City in the Sun


The Mavericks

The San Antonio family whose name is most intimately associated with cattle, oddly enough, has nothing whatever to do with ranching. It is the Maverick family. For more than a hundred years the word "maverick" has been a part of the English language, used by cattlemen to denote an unbranded calf running wild on the range. But the only cattle the Mavericks own are cows, and their Sunshine Ranch, out on the northwest edge of town, is a rural retreat and a dairy farm.

The Mavericks are the most renowned single family in San Antonio. They are to this city what the Du Ponts are to Wilmington, Delaware, or the Roosevelts to Hyde Park, New York. They have been prominent in the business and political life of San Antonio since the Revolution (which in this State, remember, always means the Texas Revolution). Though they are not as rich and important as they once were, the Maverick name is still spread lavishly over this part of the country. In San Antonio are Maverick Park, Maverick Street, and Maverick Road. Maverick's Island is a complicated traffic maze, officially known as Romana Plaza. Over on the Rio Grande is Maverick County. San Antonio has a Maverick Building and several miscellaneous Maverick businesses.

The man who founded the prolific Maverick dynasty in Texas was a South Carolina gentleman named Samuel Augustus Maverick, son of a Charleston merchant and landowner. The first Mavericks in America had lived around Boston (an earlier Samuel Maverick wrote a Brief Description of New England which is in the British Museum) but was then—and is now—a Maverick habit to keep moving on. The pioneer fever hit Samuel Augustus Maverick in 1835, when he was thirty-two years old. He sold everything he owned in South Carolina and arrived in San Antonio with a nest egg of thirty-six thousand dollars in gold.

He was no adventurer like Jim Bowie, no rustic settler like the farmers Stephen Austin brought in from Tennessee. Samuel Augustus Maverick was a graduate of Yale. He had studied law under Henry St. George Tucker of Virginia. Primarily a cautious businessman looking around for sound investments, he was also a young man of some spirit and a politician of no mean acumen. From the day he hit San Antonio, Maverick was right in the thick of the various intrigues to detach Texas from Mexico. He was one of a band of volunteers who stormed into the city with Old Ben Milam, three months after he got there, capturing it from its Mexican defenders. Milam reputedly died in young Maverick's arms. He left the Alamo a few days before Santa Anna attacked it, to go with Francisco Ruíz and José Antonio Navarro to the convention at Washington on the Brazos, where as a delegate from San Antonio he signed the Declaration of Independence. In the first Texas Congress, Maverick was a Representative from the district of Bexar—Bexar being the county of which San Antonio is a part.

Along with these stirring activities, Maverick found time to return briefly to Alabama for a wife (she was Mary Ann Adams of Virginia) and to build himself a home on the Main Plaza. He was mayor of San Antonio in 1839, then city treasurer, and a member of Captain Jack Hays' band of Texas Rangers who hunted down the Comanches. When General Adrian Woll of Mexico withdrew from San Antonio in 1842, Maverick was one of a group of fifty-four citizens who he carried back to Mexico as hostages. The United States Minister to Mexico was General Waddy Thompson, a South Carolinian and a relative of Samuel Maverick by marriage. He got Maverick released from Perote Prison. Meanwhile, in his absence, Maverick had been elected to the Texas Senate. He served two terms, until the Republic was absorbed into the United States. Later on, he was a member of the legislature.

Maverick was one of three Confederate commissioners who in 1861 talked General Twiggs into surrendering the Department of Texas without a shot. Too old to serve in the Confederate Army—he was then fifty-eight—he became an assistant treasurer of the Confederacy. After the war he retired from public life; and five years later he was dead. In the midst of his crowded political career, he had managed to build a substantial fortune too. Most of his wealth was in real estate. Maverick was supposed to be one of the biggest landowners in the United States when he died. In addition to his city properties, his farm and ranchland holdings reached from San Antonio all the way to the Mexican border, and included a good many of the islands in the Gulf.

Just how the term "maverick" got into the rancher's vocabulary is a matter of some dispute. The episode from which it was born belongs to history; but there are several versions of the transaction. Although he was no rancher, Maverick acquired a number of ranches by foreclosure. With one of them he also took 453 head of cattle. According to the most popular story, Maverick figured that all Texas ranchers branded their cattle, and that if he left his calves unbranded he could then claim every unbranded steer in the country. That sounds a bit too shrewd even for a Maverick. According to his descendants, Maverick sent his herd down to Matagorda Island, in the Gulf, in charge of an untrustworthy foreman who neglected to brand the calves. A sand bar presently washed up between the Island and the mainland. The Maverick cattle wandered across it and mingled with the branded steers on shore.

However that may be, Maverick finally sold all his cattle to one Toutant de Beauregard, a Castroville rancher. Beauregard's cowhands had to hunt the unbranded Maverick cattle on the open range and cut them out. When they spied a cow without a brand, they would let out a yell: "There's a Maverick!" The word spread over Texas. It went west with the Gold Rush in 1849. Eventually it reached Australia on a clipper ship sailing from San Francisco, and from there traveled to India, where Rudyard Kipling heard it. It was one of Kipling's favorite words. In his ballad, "A Mutiny of the Mavericks," and in various other stories and scraps of verse, he applied it to those who were Beyond the Pale, Without the Law, or not quite pukka sahib.

The Mavericks, as I told you, are prolific. Along with his lands and his money and the peculiar renown of his name, old Samuel Augustus left six children. He sent them all East to school, to the University of North Carolina or the University of Virginia. There was George Madison Maverick, who married Mary Elizabeth Vance of a notable Castroville family. He built various imposing San Antonio edifices, including the old Opera House. William Houston Maverick married Emilie Virginia Chilton of Virginia. He too became a real-estate operator. Mary Maverick was the wife of Edwin H. Terrell, onetime United States Minister to Belgium. The children sired numerous children of their own. There are more descendants of Samuel Augustus Maverick than anybody in the Maverick family can even count. At the last Maverick census they were estimated at something like 167, most of them in and around San Antonio.

The most interesting of Samuel's sons was also the youngest: Albert Maverick. He was born in 1854 and educated at the University of Virginia. There he met and impetuously married Jane Lewis Maury of Charlottesville. Now, the Maurys are a fascinating family in their own right—more fascinating and more prolific even than the Mavericks. They were tremendous landowners too. The Maurys got their lands by a grant from King Charles I, and at one time they owned everything in Virginia's Albermarle County that didn't belong to the Carters. Practically everybody in Virginia is related to the Maurys. I'm related to them myself.

Matthew Fontaine Maury—the American Commodore, Confederate Navy commander, Commissioner of Immigration under Mexico's Emperor Maximilian; who founded the science of ocean winds and currents with his classic work, The Physical Geography of the Sea—was Jane Maury's cousin. Meriwether Lewis, who opened up the Northwest with his expedition through Oregon to the Pacific, was her cousin too (he was also my great-great-grandmother's brother). The marriage of rich Albert Maverick and rich Jane Maury was something like a union of the Hapsburgs and the Stuarts.

They settled on the Sunshine Ranch, a tract of 365 acres on a hilltop northwest of the city, toward Bandera. There Albert and Jane Maverick raised eleven children of their own. They still live there. Albert Maverick at ninety-one is a tall, white-haired gentleman who wears an old-fashioned black bow tie, rises up at five-thirty every morning to feed the chickens and horses, drinks black coffee with lemon in it for breakfast, and walks two miles a day. He likes to think of the Sunshine Ranch as a sort of antebellum Virginia plantation transported to the soil of Texas. Like most of his clan, he is generous to the point of eccentricity. His family has to keep a close watch on Albert Maverick to frustrate the old gentleman's habit of giving everything he owns away.

The last of Samuel Augustus Maverick's sons is not a businessman like his brothers—not even a bad one—nor does he share their enthusiasm for civic projects. You couldn't say that a man with sixty children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of his own is precisely a recluse. Albert Maverick simply prefers the company of his own folks to that of strangers. He lives on the ranch as a patriarch among his numerous tribe. There are so many Mavericks and Maurys that he scarcely feels the need of any other society. Albert Maverick likes to have them around him. He has given each of his children forty acres of land—provided they make their homes on the ranch—or three acres for a country retreat if they choose to live in town. Nine children of Albert and Jane Maverick are living today. Six of them have homes of their own on the Sunshine Ranch; four the grandchildren have houses there too. The ranch is something more than a country estate. It is a busy suburban community all by itself.

Jim Maverick is the most enterprising of Albert's sons. A slender, small man with the diffident look of a boy, he operates the dairy. But the son who has made the biggest splash in the world—and the best-known Maverick of his day—is the youngest of Albert's boys. He is Fontaine Maury Maverick, onetime member of Congress, mayor of San Antonio, disciple of Franklin D. Roosevelt, enemy of verbal obfuscation—which he calls gobbledygook—and until just lately chief of the New Deal's Smaller War Plants Corporation. I don't propose to tell the enchanting tale of Maury Maverick's political career just yet. I'm saving him for another spot in this story. It is enough for the moment to remember that he is a Maverick, a grandson of Samuel Augustus who fought his way into San Antonio with Ben Milam, son of aristocratic Jane Maury and dry, eccentric Albert Maverick. From his Maverick outpost in far-off Washington, Maury still has cast quite a spell on San Antonio.

The Mavericks are Texas pioneers of the first water. They have been associated with San Antonio since it became an American city. They have put up its buildings, increased its population, presided over its devious politics. In the 111 years that they have been here, they have seen some remarkable happenings—and recorded them as well. For the Mavericks, having inherited the culture of Charleston, Yale, and Virginia, are proud of being literate as well as hardy. The recollections of Mary Adams Maverick, the bride of Samuel Augustus, constitute one of the most fertile sources for the San Antonio historian. They are entertaining, too. For San Antonio's history teems with murders, lynchings, gun battles, and general cussedness. They were so normal in the daily life of this city that few chroniclers—except Mary Maverick—even bothered to mention them. After all, this was the rowdy West. And San Antonio was the metropolis on the frontier.

Green Peyton, 1946

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