How two kids invented the game ‘42’

By Don McAlavy: Columnist

Jim Craven, a friend of mine in Clovis, went to teach 42 to passengers on a cruise ship a while back, hired by the ship’s captain. Craven put in nearly 11 hours teaching that week and what a job it was, he said.

The history of the game 42 began in 1887 in the tiny Texas community of Trappe Spring (now Garner), about 45 miles west of Fort Worth.

Two young Trappe Spring boys, 12-year-old William Thomas and 14-year-old Walter Earl, really liked to play cards. They found the game of dominoes (legal amongst the Baptists) boring. The boys often hid up in the hayloft to play cards.

One quiet spring day, however, they were caught by one of their parents playing cards with two other local boys. The other parents were summoned.

The cards were burned and the boys were given the standard discipline of the day.

Being the determined and inventive young men that they were, William and Walter set out to change things. But they did not seek to rewrite the Baptist bylaws; they simply exploited a loophole instead.

If dominoes were not sinful, why not play cards with dominoes? That’s what they did. For about four months, Walter and William devised and fine-tuned the rules for a card game to be played with dominoes. It was here that the game of 42 was born.

No more haylofts for Walter and William. No more whippings. They taught it to their families and to others in their community.
William delivered fruit from his father’s orchard to nearby Mineral Wells, and he taught the game there. Later both families moved to other parts of Texas and taught the game to even more people. The game began to spread across the state. When World War II hit, Texas military men took the game and taught it to their fellow countrymen.

The irony of 42’s invention (most resembling bridge, whist or pitch) as a permissible substitute for wicked card play, was that it could be played on front porches after church, after Sunday dinner, or at breaks on the workday with neither shame nor sin. It became a popular event at community gatherings and church functions. The game 42 was played at ranch bunkhouses, hunting and fishing trips, oil well sites, and while eating lunch at the workplace.

Foster Stephens, living at Ranchvale, was the founder of the Curry County Men’s 42 League. The actual date this 42 league started was Feb. 25, 1951, and at that time Stephens was a member of the Clovis School faculty. Later Stephens became a railroader. He was popular and became the president of this league. (Craven and his wife, Betty, sailed from Galveston, Texas, to Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel, and she said they had a great time and all it cost them was $50 a day. Now I just learned that the captain didn’t pay Craven a cent!)