Prior to 1997, the Garner story was unknown to many 42 players. The release of Dennis Roberson's 42 book and its widespread publicity on the internet promoted Garner to statewide recognition. The original source for the Garner story, however, was William Thomas himself some forty years after he and Walter Earl reportedly "invented" the game. Though it sounded plausible, I undertook my own research to find corroboration or independent validation of the original story.
My research to verify the Garner story surfaced other reported origins of the game: Georgetown, Waco, Hallettsville, and even some non-Texas origins. The timing and influence of the early railroads in Texas in the mid-1800s suggested that 42 might have been played in the Houston or Galveston areas before the game's reported origin in Garner. None of these other stories, however, included details, e.g., year of event or names of participants.
Domino games with bidding and trumps were played in the United States prior to the reported "invention" of 42. Card games were not played by "polite society," so dominos were often substituted to play card-like games. In no case, however, did I find specific references to the domino game 42 before 1885. Since 42 is often compared to the card game Bridge (a follow-on to the older card game Whist), it is conceivable that 42 did, indeed, originate in Garner in 1887 (some sources say 1885) as reported.
Dennis Roberson's research is credible for all the reasons stated in his comments. It has survived scrutiny, and there is no valid argument to disprove the story. Until something more convincing comes along, Texans can embrace the story as more than just a legend. It is a reported interview with the man who said he co-invented the game. And, because William Thomas was a man of stature,1 there is no compelling reason to doubt his integrity or long-term memory.2 It's time to move on.
Posted 28 September 2007
Notes (updated 11 Jan 2017):
1. William Thomas was a Dallas realtor and an Internal Revenue Service collector. He was also brother-in-law to Sam Rayburn, a powerful Texan in Washington politics at the time. Had it not been for his prominence in Dallas, the story of his co-inventing the game might never have come to light. (No information was found on reported co-inventor Walter Earl.)
2. Thomas' timeline of events is unclear, and it's conceivable that domino games played in the nearby resort town of Mineral Wells had a significant influence in his developing the rules for 42. (In his youth, Thomas travelled often to Mineral Wells to deliver fruit from his father's orchard. Some forty years later, he reportedly told the story about his co-inventing the game in a 1927 interview with the Dallas Journal newspaper.)
The wellwater in Mineral Wells became known for its medicinal qualities circa 1881. In 1882, an eight-mile stage line connected Mineral Wells to Millsap, a terminal of the Texas and Pacific Railway. The town became a health resort where "games were very popular in the pavilions and boarding house lobbies, with the domino game '42' being the most popular." Source of quote
According to the Parker County Historical Commission, Thomas moved to the Garner area in 1879 from Titus County when he was eight years of age. In 1887, he would have been 16 years old. According to Christopher Evans, a writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Thomas was 12 in 1887, a four-year difference. If, indeed, Thomas moved to Parker County in 1879 when he was eight and co-invented 42 when he was 12, then 42 would have been invented in 1883, four years earlier than reported.
11 Jan 2017: This 1915 newspaper article indicates 42 might have originated in Mineral Wells.
If you're interested in the history of 42, way back and recent, you're invited to join the online 42 History Group.
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