A Little Bowling Lesson, 19th Century Style

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!

About Fredda Jones

Fredda Davis Jones was raised “in the country” in Comanche County and learned very early that creativity and innovation are traits that can flourish even in small-town Texas and that with enough effort, indeed nothing is impossible, including being married to the same man for over 40 years! Rickey and Fredda have 2 children, 5 grandchildren, and a crazy life that includes sitting in the bleachers several times a week. The rest of her time is spent creating great content for texansunited.com and marketing small-town Texas.
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8 Responses to A Little Bowling Lesson, 19th Century Style

  1. Butch Ferguson says:

    I wonder if anyone other than me remembers the bowling alley that was on the east side of the square. It was a little north of where John Gleaton’s office is now, can’t remember the exact building, though. It wasn’t in operation very long but I remember going there with my Grandad, Allen Lee, he loved to bowl. This must have been late forties or early fifties cause I was just a little squirt.

  2. missy jones says:

    Yes, Butch, I do remember the bowling alley on the east side of the square. I never went in, but when you looked through the big windows, you could see the long lanes, beautiful wood. This was located probably about half way between John Gleaton’s office and the end of the block on the north.

  3. Tommy Perdue says:

    The Secret to good Bowling is a well balanced Slide to the Line, It gives you time to Deliver your Ball to your Mark, I carried a 185 Average, which is pretty respectable.

  4. Steven Driskell says:

    Outlaw John Wesley Hardin wrote about a gambling dispute over a game at a saloon having a ten pin alley in Trinity, Texas. Hardin writes, “We were to roll anything we wished, from a pony up. It was to be a ball game at $5 a ball.” The dispute turned into a gunfight back in 1872.
    (pages 68-70)

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