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Background of Bracken Bowling

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

“Rip Van Winkle” is a short story written by Washington Irving. Rip lives in a village by the Catskill Mountains. He is an easygoing, henpecked husband. One day he wanders into the mountains to go hunting and he meets and drinks with Henry Hudson’s legendary sailing crew. They are bowling 9-Pin. Rip falls asleep and sleeps for 20 years. He wakes up to the sound of crashing 9-Pins. Everything has changed. Irving uses 9-Pin bowling as an example of change. Bowling was very popular in Europe, then Germany, and now small settlements in Central Texas, the Comal County community of Bracken being one of them.

Bracken goes back to 1850 when Kentuckian William Bracken came to Texas to buy land. He was successful at getting a patent for 11 labors of land (177.1 acres per labor) from Texas Governor Peter Bell. This land was located on the Cibolo Creek where the El Camino Real crosses the creek. Two years later Bracken died and his children inherited the land. Twenty years later, 1,114 acres were sold to George and Christopher Pfeuffer who, in turn, sold 300 acres of the property to William Davenport. Davenport sold 54.7 acres to the I&GN Railroad Company that built a railroad on 12 acres of his property. The railroad sold the rest of the land to John Barnes and Jacob Wetmore. These two developed their land into the town of Davenport consisting of seven blocks. They initially named their community Davenport, but the name was denied by the U.S. Post Office because another town in north Texas already had that name. Therefore, they named the town Bracken in honor of the man who first purchased this land.

Now we get to the Bracken 9-Pin Bowling Club that celebrated 100 years of Kegeln (bowling) this year. It’s a 9-Pin bowling club which is different from a 10-Pin club. Pins for 9-Pin are set up manually, whereas pins for 10-Pin are set mechanically. Many of the small communities around New Braunfels have 9-Pin bowling alleys because the German immigrants brought the practice with them.

Most historians believe that the sport of bowling has been around for thousands of years in one form or another. The act of knocking down pins or bottles, or anything that will stand up, with a round object, whether it be a rock or a ball, has been a sport enjoyed by all ages.

Bowling balls and pins have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs. The Polynesians bowled on lanes 60 feet long, the same length as modern alleys. There is evidence that English kings bowled and also monks like Martin Luther.

The practice of throwing a ball to hit down 9-Pins instead of the traditional 10-Pins was brought to the U.S. by the Germans. In the 4th century, bowling was part of a religious ceremony. The belief was that if you could knock down all the pins you were thought to be of good character. Those who missed the pins had to do some kind of penance. I wonder what happened when people kept on failing to knock the pins down.

Most ancient Germans carried what was known as a “Kegel” or club used for protection as well as sport. The Kegel would represent a heathen and if it could be knocked down with a stone ball the bowler would be cleansed of his sins. I suppose you could say that the more a person bowled, the more sins they had. Teddy Roosevelt, being of German heritage, probably said “Trust everyone but always carry a big Kegel.” Just kidding.

The Germans, English, and Dutch all brought their own version of bowling to the colonies. This 9-pin sport was banned in Connecticut in 1841 because of the gambling and crime associated with it. Supposedly the people in Connecticut just added another pin making it 10-Pin bowling, circumventing the law and that solved that problem.

Curt Schmidt, author of the book, “Oma and Opa” tells of the importance of 9-Pin bowling to our early settlers. Bowling has survived as a popular sport here even today. He described 9-Pin Kegeln this way: “A team game with four to seven players. Pins are set up and then each team rolls two balls at the set-up. Then if the team member knocks all down with the first ball, the pins are set up again. And he rolls again. If a bowler leaves any pins standing except the King pin in the middle, it counts 12 points. If any pins are left standing, then the next bowler rolls it at them and so on until they are all down. The captain calls the member of the team who is likely to ‘clean up’ the alley. There are full house bowlers, left side and right side bowlers and clean up bowlers.”

In Comal County there are still many 9-Pin leagues. Bracken Bowling Club is one. Bernice Friesenhahn researched and compiled information on the bowling alley with Karly Friesenhahn formatting the information into a booklet for the celebration of their 100th year. Bracken Bowling Club was founded in 1914 by a group of men who enjoyed 9-Pin bowling. The club was built on the Bose brothers land. E.H. and Albert Bose and their wives gave the property of 1/3 acre. In 1977, a new eight lane facility was built on 1 ½ acres of land across from the old alley.

Rubin Moeller who was the secretary of the club for many years researched the minutes that were written in German. The original two lanes had a cost of five cents a game to bowl. Family member names of some of the founders were Bose, Bremer, Forshage, Friesenhahn, Gebhardt, Haag, Heitkamp, Hoffmann, Jonas, Marbach, Moeller, Reeh, Rosenburg and Wuest.

Women eventually became part of the bowling scene. Accordingly in almost all cases, the husband was a member of the club and his wife was allowed to bowl. If the husband died, his membership passed on to the wife and she continued to pay.

Washington Irving in “Rip Van Winkle” contends that change is inevitable, but sometimes it is slow. Bowling has been hanging around in Bracken for over 100 years with few changes.

1975 Bracken #1 Trophy Team in the old bowling alley.  L-R Olga Potchernick, Dotti Wilson, Clarine Syamken, Cherlyn Koehler, Jeanne Classen and Joyce Foster.

1975 Bracken #1 Trophy Team in the old bowling alley. L-R Olga Potchernick, Dotti Wilson, Clarine Syamken, Cherlyn Koehler, Jeanne Classen and Joyce Foster.