I’ve read several blurbs through the years about various 19th Century Texas saloons having ten-pin alleys in them. Now, obviously I know that this means that bowling was offered in these saloons, but I just couldn’t get a picture in my mind as to how these bowling “alleys” looked or worked.
When I came across a notice in a 1879 issue of the Comanche Chief that a saloon was opening on the north side of the square and that it would contain a ten-pin alley, I decided to do a little research to see if I could figure out exactly what this meant.
What I learned was a lot, and yet not so much either. First of all, apparently the sport of bowling has been around for over 4,000 years. I also learned that in 1879 having ten pins was fairly new to the sport. It seems that bowling was actually a nine-pin game, a game that begat quite a bit of gambling. Not at all surprising, I would have to say.
Anyway, in the 1830s many cities outlawed nine-pin bowling because of the gambling associated with it; however, Texas did not do this. In 1837, the first Congress of the Republic of Texas chose to levy a yearly $150.00 tax on establishments that offered nine-pin bowling.
And, God love Texans, they weren’t going to pay the tax. Thus, ten-pin bowling was begun!
I found two depictions of a ten-pin alley. The first was painted by artist Friedrich Eduard Meyerheim (1808–1879) in 1834. It is obviously probably a little more primitive than what was inside the saloon in Comanche in 1879.
The second photo was taken in 1908. I can’t imagine anything so elaborate in the Comanche of 1879, but what do I know!