The History of The Yellow Rose of Texas

Hello. Glad to see y’all. That pretty song the Yellow Rose of Texas — you’ve probably seen the standard histories online. Unfortunately, they totally botched it. First we hear the original lyrics weren’t the lyrics we all know and love. We’re told the earliest version was not about a “yellow rose”, meaning, OF COURSE, a blonde Texan gal, but about a “yellow-skinned mulatto”! Doesn’t sound quite right, does it? “She’s the sweetest woman of color, that I have ever seen”???????? Even the meter doesn’t work. It sounds like it was written by a sociology professor doing a goofy on Duck Dynasty. We’re told these words about the “mulatto” were composed by an unknown “J.K.” and the earliest known published version dates from the 1860s. We’re then shown a photocopy of that set of lyrics, with the “woman of color” etc. etc. To cap it all we’re told the state capital in Austin Texas holds a hand-written set of lyrics showing the same words or similar, which appears to date back to some time around then. Well that proves it obviously! There has even developed a theory that the “mulatto” it supposedly sung about was the slave-girl of Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto, whose dalliance with the Mexican general at that time caused him to lose the battle to the Texans! Fantasy on top of fantasy!

All that ignores the following facts: The Athenaeum journal from that same era (see the image below) contains a review of the “Yellow Rose of Texas” — the version ascribed to “J.K.” — which says it was offered to them for review as a “comic” composition. But, the reviewer remarked, it was difficult to see where the “comicality” lay. Well precisely, m’lud! That is because the “mulatto” version is a SKIT, and one not in good taste. In the 1860s it was Civil War period, and someone clearly altered the words of the well-known Southern song The Yellow Rose of Texas to mock the “racism” in the South, since Texas was allied with the South at that time. Hence the use of the mysterious initials “J.K.”, to deflect criticism of the skit. So, instead of the blonde “Rose” and “little rosebud”, we got the “yellow-skinned mulatto” and the “sweetest woman of color”.

Since the version touted today as the supposed “original version” is the “comic” (not) J.K. version of the 1860s, and there are only two principal versions known — the standard “little rosebud” version and the J.K. “woman of color” version — the question should be: is there any other author attested, and did that author produce the song earlier than the earliest attested J.K. version? If such a thing is evidenced, then the standard “little rosebud” version would prove to be the original, and the author was that aforesaid person.

Well facts are — there is an earlier composition of the song attested, from the 1840s. It is listed in a music sheet from that decade, and the author of The Yellow Rose of Texas is said to be N. W. Gould of the Christy minstrels in New York, not “J.K.”. (See the images below.) N. W. Gould was a prolific writer of folksongs, and frequently appears as a composer in the music leaflets of that era along with the more famous Stephen Foster. We unhasitatingly conclude The Yellow Rose of Texas was composed by N. W. Gould some time in or before the 1840s, and that the lyrics were the original “little rosebud” lyrics. The J.K. altered lyrics, the ridiculous “woman of color” lyrics, appeared sometime in or before the 1860s as a skit on Texas and the South in the anti-Slavery atmosphere of the Civil War era.

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Details of the Music Leaflet proving N. W. Gould wrote The Yellow Rose of Texas:

In the music library of Josiah Kirby Lilly (from a collection stamped as in the “University of Michigan”) dated 1944:

See the images of the page below. The url from which these are derived is: Link to Google Books image of the Music Leaflet (in Foster Hall Reproductions etc. Volume 3 Part 1, Page 117).

Page titled Musical Bazaar
subtitled A Collection of Songs and Ballads arranged for the Guitar by Favorite Authors (right column, bottom of list) “Yellow Rose of Texas…..N. W. Gould”

Many of the songs in the collection are authored by Gould who worked for Christy’s Minstrels, others are by Stephen Foster (S. C. Foster) etc. The date of copyright at the bottom of the page is 1847:

“New York, Published by William A. Pond & Co., No. 547 Broadway, etc….
Entered according to Act of Congress in the year 1847, by William A. Pond & Co., in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the United States for the Beecher’s [?] District of New York.”

Image of the Pamphlet page ascribing The Yellow Rose of Texas to N. W. Gould of the Christy Minstrels New York. The entry is the last in the right-hand column:

The Yellow Rose of Texas Authorship N. W. Gould

Closeup of the same image, showing song, authorship and copyright date below it. Right-click on this image and open it for viewing in a new tab or page to see more detail:

Closeup Yellow Rose Texas Author Stated As N W Gould 1847

Image of the Review in the Athenaeum (Google Books link):

Athenaeum Review of The Yellow Rose of Texas

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