By Kathleen Rice Adams
She’s the sweetest rose of color this darky ever knew.
Her eyes are bright as diamonds, they sparkle like the dew.
You may talk about your Dearest May, and sing of Rosa Lee,
But the Yellow Rose of Texas beats the belles of Tennessee.
original words to the chorus of “The Yellow Rose Texas,” a folksong dating to early Colonial Texas. The first known transcribed version—handwritten on a piece of plain paper—appeared around the time of the Texian victory at San Jacinto in April 1836.
In its original form, the song tells the story of a black man (“darky”) who has been separated from his sweetheart and longs to reunite with her. The lyrics indicate the sweetheart was a free mulatto woman—a person of mixed black and white heritage. In those days, “person of color” was considered a polite way to refer to black people who were not slaves. “Yellow” was a common term for people of mixed race.
During the Civil War, “The Yellow Rose of Texas” became a popular marching tune for troops all over the Confederacy; consequently, the lyrics changed. White Confederates were not eager to refer to themselves as darkies, so “darky” became “soldier.” In addition, “rose of color” became “little flower.”
Aside from the obvious racist reasons for the modifications, legal doctrine played into the picture as well. Until the U.S. Supreme Court declared the practice unconstitutional in 1967, all eleven former Confederate states plus Delaware, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and West Virginia outlawed marriage and sexual relations between whites and blacks. In four of the former Confederate states—Georgia, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia—marriage or sexual relations between whites and any non-white was labeled a felony. Such laws were called anti-miscegenation laws, or simply miscegenation laws. In order to draw what attorneys term a “bright line” between legal and illegal behavior, many states codified the “single-drop rule,” which held that a person with a single drop of Negro blood was black, regardless the color of his or her skin.
|"New Orleans' Voodoo Queen" Marie Laveau|
(1774-1881) was a free Creole of mixed race.
The first American miscegenation laws arose in the colonies in the 1600s. The laws breathed their last gasp in 2001, when Alabama finally removed the anti-miscegenation clause from its state constitution after a referendum passed with only sixty percent of the popular vote.
Texas’s miscegenation law plays a role in “The Big Uneasy,” my contribution to Prairie Rose Publications’ new anthology Lassoing a Mail-Order Bride. After the death of his wife, the bridegroom’s father engages in an illicit relationship with a free Creole of color. The practice was not uncommon in the heroine’s hometown, New Orleans, but if the indiscretion gets out in Texas, the wealthy, powerful family could be ruined.
Here’s an excerpt from the story.
The Big Uneasy
A man in love with a woman he can’t have. A woman engaged to a man she doesn’t love. A secret in common could destroy them all.
June 1860, the Texas Crescent
Josephine LaPierre nearly tumbled from the seat when the buggy’s wheel struck yet another hole in the muddy road. She gripped the padded armrest with one hand and steadied the tiny dog in her lap with the other. Vibration beneath her gloved fingers warned of an impending explosion of temper.
“Hush, Napoleon.” She scratched behind his bat-like ears until he quieted. “All is well, mon petit.”
Napoleon sneezed. After turning three circles in her lap, he nestled into Jo’s skirt. She bestowed a fond smile upon her fearsome bodyguard, running a hand across the top of his head and down his smooth back. Her tiny knight in soft, fawn-colored armor.
The man beside her took the horse in hand with a flick of his wrist, passing an amused glance over Jo and the dog. “Feisty little critter, ain’t he?”
The suppressed laughter in startling blue eyes sent a flicker of heat dancing across Jo’s cheekbones. She looked away. “He can be. I warn you, his bark is not worse than his bite.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” Chuckling, the driver scratched the top of the little dog’s head.
Jo tensed, prepared to intervene, but Napoleon stretched toward his admirer and licked the man’s glove.
The driver withdrew his hand to run a finger between his stand-up collar and his neck. Then he swatted at his dark broadcloth trousers and frockcoat as if they inconvenienced him, as well. “I imagine this trip’s been a mite rough on you and that little fella.”
Not in the least disposed to admit her posterior might never be the same, Jo pulled on the most gracious smile she could find. “Monsieur—”
“Amon.” Though gentle, the correction was much firmer than she was accustomed to hearing from servants. “No monsieur about it. Just Amon.” The French word rolled from his lips with practiced ease. How odd.
“Amon. How much farther must we travel?”
“Won’t be long now. House is just up the road a piece.”
Her gaze followed his nod. How could anyone judge distance in such a place? Texas was nothing at all like New Orleans. Although the land here lay as flat as at home, Texas remained wild and unpopulated. Even on the docks where she disembarked hours ago, no laughing patois chatter brightened her ears, nor did young women of color in vivid tignons compete for attention with azaleas and bougainvillea. No aroma of magnolia and honeysuckle, of strong coffee and fresh beignets, greeted her arrival.
The afternoon sun, brighter here somehow, chased the last of the morning’s rain from the landscape. The scent of wet earth rose with the steam, intertwining with damp wood and a vague fishiness from the nearby bayou. Strange cattle with wicked, curling horns as long as their bodies dotted miles and miles of green, overgrown in patches with thorny brush and vines. Here and there, brief flashes of yellow peeked from tall, waving grass.
What did Texans eat and drink and admire in this odd, monochromatic country? What did they do for entertainment? With no other humans around to practice the art of conversation, did they forget how to speak?
Jo flicked open the blades of sandalwood dangling from her wrist and fanned herself and Napoleon in an unsuccessful attempt to dissipate the suffocating heat. “Have you worked for Monsieur Collier long?”
Rubbing knuckles along the line of a strong jaw, Amon stared over the bay horse’s ears. “All my life.”
His voice, quiet yet strong, soothed some of her unease. The man spoke at least a little French. Perhaps a modicum of civilization existed in the wilderness. “Tell me about him, s'il vous plaît.”
“Not much to tell.” The gaze he swung from one horizon to the other caressed each tree, each blade of grass in its path. “Edson Collier owns everything we’ve driven through. All you can see, smell, taste, or touch. Every living thing on this property wears a Collier brand.”
“And the man I am to marry?”
“Bennett?” Amon shook his head on a wry huff. “Bennett Collier is educated to within an inch of his life. Smart, wealthy, ambitious. He’ll run this state in a few years.”
A man of such stature would take pride in protecting his wife, his children. Maman and Céline would have approved.
Maman and Céline. Of all the things Jo would miss about New Orleans, she would miss her mother and sister the most—and the tidy cottage in The Marigny.
But not the man inside. Lucien Bouchard. The Devil with an angel’s face…and enough money and influence to buy anything and anyone he wanted. She pressed fingertips to her lips to settle a familiar surge of bile.
"The Big Uneasy"
To escape the unthinkable with a man about whom she knows too much, New Orleans belle Josephine LaPierre agrees to marry a Texan about whom she knows nothing.
Falling in love with his brother was not part of her plan.
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