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The Texas and Pacific train depot in Weatherford, Texas.  Reprinted with permission from Weatherford, Texas, by
Barbara Y. Newberry and David W. Aiken. Available from the publisher online at www.arcadiapublishing.com or call 888-313-2665

This page last updated on 28 November 2011

A   F i c t i o n a l   S c e n a r i o
b y   P a u l   P r o f t

This story begins about 120 years ago at the train depot in Weatherford, Texas, 30 miles west of Fort Worth. There were no highways and cars, and railways were a fast-growing mode of transportation. Travel by other means, including stagecoach, was slow and arduous.

It was a pleasant spring morning in 1887, and Walter and his father were waiting for the arrival of the train from Fort Worth. They had travelled almost 15 miles from Garner in their buckboard to buy supplies and pick up Walter's uncle at the Texas and Pacific train station. Walter, a young teenager, marvelled at the Weatherford depot and looked forward to seeing his father's brother who would be visiting with them for several days in Garner.

While waiting for the train to arrive, Walter explored the premises. He found four railroad men playing dominos. The men sitting across from each other were partners and they bid before playing each hand. The highest domino won each round of play, and trump dominos were high. Walter thought this was an interesting game. He asked what game they were playing, and one of the railroad men said it was called Rounce.

"Walter, come on. The train's coming," his father called. Walter went to the loading platform adjacent to the railroad tracks to await the train. The railroad men quit their game to meet the train, too.

A few days later, after his uncle had departed, Walter and his friends resumed their secret playing of card games in the barn. They got together as often as they could and, so far, their clandestine activities had gone undetected by the adults in Garner. Most of the parents were devout Christians who believed that playing cards was Satan's game. As luck would have it, the boys' routine was about to change.

One afternoon, Walter, William, and two other boys were in the barn playing cards. They thought they were alone. Suddenly there was a looming figure standing over them. It was Walter's father. He had returned from the field to retrieve a tool, and he was not happy with what he saw. As expected, Walter's father took swift action to send the other boys home and discipline his son.

The next day, Walter and William got together to discuss the events of yesterday. Their one-room Trappe Spring School would close for the summer, and they would have time on their hands. What would they do if they couldn't play cards? They needed to come up with a plan to fill their idle time during the hot afternoons. Walter remembered the domino game he had seen played at the Weatherford train depot.

He and William decided to improvise a domino game that could be played like cards. They began fashioning a new game from Walter's recollections. They finally came up with a game very much like today's game of 42. One difference, however, was when trumps could be played. Walter and William allowed a trump to be played anytime, even if a player could follow the domino suit led.

After working out the rules and scoring details, they introduced the game to their card-playing friends. They loved it. Because it was played with dominos instead of cards, their highly principled parents permitted it. Some of the adults became interested and began playing, too. It wasn't long before the game spread within the rural community and to neighboring areas.

Forty years later, William had achieved prominence and was interviewed by a Dallas newspaper. He related the story of how he and Walter "invented" the game of 42. In 1985, a Fort Worth newspaper cited the story and added some local color to the game's reported history. In 1997, a book on 42 was published that reiterated the Fort Worth newspaper article and, with the help of the internet, 42 players statewide began accepting Garner, Texas as the birthplace of 42.

So, here we are today. The Texas legends associated with the origin of 42 are still diversified, but the documented story has overcome many of them. Even so, some senior 42 players do not discount the legends that advocate the origin of 42 in east Texas. Or Georgetown in central Texas where polling indicates a disproportionately high density of 42 players.

Since playing cards on trains and in public places was reportedly illegal in Texas, perhaps early railroad men improvised their own 42-like domino game(s) to get around the ban. Or maybe they and other rail passengers learned the game in domino-playing towns in Texas and carried it via rail to influence the start of 42 in other areas of Texas.

It doesn't really matter what might have been. Until more convincing documentation becomes available, the residents of Garner and the descendants of William Thomas and Walter Earl can boast the Texas bragging rights for the origin of 42. And Texans can now rally behind the well-publicized story garnered by William Thomas himself.

~ ~ ~

Author's Note: Another scenario features Mineral Wells, a resort town about seven miles west of Garner that attracted many tourists because of its medicinal water. 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. Thomas frequented Mineral Wells to deliver fruit from his father's orchard. The following extract is from (archives):

In the early days of the resort era, the hotel life was very basic and centered around the waters, very few leisure or social activities were offered. ... Each well had a different activity, and visitors moved from well to well for entertainment. ... Games were very popular in the pavilions and boarding house lobbies, with the domino game '42' being the most popular.

This scenario is linked in Centex.html ("speculate").   Other links are in the answer to Q30.

• West Texas resident: "I recall my mother, who was born in 1902, telling me that it (42) was invented because it used to be against the law to play cards on trains in Texas, but I have heard other origin stories, all having to do with the illegality or sinfulness of playing cards."
• East Texas resident: "The town of Hallettsville, TX claims to be the birthplace of 42. At least it used to--my wife was born there and said that was the town's only claim to fame."
• Central Texas Resident: "I am in my 80s and remember that in Kerrville there were 2 domino halls and my father played 42 a lot at those places, along with many others. This was in the early l920s."
• Tony S. (1996/2004): "Legend has it that 42 was invented by a young Baptist boy in east Texas because he wasn't allowed to play cards. / That's just the story my family told me, mostly my grandmother. I have no idea where they got it from and my grandmother passed away many years ago now."
• Extract from Parker County history as provided by a former resident of Garner: "W. A. Thomas moved to the area in 1879 from Titus county when he was 8 years of age. He attended Trappe Springs School. Sometime during his teen years he developed the modern day game of Texas 42. He explained he developed the game as a means of helping the boys pass away the time as they visited the places of business located in the area."
History of Parker County, page 34, Parker County Historical Commission, 1980.  

• Texan in California: "A Methodist minister friend of mine told me it (42) was invented by seminary students (who were not allowed to play cards) at Southwestern Methodist University in Georgetown."
Southwestern University opened in Williamson County, Texas (north of Austin) in 1873.  

• Former U.S. Senator from Texas: "I entered Southwestern University at Georgetown, Texas, in September 1896, and 42 was played in Georgetown at that time. I have understood that this game originated in Georgetown."
Extract from a letter from the Honorable Earle B. Mayfield, published in the New York Folklore Quarterly, 1960.  

• Newspaper article (extract) provided by a Texas historian: "...Texans are trying to find out in what Texas town the game (42) first started. The answers included Georgetown, Waco, and the City of Garner..."
Tolbert, Frank X. "New York Curious About Texas 42." Dallas Morning Newspaper 3 Aug 1961.  

• Newspaper article by another historian: "...the game of 42 played with dominos started in Mingus, Texas in the 19th century..." Azle News
• Inconclusive Google find: "Will you, then, come into the next room and help to make up a whist party, or a table at euchre, forty-two, casino, cribbage, or any other game at cards ..."
William Jennings Demorest, Ellen Louise Curtis Demorest, Jane Cunningham Croly . Demorest's Family Magazine, 1878.

• 42 originated in Mineral Wells?: "There is an article in the newspaper Wills Point Chronicle of July 15, 1915 (copied from the Temple Telegram) that gives a different originator of the game of 42. This article attributes the originator to have been a resident of Temple, Texas by the name of Giescke, a brakeman on the Santa Fe Railroad. He had been in ill health and had gone to Mineral Wells, Texas for their water treatment. It was in a Mineral Wells hotel that he is supposed to have invented the game of 42. ... It was interesting he first was going to name the game 35."     Full article
11 Jan 2017: Thanks to contributor from Canton, Tx for this information.

• Comments on the origin of 42 by Dennis Roberson, author of Winning 42:  "The Garner story is clearly the most credible story to date ..." (Click Roberson comments for entire quote.  See also Proft comments.)
• If you're interested in the history of 42, way back and recent, you're invited to join the online 42 History Group.
Other recollections and stories.

Note: If you have an informational contribution, please send . Thanks.  -PP
  (Names and e-mail addresses will not be posted without permission.)


• U.S. rail map:   1885

• Texas railroad maps:   1874   1887
    - 1853: Harrisburg (now part of Houston)
    - 1857: Marshall (near Louisiana border, 40 miles west of Shreveport)
    - 1860: Galveston (30 miles southeast of Houston);   Orange (near Louisiana border, 15 miles east of Beaumont);
                and the site later named College Station (90 miles northwest of Houston)
      The Civil War halted construction of railroads in Texas for seven years between 1860 and 1871. 
    - 1871: Austin;   Waco (halfway between Austin and Dallas);   Giddings (50 miles east of Austin)
    - 1872: Dallas;   Denison (75 miles north of Dallas near Oklahoma border)
    - 1873: Fannin County (location of Windom, about 50 miles northeast of Dallas near Oklahoma border)
    - 1874: Texarkana (near Arkansas state line);   Tyler (100 miles southeast of Dallas)
    - 1875: Corpus Christi (150 miles southeast of San Antonio)
    - 1876: Fort Worth
    - 1877: San Antonio
    - 1878: Georgetown (25 miles north of Austin)
    - 1880: Weatherford (30 miles west of Fort Worth);   Millsap (seven stagecoach miles southeast of Mineral Wells)
    - 1881: El Paso (far west Texas);   Abilene (140 miles west of Fort Worth);   Laredo (135 miles west of Corpus Christi)
    - 1882: Temple (75 miles north of Austin)
    - 1887: Kerrville (60 miles northwest of San Antonio);   Hallettsville (100 miles west of Houston)
    - 1891: Garner (15 miles west-northwest of Weatherford);  Mineral Wells (seven miles west-southwest of Garner)
    GATEWAYS TO TEXAS VIA RAIL: Marshall (1857), Orange (1860), Denison (1872), Texarkana (1874), El Paso (1881)

Trains and 42 (narrative)

Texas transportion in the 1800s (Texas State Historical Association)

Texas railways history (Texas State Historical Association)

Reported origin of 42 (paraphrased from 1985 newspaper article)

Garner/Weatherford area map

42 club in Weatherford, near Garner, organized in 1926

Texas 42 (Wikipedia's description of the game)

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