History is full of events that would have ended quite differently if some previously unknown person (or animal, in one case) hadn't seized an opportunity. Here are four such stories.
The slave you don't mess with in Texas
Big Tex may owe its independence day to a small slave named Emily West. According to some sources, when Mexico's General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna marched into the area in 1836, Emily noticed him leering at her.She dispatched another servant to warn the Texas army of Santa Anna's battle plans and stayed behind to exploit the general's weakness. On the morning of Sam Houston's attack, she distracted Santa Anna between the sheets, leaving his army leaderless and ineffective against the much smaller Texan force. When Emily's owner learned of her bravery and sacrifice, he freed her, and Emile (known as the Yellow Rose of Texas) lived out the rest of her life as a free woman.
The soldier who took out an entire army
During the war of Spanish succession, the French army had nearly taken the citadel at Turin, in present-day Italy.But then an undistinguished Italian soldier named Pietro Micca devised a clever plan. In the tunnel where the French had made their breach, Micca armed a mine, lured the French closer, and then blew himself up along with his enemies. The event turned the tide of the battle and, ultimately the war. It's now thought that Micca didn't intend to sacrifice himself, but there's a museum in Turin named after him anyway.
The beverage vendor who helped Buddha reach Enlightenment
Before achieving Enlightenment, Siddhartha Gautama explored the extremes of hedonism and asceticism. For the latter, he meditated alone in a cave for 40 days and emerged nearly dead from starvation. Upon seeing him, a local village girl named Sujata approached Siddhartha and offered him some milk and rice pudding. The meager sustenance gave him the energy to walk to the tree under which he meditated and achieved Enlightenment. Although the story is likely apocryphal, it's possible that Sujata was the most important beverage vendor in history.
The mole that made a mountain
When William of Orange and his wife assumed the English, Irish, and Scottish thrones in 1689, the Jacobites labored to overthrow him and restore the House fo Stuart. But what a gang of ornery Scotsmen couldn't accomplish, one proud ittle mole did. Legend has it that a clump of dirt created by the rodent's burrow tripped William's horse, throwing the rider off and shattering his royal collarbone. As he tried to recover, William caught pneumonia and eventually died. Amazingly, the mole's hard work was not forgotten. For years, the Jacobites continues to toast the "Little Gentleman in Black Velvet" who helped eliminate their nemesis.
The article above, written by Graeme Wood, appeared in Scatterbrained section of the Mar - Apr 2008 issue of mental_floss magazine (the excellent "The Future of Sex" issue!). It is reprinted here with permission.