Yellow Rose of Texas

The Yellow Rose of Texas has to be one of the most famous “Texas” songs ever written. However, as I started reading about its history, I was shocked at how much I didn”t know about the song.

As many folks songs do, The Yellow Rose evolved over time. The first recorded lyrics appeared in Christy”s Plantation Melodies. No. 2, a songbook published in Philadelphia in 1853. Edwin P. Christy was the founder of a minstrel group that performed in the blackface entertainment style that was popular at that time. Performers would create parodies with lively dance numbers, songs, and woeful ballads. The Yellow Rose of Texas was a perfect fit for this genre, with a lovesick singer who refers to himself as a “darkey” longing to return to “a yellow girl,” a term used to describe a mulatto, or woman of mixed blood. Here are some of the original lyrics:

There’s a yellow girl in Texas That I”m going down to see;

No other darkies know her, No darkey, only me;

She cried so when I left her That it

like to broke my heart,

And if I only find her, We never more will part.


Chorus: She”s the sweetest girl of colour That this darkey ever knew;

Her eyes are bright as diamonds, And sparkle like the dew.

You may talk about your Dearest Mae, And sing of Rosa Lee,

But the yellow Rose of Texas Beats the belles of Tennessee.


I had never heard these lyrics. They give a completely different meaning to

the song, don”t they? When the sheet music for the song was copyrighted in 1858, “yellow girl” was changed to “yellow rose” in the first verse and instead of the “sweetest girl of colour” in the chorus, it now read “sweetest rose of colour.”

The song became a huge hit, and by the time of the Civil War, it became a point of pride for the South and roused southern loyalties. Later in the century, the song’s notoriety led to its association with the yellow flowers, and in 1892, Governor James Hogg wore  “the yellow rose of Texas” on the lapel of his coat during his successful reelection campaign.

It wasn”t until 1933 when Gene Autry recorded the song as a cowboy ballad that the lyrics we”re more familiar with came into being. They replaced “no other darkey knows her, no darkey only me” with “no other fellow knows her, nobody else but me.” The revised lyrics thus made the song racially neutral, and the “yellow rose” became symbolic of the attractive woman’s beauty, not her race.

As time went by, other lyrics transitioned as well. Eventually the first line of the chorus changed from “She”s the sweetest girl of colour…” to “She”s the sweetest little rosebud that Texas ever knew.” Dearest Mae is also sometimes swapped out with Clemintine. And instead of the yellow rose beating out the belles of Tennessee, she simply became “the only girl for me.” Wouldn”t want those Tennessee gals to get too riled, you know.

The tune changed as well. In 1955 Mitch Miller and his orchestra produced a new arrangement of the song to give it the sound of a Confederate marching song instead of a ballad. This version hit #1 on the charts and sold over a million copies. This is the version most people are familiar with today. Below is a 1955 performance of the song.

So, what do you think of when you hear The Yellow Rose of Texas?

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For those who love to smile as they read, bestselling author Karen Witemeyer offers warmhearted historical romance with a flair for humor, feisty heroines, and swoon-worthy Texas heroes. Karen is a firm believer in the power of happy endings. . . and ice cream. She is an avid cross-stitcher, and makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children. Learn more about Karen and her books at:

21 thoughts on “Yellow Rose of Texas”

  1. I have always loved this song! And I think that the Gene Autry version is the first I remember. I had not heard the original and find it rather funny. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I also have always loved this song, and I think of how many times I have sang it through the years, but, not on a stage. LOL! I like the one by Mitch Miller in 1955. I would have been a married woman and mother of 2. Of course I probably heard Gene Autry sing it at some time. But, I did not know the history of the song. Maxie

  3. Hi, Connie. Gene Autry is a great cowboy crooner, isn’t he. I listened to his version on You Tube, too, and found it very sweet and lyrical.

    Maxie – I think I’m going to be singing this one in my head all day. Ha! I was completely unfamiliar with the ballad tune that Gene Autry sang. The only version I had ever heard was the 1955 marching song. The original has a completely different feel to it.

  4. I love the history of this song. I have never heard this before but to me it makes the song even better. I love that the “yellow rose” became a term of endearment. Amazing history. Thank you for sharing. I’m thinking there will be chorus of us singing this today. 🙂

  5. Karen I was in a museum with all this Civil War and post-Civil War memorabilia and some of the racial references are almost stunning to read now. Man oh man has the world changed.
    I took some pictures thinking to maybe use them on P & P and finally just decided I’d better not.
    And the yellow girl and the darkie, that wasn’t meant as a slur back then but now, when we hear it, it’s hard not to flinch.

  6. I have never heard those words.. Interesting.. You just never know where the lyrics to a song originate until you start to research them.

  7. And what do I think about when I hear this song??? John Wayne! That was the first thing that came to mind.
    This is a fascinating story. Along with the word change way back in the 1800/s.
    I don’t know where you found this interesting story, but find some more. (And I will also be humming this all day).

  8. I know what you mean, Mary. I was a little uncomfortable with the research this song turned up. I certainly hope no one found it offensive. I feel much more comfortable with the newer words and tone of the song than the way it was originally written. I never even knew such lyrics existed before I started researching.

  9. Hi, Kathleen. Folk songs are such an interesting art form. They just keep morphing to fit the times and audience. I enjoyed learning more about our yellow rose.

    Mary J – John Wayne, the king of the cowboys! Can’t go wrong with that one. 🙂 I’m so glad you found this post interesting. I’m thinking about looking into some other Texas songs for future posts, so I’m glad you liked it.

  10. Hi Karen,
    Wow, you’re right the song does take on whole new meaning. Lovin’ this trivia…I enjoy learning origins of everything historical. Wow, that’s an eye opening song. Could never be sung today.

  11. Hi, Quilt Lady. The Yellow Rose of Texas is definitely a classic. I’m glad you were here to enjoy it today.

    Charlene – You’re right. I wouldn’t want to sing those old lyrics today. They are definitely not pc. It’s amazing that it became such a hit back in the 1850’s and not just in the south. It’s origins were in Pennsylvania in the north.

  12. Karen, this is so interesting. I’d never heard that the song evolved that way. The story I’d always heard that the yellow rose was a woman that Santa Anna fell in love with and that she spurned his advances. However it came to be I love the song. It always makes me want to get up and dance. And it evokes a pride in me that I live in Texas.

  13. your right Linnette this is very interesting, i have always loved this song…..when the show “Dallas” was on ,there was another show called “The Yellow Rose of Texas” with Sam Elliott in it. love the show and the theme song was guessed it “yellow Rose of Texas”
    i love this history and never heard it before thank you

  14. Thanks so much for an interesting post. I think the origins/original lyrics of the song and the eventual use of it are rather ironic. I probably saw the Mitch Miller version, we never missed his show when I was growing up. I’ll have to look up the Gene Autry version.

    Will be sharing this little piece of history with my husband and “the kids” (all over 30). As transplanted northerners living in a part of the south that is still fighting the Civil War, the irony will be appreciated. Working in education, I am amazed and saddened by how often they don’t get the facts straight. If they don’t fit, ignore them.

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