Texarkana’s Swampoodle District: The Reported Origin of the

Most Famous Boogie Woogie Bass Figure of All Time

by John Tennison, MD         Copyright August 16, 2015

      Texarkana musicians Lee Ree Sullivan and Artis Brewster were in agreement that, while they were growing up in Texarkana, the oral history communicated to them by older Boogie Woogie players stated that the Boogie Woogie bass figure known as “Swamp Poodle” (AKA "Swampoodle") was developed in Texarkana’s Swampoodle District.  Assuming the oral history communicated to Sullivan and Brewster is accurate, the Swamp Poodle bass figure is the most influential musical motif ever to originate in Texarkana.  The Swamp Poodle bass figure is an 8-beat bass figure variant resulting from a broken-octave doubling of the 8-beat Texas & Pacific bass figure.  Lee Ree Sullivan considered it a kind of Texas & Pacific bass figure.  To this day, the Swamp Poodle bass figure is used in popular music throughout the world.  Even though “The Cows” was originally a name for a right-handed Boogie Woogie figure, after 1900, “The Cows” became conflated with Texas & Pacific bass figures, such that “The Cows” came to be synonymous with the Texas a & Pacific bass figures, including the original “Texas & Pacific” bass figure and its “Swamp Poodle” variant.

The Swamp Poodle Bass Figure


      The Swampoodle district was an area of Texarkana known for its prostitution, loud piano music, gambling, and extreme violence. The Swampoodle district was also home to a significant proportion of Texarkana’s African American population. The Swampoodle district was defined by its proximity to Swampoodle Creek. Swampoodle creek runs parallel to a large length of what is now the Kansas City Southern track in Texarkana. This track was originally the Texarkana and Northern (later the "Texarkana and Fort Smith Railway").  As Swampoodle Creek runs downstream to the south, it crosses over the largest railroad yards in Texarkana, meaning that the creek crosses over Texas and Pacific and the Cotton Belt (previously Texas & St. Louis) Tracks.

Where Was Texarkana's Swampoodle District?

      As of Augut 16, 2015, the earliest newspaper article that I have seen that references Texarkana's "Swampoodle" District is from May 1, 1884.  The article appeared in the Daily Arkansas Gazzette in Little Rock, Arkansas.  The article describes "Swampoodle" as having been on "the west suburban Texas side" of Texarkana.  As evidenced by the articles I have seen so far, Swampoodle Creek appears to have been the defining geographical feature of the Swampoodle District.  Thus, the further away from Swampoodle Creek one travels, the less less likely such an area would have been considered to have been part of the Swampoodle District.  I expect there to be articles about Texarkana's Swampoodle District prior to 1884, especially in the local Texarkana newspapers.  I'm still researching what should be considered to have been the boundaries of "Swampoodle," but "Swampoodle" at least included the yellow area on this map. Swampoodle might have also included areas one block further west and blocks further east along Broad and Front Streets.  I'm searching for primary references to document what was considered "Swampoodle" in the 1880s and 1890s.  I'm not sure if "Swampoodle" was in use in the 1870s as a place-name in Texarkana.  Even though one of the newspaper articles shown below has a headline of "Arkansas Horror," I don't have reason to believe at this time that any part of Texarkana's Swampoodle District was ever on the Arkansas side of Texarkana.

Uncensored Newspaper Articles Documenting Events in Texarkana's Swampoodle District

The following newspaper articles represent uncensored content that was returned when "Texarkana" and "Swampoodle" were used as search terms in www.newspapers.com on August 16, 2015.

Daily Arkansas Gazette, Little Rock, Arkansas, May 1, 1884

The Times-Democrat, New Orleans, Louisiana, July 21, 1888

Daily Arkansas Gazette, Little Rock, Arkansas, May 22, 1890

Daily Arkansas Gazette, Little Rock, Arkansas, April 5, 1893

Daily Arkansas Gazette, Little Rock, Arkansas, September 13, 1898

Daily Arkansas Gazette, Little Rock, Arkansas, April 9, 1901

The Paris Morning News, Paris, Texas, June 20, 1918

San Saba County News, August 11, 1893

The Times, Philadelphia, PA, August 6, 1893

The Saint Paul Globe, August 5, 1893

Wise County Messenger, Decatur, Texas, February 16, 1889

The Eagle, Bryan, Texas, June 7, 1906

Fort Worth Daily Gazette, Fort Worth, Texas, August 31, 1890

The Liberty Vindicator, Liberty, Texas, June 7, 1901

Fort Worth Daily Gazette, Fort Worth, Texas, March 13, 1892

The Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune, Chillicothe, Missouri, November 24, 1902

Palestine Daily Herald, Palestine, Texas, November 7, 1905

The Intelligencer, Anderson, South Carolina, Mrch 6, 1890

The Eagle, Bryan, Texas, November 14, 1900

Kansas City Journal, March 7, 1898

The Decatur Herald, Decatur, Illinois, March 8, 1898

Warren Sheaf, Warren, Minnesota, March 10, 1898

Harrisburg Daily Independent, Harrisburg, PA, March 7, 1898

Pittsburgh Daily Post, Pittsburgh, PA, March 7, 1898

The Independent, Hawarden, Iowa, March 10, 1898

New Ulm Review, New Ulm, Minnesota, March 9, 1898

The Tmes-Picayune, New Orleans, LA, March 7, 1898

Fort Worth Daily Gazette, Fort Worth, Texas, May 19, 1891

The following newspaper articles represent uncensored content that was returned when "Texarkana" and "Swamp Poodle" were used as search terms in www.newspapers.com on August 16, 2015.

The Houston Post, Houston, Texas, July 31, 1902

Mexico Missouri Message, Mexico, Missouri, August 7, 1902

The Houston Post, Houston, Texas, October 11, 1913

1950s Swampoodle Incident

     Well-known black brothels and gambling houses were situated in proximity to Swampoodle Creek.  One of them was in operation at least as late as the 1950s.  In a notorious incident in the 1950s, a group of white male teenagers from Texarkana Arkansas High School had patronized a black brothel that was adjacent to Swampoodle Creek and very close to and on the west side of the old Texas Viaduct that crossed over Texarkana’s main train yards.  The brothel got raided by the police on that same night.  The black woman who was madam of the brothel ended up getting shot by police on the front porch of the brothel when she reportedly wielded a revolver in front of the police.  The incident was covered in the Texarkana Gazette.  Although he was not among the white teenagers who had patronized the brothel that night, my father knew the white teenagers who were at the brothel that night and I was able to interview one of them several years ago.  Although he asked that I not publicize his last name, the person I interviewed was in the class of 1956 at Texarkana Arkansas High School.  He told me that the brothel where the shooting occurred had a piano in its front room and that there was a black man who occasionally played Boogie Woogie on the piano.

Paris, Texas:  Another Texas & Pacific Town with a "Swampoodle" District

The Paris News, Paris, Texas, April 27, 1956

Washington, D. C. had a Swampoodle District

Barbour County Index, Medicine Lodge, Kansas, June 21, 1905

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