoches County. Photo by Ron Billings, Texas Forest Service.

Since then, in the last couple of weeks I have had at least a dozen requests to teach the history behind the movie, the “true story.” The movies are all highly fictionalized, I note. Perhaps I should plan a day to discuss real Texas murders, and just what fiction is, especially from Hollywood.

According to Snopes.com, one of my favorite debunking sites, there was never a Texas chainsaw massacre. There was a Wisconsin farmer who stole corpses from the local cemetery, and upon whom was based the earlier Alfred Hitchcock movie, Psycho. There was the chainsaw exhibit at Montgomery Ward seen by writer/director Toby Hooper, when he needed inspiration to finish a screen treatment. That’s about it.

But it’s nearing Halloween, and the studios in Hollywood hope to make money.

There are real Texas crimes that would be good fodder for movies, in the hands of intelligent and creative people. One wonders why more movies aren’t done on the real stories. Read the rest of this entry »


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