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Isn’t rape just so romantic?

[TW for sexual assault and racism]

When I started reading this article on the “yellow rose of Texas,” I thought the first line (“Her name was Emily Morgan, and she was the sweetest little rosebud that Texas ever knew”) was intentionally over-wrought to segue into sarcasm and criticism. But nope! Did you know that once upon a time there was a beautiful young indentured servant named Emily Morgan, and her beauty was so overwhelming that Gen. Santa Ana was “smitten” with her and, according to the Texas Monthly, “Whether the attraction was mutual we do not know, but the mulatto girl quickly became one of the spoils of Santa Anna’s campaign”? Did you know that she was a true Texan, and “certainly appears to have done her part in keeping her abductor occupied” so that “While the concupiscent commander and the fetching servant girl occupied themselves within the tent, the Texans charged across the plain and set upon the idle Mexican camp with the force of a crushing wave”? And that while this Yellow Rose saved Texas, “We lose track of Emily Morgan shortly after her services to Texas were rendered. She never surfaced again, except of course in song.” How wonderful that her “services” were so helpful! How lovely that her beauty made her just irresistible to Santa Ana, so that he couldn’t help but rape her.

Oops, did I say “rape” and ruin the romance of this article?

As it turns out, the so-called “Yellow Rose of Texas” was actually named Emily West, not Emily Morgan. And it’s unclear whether she was in Santa Ana’s tent. If she was, it probably wasn’t by choice. But sure, way to go Stephan Harrigan and the Texas Monthly for not including the basic information I found via a five-minute google search, and for writing a nice nostalgic piece about the “services” provided to the state of Texas by a rape victim. You should be very proud.

59 thoughts on Isn’t rape just so romantic?

  1. Disgusting.

    [Content note: sexual violence, rape culture]

    This reminds me of the time I was arguing with some Muslim on the internet about sexual slavery in Islam. I told hir that Muhammad raped female prisoners of war after slaughtering their families and husbands, and in response, ze told me that all of the women Muhammad raped actually loved him and ended up becoming his wives because of his “grace and mercy.”

    1. I’m sure the lack of a social safety net couple with the convenient idea that a raped woman is ruined in that culture had nothing to do with the choice to marry him.

    2. There was no rape involved. There is no historical record of rapes being committed or marriages resulting from rape. All of his wives were either from families close to him, or distantly related to him or of neighboring tribes with whom there were no wars. The only exception was a slave that was given as a gift to him by a king and he set her free and married her.

      1. Pretty much correct.

        He just ordered his men to rape the prisoners of war. As far as is known he did not directly participate himself.

      2. I didn’t say his all of his wives were sex slaves. Muhammad also captured and married a 17-year-old girl named Saffiyah after slaughtering her husband and family members. He raped her on the night after his raid on Khaibar – and I’m not exaggerating. He also raped his wife Aisha, who was only 9-years-old according to the most reliable ahadith collections. Oh, and he didn’t marry all of his sex slaves.

        If you don’t believe me, then I suggest you go look it up yourself. This is probably a derail.

        1. @mxe: I stand corrected. Saffiyah is a pretty strong example. As you say, this is a bit off topic (but arguably still about “positive” myth building based around rape and sort of related).

        2. From what I heard, the stories about Aisha being very young were made long after the fact and were driven by the agenda that as the youngest wife, she had the strongest claim to virginity, and thus her kids were the best candidates for succession. That doesn’t make the story less troubling, and certainly people can take away some horrible ideas/validation from it, but it may not reflect on the actual man Muhammad or on the realities of Aisha’s life. Wish I could find the source I saw discussing this…

          Changes nothing about the story of Safiya, though.

    3. “some Muslim”.

      Not a person. Just “some Muslim”. Not convinced by your concern for Muslim women here. Funny that.

      1. Not for nothing but Muslims are automatically people. That’s implied in the word “Muslim” just like it is in other religious labels. Christian, Hindu, etc.

      2. @Safiya

        Ummm, I said “some Muslim” because the fact that this person was Muslim was relevant. And that fact was relevant because my example served to highlight another instance of someone being apologetic about horrible things being done in the name of hir ideology/religion.

        I’m an ex-Muslim myself, and so I know very well that Muslims aren’t a monolithic religious group. I’m not dehumanizing them.

      3. Safiya, answer this or not as you like, but when you made your comment to mxe, did you realize that she’s not a guy? And was raised in the religion herself? Because it sure didn’t sound like it from the way you phrased your comment.

        1. Considering the absolutely hideous Islamophobia that has previously occurred round these parts, (in fact people on here have even denied Islamophobia exists) and that “some Muslim” sounds exactly like the shitty dehumanising way we’re often referred to, even in supposedly progressive areas – no.

          Also, the Islamophobe industry is full of ex-Muslims anyway, being a woman and an ex-Muslim is no bar to being a Muslim-hater, Ayan Hersi Ali being the most notable, but far from the only example.

        2. Islamaphobia is entirely morally and intellectually defensible, right along with Christophobia and all the other theophobias.

          Religion is scary shit. Being scared of religion makes a lot of sense. Being scared of Islam- or just plain out hating it- makes a lot of sense too, especially if you live in one of the places where your lack of belief makes you a criminal facing life imprisonment.

        3. Safiya, from all of mxe’s comments, she is clearly not a Muslim-hater, as opposed to not liking her religion. I don’t mean to be condescending about her age, because she’s the last person I’d ever want to condescend to about that, but she’s 18 years old and definitely has her reasons. Like a lot of people I’ve known who were raised in a religion and reject it.

        4. Ambling – Both the theory and practice behind Islamophobia is very different then that behind Christophobia (clue: Orientalism), if you are not aware of that, then you need to read a bit more. Heck, you can start by googling Marwa El Sherbini and telling me that that’s absolutely fine

          Donna – I don’t remember every commenter on here ever. There was something in a comment that did not sit well with me – I responded to it. That doing so has lead me having to explain myself (rather then , that’s not what was meant, but I can see why you might think that) and be told yet again that Islamophobia is a-ok. I just wonder why I bother.

        5. Ambling – Both the theory and practice behind Islamophobia is very different then that behind Christophobia (clue: Orientalism), if you are not aware of that, then you need to read a bit more. Heck, you can start by googling Marwa El Sherbini and telling me that that’s absolutely fine

          Oh, I think there are definitely bad reasons to be afraid of Islam or wish it didn’t exist. Racism is one of them. But there are also many good reasons to be afraid of Islam, or wish Islam didn’t exist- reasons which are largely applicable to any religion, or at least any religion with political power.

        6. Incidentally, you probably shouldn’t lump my views in with Donna’s, because I’m fairly certain she disagrees with what I wrote. Her objection to your post is different from mine, and while I believe mine is valid, it’s not fair to use your disagreement with my perspective to attack hers.

        7. And finally- sorry for the triple post- I think there’s a huge difference between hating Islam and hating Muslims (or hating Christianity and hating Christians, or Judaism/Jewish people, and so on). Especially considering that many religions have been quite good at punishing people who don’t agree to follow them, it would be victim blaming to attack their followers- at least those who aren’t actively involved in maintaining/expanding oppressive religious institutions. In fact, I actually deeply love specific religious people- I just think we’d both be better of if the religion wasn’t there.

          Maybe the term Islamaphobia is irreparably linked to hatred of Muslims- which is, as you pointed out, linked to Orientalism/racism (even though Muslims are not a race, I think racist tropes are certainly connected to hatred of Muslims)/colonialism, but I don’t think it should be, and I think making that link is a bad move. Islam is a legitimately dangerous geopolitical force that makes the world a worse place to live in (ditto for say, Catholicism). I’d like to see it go away. Tying a word which literally means fear of Islam to bigotry against one of the primary victims of Islam (i.e. Muslims) is counterproductive and illogical.

          For an analogous case, I’d argue anti-Semitism is an evil, but anti-Judaism is not. Or maybe different words, but that’s the idea.

        8. And a quadruple post (seriously, mea maxima culpa): turns out anti-Judaism has a nasty history too, which I just learned more about. I don’t know. Maybe we need new words entirely. But I absolutely can’t accept language rules which prevent people who are being oppressed by religion from identifying religion as oppressive.

  2. Maybe the rape glorification has made me hyper-alert for shittiness, but did the phrase “idle Mexican camp” seem racially loaded to anyone else there?

    1. Ugh. There was so much disgustingness in that article I’m sure I missed about 1,000 other points. That’s one of them.

  3. Glamouring and glorifying rape is incredibly dangerous, the old myth that all women fantasise about being raped makes men think that this type of thing is okay. Women being blamed, their fantasising about being raped makes it the woman’s fault – yet another way of making women responsible for sexual assault. Remember yes means yes and no means no.

  4. But sure, way to go Stephan Harrigan and the Texas Monthly for not including the basic information I found via a five-minute google search

    Next to the byline of this article is the date of April 1984. That may have something to do with the lack of Googling. 😉

    But yeah, I’m in complete agreement with you about the repulsiveness of this article. There’s also this: “Emily was a member of the household staff (italics mine) of James Morgan…” How genteel of you, Mr. Harrigan! Let’s just hope that in the 30 years since this was written, some things have been learned. And unlearned.

    1. Next to the byline of this article is the date of April 1984. That may have something to do with the lack of Googling. 😉

      Though honestly, if they’re going to publish articles in a statewide newspaper, they should at least try not to get egg on your face in the process. We had these cool things called “books” before The Google, and while Jill was off about the year, that doesn’t mean her point about the basic nature of the information doesn’t stand.

    2. There’s also this: “Emily was a member of the household staff (italics mine) of James Morgan…” How genteel of you, Mr. Harrigan! Let’s just hope that in the 30 years since this was written, some things have been learned. And unlearned.

      Isn’t that one of the things that the article actually got right?

      From the more factual linked article. “She signed a contract with agent James Morgan in New York City on October 25, 1835, to work a year as housekeeper”

      1. Gah! I confess, I did not read the other article for the simple reason that my mother and her boyfriend were visiting, and they require more attention than a pair of toddlers. (“I can’t get this goddamn remote to work!” “Where’s the BAILEY’S?!” “Is the ice maker BROKEN?!”, etc.)

        ANYway, I was under the impression that “member of the household staff” was a particularly repulsive way of saying “slave.” Mea culpa. Also an apology to Mr. Harrigan, if he’s still with us – I don’t care enough to Google. And the apology is ONLY for that ONE thing!, ’cause as discussed, it’s a nasty little bit of writing he came up with there.

  5. I remember 7th grade and the Texas history that was the curriculum that year. Though I don’t remember the woman’s name, it was definitely a source of humor and laughter in my class that Santa Ana was “caught with his pants down” when the Texans came to battle. History books in Texas (in my recollection) portrayed this situation as something good and funny rather than something potentially tragic for the young girl.

    In fact, for a group project, we had to shoot a video where we acted like reporters on the scene of one of the Texas battles for independence and half of the groups chose this scene for the “comic” nature alone (cut to a lot of boys running out of tents with their pants around their ankles).

    In all the years since that class, I’ve never even considered the perspective of Emily West and I appreciate this post for opening my eyes.

  6. don’t forget that those brave Texans were fighting for their right to own black people after settling in Mexican territory

    1. I was just in San Antonio last week after a 25 year absence, and the private association that administers the Alamo has yet to mention the word slavery in connection with the Texas Revolution – some things will never change. They instead refer to the removal of the settler’s rights under the old Mexican Constitution by the dictator Santa Ana, without elaboration. One of those was to own slaves. Many TX historians try to whitewash things by focusing on religious liberty issues, but that is a red herring considering the revolutionaries were led by American settlers, European settlers and Tejanos, who were landowners benefiting from the slave industry and many of whom were Catholic.

  7. FWIW, as the Texas Revolution was largely about white Texans rebelling against the Mexican government’s moves towards banning slavery, a lot of enslaved people took Anna’s victories as a blessing. When he beat back the Texas army at any vantage point, he freed the slaves, many of whom made their way to Mexico. (Sadly, as the price of his own freedom after capture, Anna agreed to return runaway slaves.) Obviously, none of this means that Anna couldn’t have seized Emily West and raped her and forced her to be a concubine. But it’s also worth noting that, as far as enslaved people were concerned, Anna was a better bet by far than the Texans.

    My guess is the legend’s popularity was based, as usual, on the fantasy of white slave-owners that slaves liked being enslaved.

    More reading here:

    1. We in the USA tend to forget that all of the countries in the Americas benefited from and expressly allowed slavery. I paused while reading the linked article when it stated:

      Southerners always saw Texas as an extension of their economy and wanted to bring the institution there.

      They were not bringing any institution to Mexico that had not existed there for ages – they were looking for a new slave owning country to migrate to due to the efforts of abolitionists in the USA. The state of Mexico was chock full of slaves, wanted new immigrants for its Texas territory, and fit the bill.

      The institution of slavery was alive and well in Texas Mexico prior to the arrival of invited slave owning immigrants from the USA – Tejano land owners using primarily captured Indians as slaves. This began in the 1740s prior to the arrival of white Southerner immigrants and immigrants from European countries. In fact it was their Spanish colonial fore bearers that established slavery in the Americas in their very first colony – first with captured Native Americans, then imported Africans.

      1. Southerners always saw Texas as an extension of their economy and wanted to bring the institution there.

        oops block quote foul-up.

    2. It still amazes me that slavery didn’t end in Brazil until the 1880’s. I didn’t realize that until fairly recently.

  8. Of particular note, I’d like to draw attention to how white Americans moved to Texas specifically to set up an illegal trade in human beings. Considering the circumstances, I would not be surprised if West’s “lost” freedom papers were deliberately lost by the family she had come to work for.

  9. Ah, rereading it, it seems she was allowed to go home without much fuss, so her employer was never coy about her status as a free person. But the legend assumes that she was a slave, and as far as the legend goes, it’s deliberate historical revisionism that paints enslaved Texans as loyalists to a slave-owning state, when the reality was much different.

    1. Most slaves joined the Mexican loyalist forces. A fact neatly omitted in the traditional account, though there is now one mention in the Alamo site video (a rather biased piece of work still) of slaves joining the Mexican forces.

      Most landowners (immigrant and Tejano) joined the revolution. This is why you see so many Spanish surnames among the revolutionaries, Santa Anna had done more than just free slaves, he also removed the right of the land owners to grant lands to the new immigrants. The whole rebellion was a movement by the wealthy to preserve their slave based economic system.

      The Texas revolution is simply the haves taking up arms against a dictatorship that had left them no place at the table. I won’t go so far as Mr. Loomis in categorizing Santa Anna as a great leader though. A better description is a power hungry opportunist who would use any cause for his own purposes. He happened to be on the right side of slavery, though certainly not women’s rights or rights of humans generally.

      1. Yeah, Santa Anna sure was opposed to slavery….unless you count Indians. Funny how he looked the other way on that.

        1. Pheeno, I did not see any source claiming he bisected the slave population by race in terms of freedom. Kindly point me in the right direction. Though I am not surprised, Santa Anna was not a freedom fighter, he was a power hungry dictator, which is why I take as much issue with Mr. Loomis’s portrayal of him as a “leader” as I do with the OP linked article’s portrayal of the story of Emily West as “romantic”. The reality is all these people were royally fucked up, it was 1836 colonial North America, hardly a place to go looking for Ghandis and Martin Luther Kings.

        2. Ghandis

          Gandhi. Gandhi. Gandhi.

          For fuck’s sake, I am so tired of people not getting his name right, it’s not like it’s not PHONETIC.

          Otherwise I have nothing to add to this argument, carry on. Not ranting specifically at you, Henry, I’m just tired of seeing this. Particularly because I’ve had people ARGUE with me about the spelling.

        3. mac, it was meant to be plural as in “people like Ghandi” “people like King” too often historians try to romanticize the people they write about.

        4. No outside sources that I know of because records like that weren’t kept…we didn’t warrant that effort but family members told stories about it and not just mine. I have distant relations in Mexico and their ancestors didn’t get there by choice.

        5. mac, it was meant to be plural as in “people like Ghandi” “people like King” too often historians try to romanticize the people they write about.




          His name.

          It is Gandhi.

          But please, keep arguing, you’re only proving my point.

        6. For the love of God it was a 2 AM post. 😛 You should see the other things I misspell.

          Can we get spellchecker software?

  10. How does somebody just disappear into thin air without a trace. It’s more likely she was killed. Goodness only knows by whom and for what reason. They’ve got no business romanticizing this or singing songs about it with the unpleasant stuff ‘leached out’.


      No, it is more likely she returned to New York in 1837 as she was issued a Texas passport for that purpose, and died in 1891. Please stop making history up, there’s enough of that going on.

      If West is anything, she is a martyr for victims of war everywhere, having been kidnapped by a hostile army and abused. Whether that helped the Texans win the war is immaterial. Until someone proves she freely (eye roll) and intentionally went in there as a spy to delay the Mexican Army they should stop painting what happened to her as some sort of heroic act on her part, and even then not, since it would have had the effect of preserving slavery for 30 odd more years.

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