If the vaquero or cowboy of the Southwest of today could not call a stray steer by the name of “maverick,” he would actually feel lonesome. The word rose up on the Texas prairies, took hold, and filled a meaning nothing else could express.
The true story of the rise of “maverick” began in 1845 when Samuel Augustus Maverick, a pioneer in Texas, lived for a time at Decros Point on Matagorda Bay. A neighbor owed him $1,200 and paid him in cattle at $3 per head. Maverick did not want the cattle, for he was interested chiefly in real estate and was anything but a rancher; but it was cattle or nothing. So he accepted the herd; and when he moved to San Antonio, he left the cattle at Decros Point in charge of a slave family. In 1853, the cattle and the negro family were moved to Conquista on the San Antonio River. There the herd did not increase because only about a third of the calves were branded each year. The rest were allowed to wander about until they grew independent and unruly, after which time—by law of the open range—they belonged to anyone who could get his brand on them. Settlers began calling this type of roaming, stray calves Mavericks, because they might be one of Maverick’s unbranded herd. But though they used the name “Maverick,” they did not hesitate to claim the calves if they got their brand on them first. Maverick’s or just plain mavericks. The name spread forcefully and colorfully. Today it means “nobody’s calf.”
In 1856, Mr. Maverick sold the entire brand. He was never a cattleman, but this small herd placed him in cattle raising history.
However, this folklore incident tells only a little of the part Sam Maverick played in Southwestern and, especially, Texas frontier days. Old manuscripts state that a family named Maverick entered America at three prominent points—Boston, New York and Charleston. There was a coat of arms in the family, dating from the time of the Huguenots in France. Then in 1835, Sam Maverick landed in Texas to begin an active career that if traced on the map would resemble a penmanship exercise.
He came from Yale and a successful law practice in Pendleton district, South Carolina, to set foot in San Antonio just in time to be captured by the Mexican General Cos. But the Southerner escaped and led the famous Ben Milam and his Texas troops through back alleys to regain San Antonio from the invaders. He knew the streets well.
Sam Maverick was so impressed with the real estate possibilities of the new Texas that he returned to Alabama, married, and brought his family to San Antonio. The trip was through lands he describes as “desolate swamp-prairie, cut up by dry bayous . . . almost full of water . . . every step of the animals was in water sometimes knee deep.”
The Texas of that time was a dangerous frontier, counting as enemies, besides the Mexicans, various tribes of Indians, notably the Comanche. In the original diary of Mrs. Maverick there is this information: “Mr. Maverick was a member of the volunteer company of ‘minute men,’ commanded by the celebrated Jack Hays. Each volunteer kept a good horse with necessary equipment and arms, and a supply of coffee, salt, sugar and other provisions, ready to start on fifteen minutes warning, in pursuit of marauding Indians. They were organized to follow the Indians to their mountain fastness.”
It was again Maverick’s luck to be captured by an invading Mexican army, this one under General Vasquez in 1842. He was among those taken prisoner to Mexico, where he was confined at the Castle Perote and made to labor on public works. He and his friends were at lengths liberated by the efforts of the kindly General Waddy Thompson, U. S. Minister to Mexico. But not before widespread indignation had arisen at the treatment of the Texas prisoners.
A giant slave, named Griffin, started towards Mexico to “help” his master, Samuel, escape from captivity. But the black slave was caught in the massacre of Dawson’s men by a raiding Mexican army. Yet before he died, he gave such an account of himself that a Mexican colonel later told Maverick: “I saw the feats performed by that valiant Black Man. He was the bravest I ever saw." Maverick often said, “I owe a monument to Griffin.”
Samuel Maverick’s happiest moments came in buying up “leagues” of land and surveying them out. He loved to go out on camps and locate his land. However, as Mrs. Maverick records, surveying was not without its thrills. “I will tell of a trip he made in the fall of 1837. He fitted out the party and went to the Medina. Before they started, Mexicans killed beef at our place. . . . When they departed I extracted from Mr. Maverick the promise that he would return on a certain date. He kept his word, although the work was not done . . . came in and brought with him one or two of the party. The very night after he left the camp the Indians surprised the camp and killed everyone save one chain carrier, who escaped on a fine horse.”
Among other honors listed after the name of Samuel Maverick are: signer of Texas Declaration of Independence, member of Congress of Texas Republic, member Convention of 1845, member of State Legislature, and Secession Convention of 1861. When a new county was carved from Kinney County, Texas, in 1856, it was named Maverick.
But the name of Maverick will live longest in the Southwest because of this peculiarly exact use as a term applied to unbranded range cattle—a term known the world over.
It is true that the word “maverick” is a part of our history in Texas. It is in the modern vocabulary of us all: vaquero, oilman, merchant, preacher, farmer, sheepherder, rancher, politician and scout.
Bob William Willson, Boys’ Life, July, 1932