Why Easton, Texas Should Not Be Called
“The Birthplace of Boogie Woogie”
By John Tennison, MD Copyright January 29, 2011
First, let me make several things clear: Easton, Texas is a beautiful community. I love Easton and the people I have met who are from Easton. Moreover, I have visited Easton and would encourage everyone to visit Easton, and go to such events as the Turnip Green Festival, or to hear great live music at such venues as Fe Fe’s Lounge. And, for the record, there is no question in my mind that Easton, Texas played a role in the migration of Boogie Woogie music. Nonetheless, there is no justifiable reason to call Easton, Texas “The Birthplace of Boogie Woogie.”
I would not feel the need to make this point except for the fact that unjustified claims are being made about Easton on the website www.eastontexas.com. Moreover, in a recent article by James Waterson of the Tyler Morning Telegraph newspaper, first published on January 17, 2011, the mayor of Easton, Walter Ward, echoed one of these unjustified claims from the website when he said that Easton was “the birthplace of Boogie Woogie.”
Fortunately, Waterson’s article does make what is almost certainly a true statement when it contradicts Mayor Ward’s claim by stating:
“Because of the railroad, people began traveling to town again, including musicians who brought a new style of piano music called ‘Boogie Woogie.’”
That is, it is logically impossible for Easton to have been the “birthplace” of Boogie Woogie and for Boogie Woogie to have been brought to Easton for the first time from places outside of Easton.
Subsequent to its publication in the Tyler Morning Telegraph, Waterson’s article was distributed on the Associated Press wire and run in several other prominent newspapers after January 17, 2011. As a result of Waterson’s widely published article, I have received several inquiries asking me if evidence warrants Easton’s sharing the “birthplace” claim with Marshall. The answer is an emphatic “No.”
Two Reasons Why Easton Should Not Be Called “The Birthplace of Boogie Woogie”
1. The claim that Easton, Texas is “the birthplace of Boogie Woogie” is almost certainly false. Comparatively speaking, the evidence supportive of a Marshall-area origin for Boogie Woogie dwarfs any evidence that I have examined that would suggest an Easton origin.
2. The claim that Easton, Texas is “the birthplace of Boogie Woogie” is disrespectful to the African Americans and the African American community where Boogie Woogie was most likely to have actually been created.
A Timeline of Municipal “Birthplace of Boogie Woogie” Claims
I have meticulously researched Boogie Woogie for over 25 years. As a result of conducting field research in numerous East Texas towns, including Easton, I concluded that Marshall, Texas was the most probable birthplace of Boogie Woogie in 2003. This conclusion was published on my Boogie Woogie history webpage no later than 2004.
In late 2009, officials in Marshall expressed interest in my research and invited me to come to Marshall to present to the Marshall City Commission and to the Marshall Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. I came to Marshall on Martin Luther King Day, January 18, 2010, where I presented my research and my conclusion that Marshall was the most probable birthplace of Boogie Woogie.
On January 22, 2010 (only 4 days after my presentation), residents of Marshall, Texas established a public web page on FaceBook entitled “Marshall, Texas: The Birthplace of Boogie Woogie.” The purpose of this webpage on FaceBook was to educate the public with regard to Marshall’s being the most probable birthplace of Boogie Woogie, and to serve as a public webpage to announce upcoming events in Marshall related to Boogie Woogie.
Moreover, in response to my presentation and a Boogie Woogie performance I gave in Marshall on January 18, 2010, an article was written by Marshall resident, Jack Canson, titled “MARSHALL, TEXAS -- BIRTHPLACE OF BOOGIE WOOGIE,” and was published on the widely-read news website, East Texas Towns Online on January 25, 2010, and a link to the article was posted on Marshall’s FaceBook page at the same time.
On May 13, 2010, the Marshall City Commission met and unanimously approved a city ordinance declaring Marshal, Texas to be “The Birthplace of Boogie Woogie.”
On June 8, 2010, I received an email from a man whom I had never met. His name was Stuart Gregory. The subject line in Mr. Gregory’s email was
“The REAL birthplace of boogie woogie is...”
Among other comments, Mr. Gregory’s stated the following in his email:
“I am writing you today to present a collection of facts, many of which I am certain that you yourself are well aware of that when combined, with reasonable certainty pinpoints the exact, true birthplace of boogie woogie.”
“While I have not found a black piano player's name who played there in Easton prior to the turn of the century, I must only say...not yet... but their existence is obvious and when combined with what we do know, it is my belief that Easton is the true birthplace of boogie woogie.”
In addition to these two sentences, Mr. Gregory’s email contained various other statements about Easton which he said convinced him that Easton was the “birthplace of Boogie Woogie.”
I responded to Mr. Gregory’s email and had subsequent conversations with him to explain that I had already studied Easton, visited Easton, and interviewed some of Easton’s residents regarded by the Easton locals as the most knowledgeable about Easton’s musical history. I told Mr. Gregory that all known attributes of Boogie Woogie history that he identified with Easton had been present in substantially greater magnitudes in Marshall, Texas. Moreover, I told Mr. Gregory that Easton lacked a pivotal ingredient that Marshall had for 20 years before Easton: The Railroad.
(The recognized importance of the sounds of the railroad in inspiring the creators of Boogie Woogie is well known. Moreover, oral histories from numerous Texans indicate that Boogie Woogie was first played in the early 1870s. Yet, the railroad did not arrive in Easton until 1878. Even then, the railroad that arrived in Easton was a spur-line from the Texas & Pacific Railroad, which had its headquarters in Marshall. For an extensive discussion of the history of Boogie Woogie supported by evidence, please refer to http://nonjohn.com/History%20of%20Boogie%20Woogie.htm )
I also pointed out to Mr. Gregory that by the late 1860s and early 1870s, the Camden area (at modern-day Easton) had already become a ghost town. In contrast, during this same period, Marshall was bustling; and Boogie Woogie and the Texas & Pacific Railroad were getting their start. The Texas Handbook of History Online states the following about Camden, Texas (at modern-day Easton) during this period:
“A Confederate colonel who visited the community in 1863 found it unimpressive, and shortly after the war another visitor wrote that the townspeople seemed ‘notably inert and melancholy.’ Disease-particularly malaria, which was rampant along low-lying riverbottoms-and the rise of nearby Iron Bridge eventually doomed the town. By the late 1860s most of Camden's remaining residents had moved away, and in the 1870s the town was no longer shown on maps.”
As a result of the email that Mr. Gregory sent me on June 8, 2010, I did a Google word search and discovered that same day that a website with the domain name of www.eastontexas.com had been developed by Mr. Gregory.
I inferred that Mr. Gregory had made arrangements with or had contracted with the city of Easton to develop the website. When I first discovered the www.eastontexas.com website, the following phrase appeared at the bottom of the www.eastontexas.com homepage and history page:
“Web Development By Stuart Gregory - Longview, Texas”
More recently, this phrase has been removed from the www.eastontexas.com homepage and history page. However, as of January 29, 2010, the phrase still appeared at the bottom of Easton’s www.turnipgreenfestival.com page.
After doing a “Who is” search on the Internet, I learned that the domain www.eastontexas.com had been created and registered with www.godaddy.com on April 27, 2010, which is over 3 months after the residents of Marshall, Texas had set up their FaceBook page, titled, “Marshall, Texas: The Birthplace of Boogie Woogie,” and over 3 months after the essay of the same name by Jack Canson had been widely distributed and read.
Despite the domain of www.eastontexas.com having not been registered until April 27, 2010, the www.eastontexas.com website as it existed on June 8, 2010, contained the following phrase at the bottom of its homepage and history page:
“© 2009 The City Of Easton, Texas - All Rights Reserved”
This 2009 copyright statement falsely implied that the www.eastontexas.com website had been developed during the year prior to its actual domain-name registration on April 27, 2010. More recently, the copyright statement on the www.eastontexas.com homepage and history page has been changed to claim a copyright of 2010.
Some Contents of the www.eastontexas.com Website
On the home page of the www.eastontexas.com website is a logo. Above the logo are the words “The New City Logo!” The logo is a diamond-shaped logo with “Easton, Texas” in big letters in the middle of the diamond, and the phrase “The Birthplace of Boogie Woogie!” in smaller letters at the bottom of the diamond.
Below the logo, the www.eastontexas.com webpage contains the false statement:
“As of Mid-May 2010 the Harrison County region including Easton has been declared birthplace of boogie woogie music...”
As the record will show, the declaration that was made in “Mid-May 2010,” was that “Marshall,” not “The Harrison County Region,” was declared the birthplace of Boogie Woogie. Saying that the “The Harrison County Region,” had been declared the “birthplace of boogie-woogie music” appears to be a thinly veiled attempt at including Easton in a declaration that had specifically referred only to Marshall.
Moreover, there are other factual and historical errors on the www.eastontexas.com website. For example, the website displays a map showing the Easton area. Under the map is a caption claiming that Easton was
“….at the historic Trammel's Trace river crossing.”
In fact, the actual Sabine River crossing of Trammel’s Trace was at Ramsdale’s Ferry, which was almost exactly 6 miles east of Walling’s Ferry at what is now modern-day Easton. Consequently, the path of Trammel’s Trace went through Tatum, Texas, not Easton. This path is also corroborated by Texas historians at the Texas Handbook of History Online, which clearly states that Trammel’s Trace ran along the current-day border of Rusk and Panola Counties.
Moreover, the path of Trammel’s Trace was no closer to Easton than it was to Marshall. In fact, based on the authoritative map below from the digital archives of Stephen F. Austin State University, the route of Trammel’s Trace appears to have run slightly closer to Marshall than to Walling’s Ferry at what is now modern-day Easton.
The Route of Trammel’s Trace
As can be seen in the map above, Trammel’s Trace crossed the Sabine at Ramsdale’s Ferry, not at Walling’s Ferry, and then continued following the modern-day boundary between Rusk and Panola Counties, which caused the path of Trammels Trace to go through Tatum, not what is now Easton.
A Modern-Day Map Showing Easton and Tatum
Ramsdale’s Ferry was located on the Sabine River at the confluence of Harrison, Rusk, and Panola Counties. Consequently, Trammel’s Trace was almost exact 6 miles due east of Walling’s Ferry, which was at what is now modern-day Easton.
(Interestingly, despite his emails and conversations with me, Mr. Gregory never disclosed to me that he had developed any websites related to Easton or to his claim that Easton was “the birthplace of Boogie Woogie.”)
In contrast to the substantial evidence that I present at www.bowofo.org which supports Marshall’s claim as “Birthplace of Boogie Woogie, the Easton claim is not supported by evidence or research that would suggest an Easton, Texas origin for Boogie Woogie. Rather, the city of Easton appears to have been persuaded to make its claim as a response to having learned about the claim having been made for Marshall, Texas. The Marshall claim became widely known by the public after I made a public presentation on Martin Luther King Day, January 18, 2010, in Marshall, where I publicly declared Marshall, Texas as “The Birthplace of Boogie Woogie,” after which, Marshall residents quickly responded within 4 days with the development of their FaceBook Page, and within 7 days, by the widely-read article by Jack Canson, which was published at East Texas Towns Online, and published on Marshall’s FaceBook page.
If it weren’t for the fact that Easton’s claim appears to be false, I would be supportive of Easton’s claim. However, not only does Easton’s claim appear to be false, it is also hurtful, as it attempts to take credit away from those African Americans and the African American community associated with the early Texas & Pacific Railroad in Marshall, Texas, who appear most likely to have created Boogie Woogie several years before the spur-line from the Texas & Pacific Railroad arrived in Easton.
Easton should stop calling itself the “Birthplace of Boogie Woogie.” However, there is still a way for Easton, Texas to sustainably incorporate the term “Boogie Woogie” in its city logo and its promotional materials without risk of compromising truth or dishonoring other African American communities. Specifically, rather than the use the phrase, “Birthplace of Boogie Woogie,” I would recommend using another phrase, such as “Boogie Woogie Country,” or any other phrase that did not make unjustified and unsustainable claims.