Mavericks and Maverickers

Old Diamond Joe was a rich old jay,
With lots of cowboys in his pay;
He rode the range with his cowboy band,
And many a mav’rick got his brand.

—“Diamond Joe,” in LOMAX’S Cowboy Songs.

Wherever the Spanish introduced cattle some of the offspring soon ran wild and unbranded. While these cimarrones—the original cattle of Texas—were being caught and killed by the colonists or absorbed into their small herds, the ranching industry advanced. Meanwhile cattle were constantly escaping the cows works, taking refuge in remote coverts, and breeding a progeny to mature with ears unmarked and sides unburned. At no time in the history of ranching, until barbed wire brought the range under control, was there a dearth of mavericks in Texas. Their great era was right after the Civil War, about which time the word “maverick” passed from local into wide popular use.

The word and its derivatives took on varying meanings. The simple facts of its origin were expanded by dictionaries, range talk, and books concerned with cowboy life into a cycle of legends. Despite Mr. Webster and other New England authorities on Southern speech, there are only two syllables in the word (mav-rick) as pronounced by any genuine Texan.

Charlie Siringo, who mavericked on the Texas coast and in 1885 published the first cowboy autobiography known, elaborates on how Samuel Maverick, “being a chickenhearted old rooster, wouldn’t brand or earmark any of his cattle.” All his neighbors branded theirs—and his too. Nevertheless, the “old rooster went on claiming everything that wore slick ears. . . . At first people said, ‘Yonder goes one of Mr. Maverick’s animals.’ Then, upon seeing any unbranded animal anywhere, they got to saying, ‘Yonder goes a maverick.’”

According to another source, at a great meeting of stockraisers in southern Texas each man declared publicly what brand and earmark he would use. Finally, after everybody but an “old Longhorn named Maverick” had recorded his brand, he allowed he wouldn’t use any brand at all; and then when range people saw anything unbranded they would know it belonged to him—and would please not claim it. As he was known to possess only “a triflin’ bunch of Mexican steers” and not a single cow, the other cattlemen agreed.

Samuel Maverick, the legend goes on, was in 1861 the largest landholder in the United States and owned more cattle than any other man in Texas. His ambition was to travel on his own land all the six hundred miles from San Antonio to El Paso and to stock it. After the Civil War he had a logical claim to tens of thousands of the unbranded cattle—“Maverick stuff”—though little good it did him.

But, no, another form of the legend persists: In the beginning Maverick had nothing except “an old stag, a branding iron, a tireless perseverance, and a mortality that was blind in one eye.” The stag was more prolific than Tommy Simpson’s Scotch cows, which always brought quintuplets, and the branding iron worked faster than a billy goat. A man had to get up early and ride late to do even a small share of the mavericking business when Maverick was on the range. He became “one of the cattle kings” and was the bull of the woods in “bovine aristocracy.”

The word “maverick,” says one writer, comes from the name of a great cattle driver whose herd, consisting of many thousands, stampeded in a snowstorm at a mountain pass ten thousand feet above the sea and were so scattered that he could not regather them. Their offspring came to be known as “Maverick’s cattle,” though he had no more power over them than Mother Carey had over Mother Carey’s chickens.

Another “authority” tells how Maverick had his cattle on an island off the coast of Texas. As they were entirely cut off from all other cattle, he did not have to brand them to maintain ownership. But one night a tropical storm blew all the water out of the pass between the island and the mainland; the cattle rushed across, mixed with other cattle, and were dispersed beyond recovery. A variant of this story is that some fishermen sent Maverick word that his cattle had overpopulated the island. He had forgotten all about them. Now he ordered a big cow hunt to brand the cattle and move a portion of them to the mainland. Then, a herd of thousands having been assembled, they stampeded, swam the bay, scattered like quail, and became the quarry of whoever could rope and brand them.

Eight hundred bulls, however, the legend concludes, were salvaged by Maverick’s men and driven to the Salado above San Antonio. Just bulls and nothing else, and they were fiercer than fierce. Stockmen from all over the country got a “rawhiding” Maverick unmercifully. They would ask him about the price of bull meat, whether he threw in the hide and horns, how many ranches he intended to start, and “otherwise nearly ran the old gentleman to the verge of distraction.” Finally, in answer to any allusion to the subject, he would say, “For God’s sake help yourself to whatever bulls you want.”

There was, in truth, an island. The facts have long been available. Samuel A. Maverick, a lawyer, one of the signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence against Mexico, and an extensive speculator in lands, was the English-speaking citizen of San Antonio in 1842 when an invading Mexican army captured him and took him prisoner to Mexico City, where he was in time released.

In 1845 he was living temporarily at Decrow’s Point on Matagorda Bay. A neighbor named Tilton owed him $1200, could not raise the money, and persuaded Maverick to take four hundred head of cattle running on Matagorda Island in cancellation of the debt. Maverick did not want the cattle; he knew almost nothing about cattle and had no ambition to learn. Soon after receiving them, he left the four hundred head thus forced upon him, along with a few ponies, under the care of a Negro family nominally slave but essentially free—especially, free to be shiftless.

Matagorda Island, with its southern appendage Saint Joseph’s Island, is a great sand bar more than seventy miles long, in places less than a mile wide and in other places spreading out four or five miles. It is beached rather evenly on the outer side by the Gulf of Mexico and indented on the other by scores of inlets from Espiritu Santo, Mesquite, Aransas, and other bays. At shallow places like Dagger Point, the Karankawa Indians used to wade across from the mainland at low tide, and until recent times cattle were driven from the island to the mainland in the same way, though barges now take them across.

High sand dunes, some of them grassed over and some of them so loose that they shift constantly with the constant winds, parallel the Gulf shore. Running down the center of the island is an irregular prairie carpeted with coastal grasses. There are fresh water lakes, though wells and windmills nowadays supply most of the stock water. Three or four times a century hurricanes sweep Gulf water over the land. Far in from the bearded salt rye of the dunes one can see occasionally a great drift log, under which deer and even cattle shade. Ranching is the only occupation, and four or five ranches occupy the whole land. Prickly pear, Spanish dagger, mesquite, huisache, catclaw and other low growth are to be found in places. Coons, which live on water life, coyotes, sand crabs, deer, jack rabbits that look almost as big as the deer, rattlesnakes, an infinite variety of shore birds and, in winter, migratory fowls by the hundreds of thousands, give a profusion of life to a land seemingly empty.

Here Maverick’s cattle could roam as free as any other creatures of nature. They could scatter not only up and down the long island, but could, if the notion struck them, wade across to the mainland when the tide was low and the wind was blowing the water out of the bay. Perhaps some of them, like the deer, now and then passed to the mainland. Modern Herefords on the island will not make such a venture. When droughts dried up the little fresh water lakes, some perhaps died of thirst, the more thrifty standing in salt water for hours a day absorbing moisture.

The Mexican War was being fought; Texas was ceasing to be a Republic and becoming a state. Maverick was in the stir of the times. Now and then he heard something about the cattle and heard that the calves were not being branded. In 1853 he had his entire stock, in so far as it could be gathered, crossed to the mainland and driven to a range up the San Antonio River. His visible stock still numbered about four hundred head.

The Negro family came with the herd and continued to be the official caretakers. They became energetic enough to brand about a third of the calves. Owners of other cattle in the country were keeping their own calves branded up, and were hunting down older unclaimed animals. Surmising that at least some of the unbranded animals they saw were Maverick’s they got to calling all of them “mavericks”—and they “mavericked” them.

This was not thought of as stealing—it was not stealing; it was the custom of the range at the time. There was comparatively little stealing of cattle before the Civil War. All calves caught in the “cow hunts” were branded in the brands of their mothers, whether the branders knew who the owner of the cow was or not. The old-time cowman was a patriarch, but the range has always been matriarchal. Unbranded cattle of a year old and up went to whoever caught them.

But to get back to Samuel Maverick. In 1856 he sold out his stock of cattle, estimated at the original number, four hundred head, at six dollars around, range delivery. That is, the purchaser, one Toutant Beauregard, took the stock “as they ran.” If there were more than four hundred head, he was the gainer; if less, the loser. He hoped to find a considerable number of mavericks on Maverick’s range.

These were the last and only cattle that Samuel A. Maverick ever owned. His unintentional contribution to the American language was more important, perhaps, than his honorable and useful part in Texas affairs; at least it has done far more to keep his name green, and it has made him a notable factor in the history of a business he really never entered. One of his descendants, Maury Maverick, recently published a book with the punning title, A Maverick American. The word in time came to mean, as applied to persons, one who has separated himself from the heard, or a mere stray.

A “maverick brand” was an unrecorded brand. Theoretically it would “hold” an animal on the range against being driven off, but in case theft was suspected the brand could not be fixed—by any records—on the thief. “Mavericking” graduated into a soft synonym for stealing. The illegitimate “maverickers” would sometimes slit the tongue of a suckling calf so that it could no longer suck and would soon stop following its mother. If a calf with a slit tongue were put in a pen with other calves, it could not bawl and betray its strangeness to the place. Maverickers at times killed the mother cows and hid the carcasses, thus destroying evidence of theft, for a healthy cow with a swollen bag and no calf says that some thief has stolen her baby. Again the maverickers would cut the calves off, drive them to some canyon and rasp their feet so that they could not walk back hunting their mothers. Or the feet of the cows might be rasped so that they could not follow the calves.

Just as some men fudged on the age of the calves, anticipating the time when they might become true mavericks, others would brand nothing they did not absolutely know to be their own, though they would fight to finish in holding that. Jack Potter tells how one day on a New Mexico range he roped a bull maverick that looked to be past a year old and was about to brand it when a notoriously honest cowpuncher loped up yelling for him to wait. The puncher jumped down off his horse, grabbed the young bull’s head, and went to smelling its breath. “That yearlin’ has a ma,” he said, untying the rope. “He had his liquid diet this morning.” And sure enough, the very next day, the bull yearling, who had ranged away from his ma only temporarily, was found butting her bag for more milk.

Of the millions of cattle in Texas at the close of the Civil War, none were yet out on the Great Plains; all of them were far east of the Pecos River. Perhaps a third or a fourth of these millions were unbranded. Nearly all able-bodied men, many of whom were killed, had been occupied in warfare, either in the Confederate Army or against Indians. The slave population, very sparse in all but the eastern part of the cow country, had raised cotton and grain—and rested. The women and children and old men could brand calves that stayed around the homesteads. There was nobody to ride the far ranges and work the wilder-growing cattle. During the more than four years of war, calves by the multiplied thousands had grown into twisty-horned cows and fighting bulls without having felt the rope, many of them without having seen a rider, unless perhaps a Comanche. With peace established, the catching and branding of these cattle became in some regions almost the sole occupation of the returned men and developing youth. Even then, on some of the brushy and broken frontiers, for a decade mavericks developed almost as fast as they were caught out.

They were unbelievably numerous, and, therefore, cheap. Once, in a lull of Indian raids, Andrew Gatluf Jones and some other rangers took time off in the Nueces River country and caught four hundred head of mavericks, which they drove to Bandera and sold for two dollars a head—and as a result were fired from the ranger service. They were lucky to get that two dollars a head. Kil Vickers gathered up two hundred head of mavericks and big steers without visible owners, drove them to Rockport, shipped them by boat to New Orleans—and lost $2.50 a head on the deal.

Beyond the settlements there was a wilderness of mavericks. Not long after the war closed, a boy named Vinton James (who had just been cured of chills and fever by a tumbler of whisky mixed with the fire of an even one hundred Mexican peppers) went out with some men on the big divide above the headwaters of the Llano River. The first morning of the hunt, he says, “We succeeded, after a great deal of trouble, in gathering quite a bunch of all kinds of cattle. . . . There were many mavericks, among them a number of old bulls. These bulls absolutely refused to be driven or to leave the herd. They fought so viciously when we tried to cut them out, that the men drew their pistols and guns and killed several. Then a corral was built out of cedar and captured cattle were driven into it. That night, and every night afterwards, so long as we remained at this place, we kept large fires burning around the corral so as to keep the cattle from stampeding.”

According to an old saying representing a common belief, all it took to make a cowman—an owner—was “a rope, nerve to use it and a branding iron.” It took more than that. When mavericks were thickest, markets were remote and uncertain. Any man who developed a fortune on the open range was masterful enough to control his part of it and to maintain ownership of stock widely scattered and always being further scattered unless the scatterers were held down.

In the fall of 1876 Adolph Huffmeyer, twenty years old, was drawing thirty dollars a month branding mavericks for his employers and doing cow work generally. He had seen a man brand as many as eighteen mavericks a day; he himself had tied down and run the iron on a dozen in one day—for the men who had him hired. Some maverickers got paid by the head, fifty cents or a dollar being the standard price. Young Huffmeyer decided that if he mavericked on his own hook he could average at least six long-ears a day and in the course of a few months have a herd of his own. He had saved a little money. He bought three cow ponies, took a supply of coffee, salt and meal, a can for boiling coffee in, a skillet for making corn bread in, his overcoat, which would not shed water, two blankets, a running iron and an extra rope, and went to “laying out with the dry cattle.”

He was going to be a great cowman, and he decided to make his brand commemorate the year in which he began as an owner. Onto the left side of the first maverick that he roped, he burned 7 T 6—“Seventy-six.” His mark was a smooth crop on the right ear and under halfcrop on the left. After he had roped for six weeks, his tally showed around 250 head of cattle in the 7 T 6 brand. He was averaging six mavericks a day.

Then one morning a young cowboy friend rode up on him.

“Of course, you’ve got that brand and mark recorded,” the friend said when Huffmeyer told of his success.

The mavericker didn’t know much about records, had not though of the matter. At daylight next morning he was sitting on the courthouse steps in Frio Town waiting for the county clerk.

“What brand do you want to record?” the clerk asked.

7 T 6,” and Huffmeyer scrawled it on a piece of paper.

In Texas brands are recorded by counties, not by the state. The law is that no brand may be duplicated in any county, and a brand cannot be legally claimed unless it is legally recorded. The clerk opened his brand book and scanned the pages on which brands beginning with the figure 7 were recorded.

“Why, just the other day,” he said, “So-and-so recorded 7 T 6 as his brand with the very earmark you give.”

That settled the matter. Adolph Huffmeyer did not have any cattle. He had branded 250 head for another man.

For all the good that the other man derived from his shoddy trick, he might as well not have played it. Two hundred and fifty head of jack rabbits in the chaparral, all branded in his name, would have been of just about as much worth to him as those two hundred and fifty wild cattle, scattered from hell to breakfast in a broken, brushy country as wild as they were. Unless the owner could be represented in many cow hunts, he would never get a tenth of the animals. It took far more power to gather, sell and collect the increase from a bunch of scattered mavericks than it did to merely rope and brand them. That was just the start. The open range was for the strong, for those who could hold as well as take.

Theoretically a man had no right to start a brand unless he had some seed cows to contribute to the general crop of calves, but in an enormous country of few people and many cattle this theory was often overlooked.

Young L. T. Harmon was working for a ranchman, branding mavericks, in Live Oak County, down in the brush country.

“Why don’t you brand a few for yourself?” the ranchman generously suggested.

“Why, I don’t have a stock of cattle and have no brand,” Harmon replied.

“Start a brand.”

Harmon started a brand. He became very energetic in applying it—X X X L. After he had worked on his own hook for several months, the man who had started him off bought him out, range delivery, for a thousand dollars. “You are not leaving me enough mavericks,” he said. Having a range of his own, and being potent enough to control his own brand, he could along with it take care of the X X X L brand. One cowman often gave a dozen brands concurrently.

The average cowman did not encourage cowless cowboys to “start a brand.” In the early seventies four brothers by the name of Dunn and young Ike Hewitt were branding mavericks at four-bits a head for cowmen operating on the Gulf coast. They figured their wages against the price of cattle and decided to start a brand of their own, which they recorded and went energetically to putting on what they could rope.

The cowmen who had employed these young men to maverick now looked upon mavericking in an entirely new light. One night a small posse captured the five, led them into a thicket, strung them up, and said adiós with a volley of bullets at the swinging forms.

One bullet entered Ike Hewitt’s body; another severed the rope by which he hung. It was a cold, cold night. Hours later he came to life. Dazed, he felt the bodies of his comrades. They were as stiff as frozen fish. Hewitt made his way to a friendly family, was nursed back to health, and became a coast freighter. He wore a coonskin cap and was known as “Coonskin Ike.” He never used his full name, and he never rode a horse after that night in the thicket.

Many little owners kept their stocks of cattle under day herd, penning them at night. When spring came, they would sell off their steers and keep the calves penned by day so that the mother cows would come to them each evening. Then while the cows stayed in the pen at night, the calves would be turned out to graze.

In 1871 Dan Waggoner, who ranched in northern Texas, made a trade with Joe Loving to handle a bunch of stock cattle for him for five years on shares. A partnership brand was put on them. Of course the more increase Loving could produce, the higher would be his portion. That fall he took an outfit of men and made a raid on counties to the south.

“We gathered,” says Dot Babb, who was working for Loving, “all the big early calves we could find that were not marked or branded. We took in the mothers of some of the calves and some we did not. When we did not want the mother cows, we cut them back, and if they returned we shot them in the nose or punched them. In this way we gathered about five hundred ‘mavericks’ and branded them, turning them loose on the Wagoner range. Then Joe Loving took his outfit in another direction and brought back all the big calves he could see or get, regardless of who owned them. The citizens very soon discovered what was going on, and there was talk of mobbing Mr. Waggoner. He knew nothing of the stealing—the ‘mavericking.’ As soon as he learned the facts, he bought out Joe Loving’s interest and made a satisfactory settlement with the rightful owners”—that is, the assertive owners who could get to him and prove their rights. “In those days,” Dot Babb continues, “unbranded cattle belonged to the outfits who could get to them first and then had enough fighting men to hold and keep them.”

The cattlemen were forced to make rules fixing dates for the beginning and ending of range work. Then every owner would have an even break, and the cattle would not be continually “choused to death.” “Sooners,” as men who rushed the branding season came to be called, violated the rules of course, but still the rules helped. In the fall of 1870 the cattlemen of Palo Pinto County assembled and fixed February first of the following year as the date on which branding should begin. One cold raining day not long afterwards W. C. Cochran was deer-hunting when he came upon a rancher named Will Allen hunting mavericks—legitimate mavericks this time—with dogs. There were not then any matches in the country, and the wood was too wet for Allen to start a fire with the flint, steel and punk that every man carried. He was carrying a chunk of fire from one bunch of cattle to another. He said he had caught and branded fifteen mavericks that day.

On the twentieth of January following he and his men appeared one evening at the pens of West Edwards’ ranch with about a hundred mavericks they had brazenly gathered on the Edwards range. He went to branding them under Edwards’ eyes. Edwards rode most of the night. By four o’clock next morning he had three hands, each with a blanket, some grub in a morral, a Winchester and two six-shooters each. They were “in good shape to work cattle.” They rode to Will Allen’s range and in two days branded two hundred and fifty mavericks.

In Hood County about the same time an enterprising rancher named Haley had a pen full of big calves and yearlings ready for branding just a day ahead of the date agreed upon for the community work to start. That night an indignant owner took some men, turned the mavericks out of Haley’s pen, drove them to his own, and then notified surrounding cowmen to come. They came, the percentage of calves going to each man being based on the number of cows he was supposed to own. There was no way of telling what calf belonged to what cow, but the aggregate of branded cows had produced the aggregate of unbranded calves. The owner on the open range kept tally of the calves he branded and of whatever he sold; he estimated the annual per cent of losses; and then he had a rough idea—sometimes very rough indeed—of the number of cattle he owned.

Mavericking was a sport in which the majority of ropers prized the game more highly than the property.

“We had no wagon,” a mavericker of 1866 wrote fifty-seven years later. “Every man carried his grub in a wallet behind his saddle and his bed under his saddle. A wallet is a sack with both ends sewed up and a slit in the middle. As a boy I had to stay on herd. I carried a lot of extra wallets on behind my saddle and a string of tin cups on a rawhide hobble around my pony’s neck. Whenever the boss herder couldn’t hear those cups jingling, he would come around and wake me up. We would corral the cattle every night at some one of the owners’ homes and stand guard around the corral. I didn’t stand any guard, but I carried brush and corn-stalks and anything I could get to make a light for those who were not on guard to play poker by. They played for unbranded cattle, yearlings at fifty cents a head, and the top price for any class was five dollars a head. If a man ran out of cattle and had a little money, he could get back in the game. For ten dollars, say, he could get a stack of yearlings. My compensation for light was two-bits a night, or as long as the game lasted. Every few days they would divide up and brand the mavericks and each owner would take his cattle home”—perhaps to day-herd them, penning them every night so that they would get gentle and locate permanently on his range—perhaps never to see them again.

The year 1869 was exceptionally wet in southern Texas. “You could almost travel in a skiff across the prairies from Houston to Corpus Christi.” It was also a fine year for mavericks. That fall Jim (J. N.) Jones, who ranched on the San Miguel Creek in Frio County, threw in with five other men for a maverick hunt. They took along a nest egg of gentle cattle and were able to “ease” many mavericks into the herd without having to rope them. They held what they caught, intending to brand them at the end of the work. A lone mavericker or a pair of maverickers could not operate in this way, but a cow crowd could. After having hunted for a week or ten days, Jones and his companions got back to the San Miguel late one drizzly evening with 260 mavericks, and shut them in the muddy pens.

As the hungry and wet maverickers sat down in the warm kitchen to a supper of hot biscuits, fried steak, and beans and bacon with plenty of black coffee, the rain began to pour. After supper they started playing poker, mavericks making the stakes. Each of the six men was provided with forty-three frijoles, each bean representing a maverick, the two undividable animals being left for future disposition. The game of freeze-out to see who should have all the 260 mavericks began to get warm.

After it had gone on for some time and Mrs. Jones was through washing the dishes, she came to the table and called attention to the rain. “It is a regular waterspout,” she said. “With the ground already soaked, the San Miguel is getting up into the pens. I know it is.”

There was no move on the part of the gamblers. The woman’s eagerness to break the game up, and thus forestall the chance of her husband’s losing his share of the property, was plain. “The cattle are all in danger of being drowned,” she went on.

The men continued playing. Here was something, for the moment, more interesting than rain or cattle. An hour passed. The rain was still falling in sheets. Again Mrs. Jones went to the gamblers. “Don’t you hear those cattle bawling?” she said, her voice high. “They are in distress. I know they are. You had better stop and see about them. Those pens are in low ground.”

“The water will never get up into the pens,” Jim Jones answered. “I built them above the high-water mark. Let the cows low and the bulls beller. . . . Raise you a maverick.”

More time passed. Then suddenly Mrs. Jones exclaimed, “Look, the water is coming up into the floor. The San Miguel is raging like the Mississippi.”

Now the men stopped, each making count of the beans he had left. The deluge had slacked a little. Peering out, they were aware of a vast expanse of raging waters. They went to the pens, which were made of mesquite logs, the gates being barred with poles. The cattle were moaning and bawling. As the men approached, they heard that clicking of horns and snuffing that told them the mavericks were packed in a mill—were circling like a whirlpool. Flashes of lightning revealed a crazy mass of cattle wound into such a tight ball that a rabbit could not have squeezed to the center from the outside. Doubtless some of the cattle in the center were already down and being smothered and trampled to death. The men tried to break the mill but they simply could not. The only way to break it was to open the gate and get the cattle headed out. The waters of the San Miguel were already a foot deep in the pen.

Turning a maverick, not yet branded, out on the open range was like throwing a dollar into the open sea. The men hastily saddled horses, pulled down the bars, and prepared to do the best they could to hold them when the mavericks should bolt for freedom. The water had risen perceptibly. Not an animal would notice the open gateway. The horsemen rode against the mass. They could not budge it. Again the heaven opened. The flooded creek was rising fast. Jones and his friends now became alarmed for the household. They found Mrs. Jones and her children on the table, water two feet deep on the floor. They were carried to high land. By daylight the water had taken the roof off the house.

When the San Miguel subsided, a few of the 260 drowned mavericks were about the remains of the pen. Most of them had been washed away. The game of freeze-out poker was never finished.

There were other ways of seeing who should take "the whole caboodle."

When Seco Smith built his cabin on the creek in Medina County that still bears his name—the Seco—he had been a forty-niner. Once, on a scout out from San Antonio, he had lost the tracks of the Indians, though he was a noted trailer, because bears hunting Mexican persimmons were so thick they covered up all sign. Soon after building his cabin he married a young woman whom the Comanches had lanced, scalped and left for dead but who recovered sufficiently to help Seco raise a considerable family of children. At the age of eighty-six he had his third wife and fifteen living children, three or four of them still in the yearling age. When, in his palmy days, he came in occasionally to San Antonio, he'd give a warwhoop on Alamo Plaza that echoed against the cathedral walls on Military Plaza half a mile away. He was strong, wiry and untamed like the country—the country of mavericks.

One time Seco, George Redus, Lon Moore and perhaps another rancher or two went on a maverick hunt in the Frio Canyon country. At the conclusion of the hunt George Redus and Lon Moore, each of whom had thirty animals coming to him, decided to shoot at a mark with six-shooters to see which would take the other's booty. Redus won. Seco Smith then bantered him to shoot for thirty mavericks—and won. Characteristically, he gave the thirty back to his boon compadre Moore.

If it had not been for the Indians, the mavericks, which went on breeding more mavericks, would have been more quickly branded up. In the Palo Pinto country Indians kept ranchers afoot most of the time. Five of the Cowden boys and three neighboring Bradford boys began their mavericking operations barefooted and afoot. This was in 1867. These eight boys, with a man to bring up the drags, would get around a bunch of cows and manage them into a pen. What they could not pen they would catch with two dogs named Buck and Tige. Jeff Cowden could run the fastest, and he always took the lead. He was the only one of the brothers that did not make a fortune. After the Indians were cleared out and he had all the horses he could ride, he kept on running. He roped the smokestack of the first steam engine run over the railroad built into his country.

A good "catch dog" was prized as highly as a good horse. There were dogs so well trained and so intelligent that upon sighting a bunch of cattle they would single out the only maverick in it and hold it by the nose until a man arrived and roped it. Some maverickers, instead of roping, tailed their quarry down. To run up on a flying cow so that the rider could catch her tail, wrap it around his leg or the horn of his saddle, and then swerve with a jerk in such a way that she would have the "wind busted out of her" required a good horse, well trained.

After cattle became valuable and a pushing population afforded contenders, mavericks in the long run meant more trouble than prosperity.

In the seventies, Jake and Joel English with a hired Mexican vaquero were mavericking in the Carrizo Springs country west of the Nueces River. Population was not pushing very strong in that neck of the brush country at the time.

"One day," Jake English remembered, "we rode down a white-brush draw hoping to scare out something, when all of a sudden my horse, which was in the lead, gave a snort and a lunge to one side. There, swelled up on the ground bigger'n a skinned mule, was a dead sorrel horse.

"He had a bullet hole in his forehead. A few steps off was a two-year-old brown maverick bull with a lobo stripe down his back shot through the head also. On the other side of the horse from the bull was a new saddle hanging from the limb of a mesquite tree. Near it a new saddle blanket, grey with red stripes, was spread over two or three limbs so as to make a shade. Lying on his back under this blanket, was a man. A good hat covered his face. On his feet were a pair of fine shopmade boots, the Petmecky spurs still on the heels. He was dead with a bullet through his heart. He was a white man. We didn't know him. We didn't know who had killed him. The maverick bull explained in a general way. Whoever did the killing had made a neat job of arranging the corpse. Then he had ridden on. It wasn't any of our business. We rode on also, after mavericks."

John Champion, while mavericking on the Arroyo Tortuga in the same region, roped a dun maverick bull, only to discover that the thick brush he had been running through had grabbed his little branding iron. He tied the bull securely. The next day when he came back to brand it, the bull was gone. Near by Champion saw fresh horse tracks. After he had followed them a short distance, he heard brush popping and raking leather. He went to the sound.

A Mexican was leading the dun bull, though he had his own rawhide reata and not Champion's on it. The Mexican said he had found the bull running free on the range. Champion, with six-shooter drawn, called him a liar and several other things, told him he had stolen the bull from the tree, and made a dead shot. Then he put a bullet into the bull at the base of the ear. There was a kind of prejudice against a maverick that had brought on a killing. The most famous example in Texas and the whole West was the maverick branded M U R D E R.

In 1890 most of the trans-Pecos country was still unfenced, and in the timbered and brushed roughs plenty of Longhorn blood still ran wild. On January 28 of that year the small cattle owners operating around the Leoncita waterholes in northern Brewster County—which is as large as some states, taking in most of the proposed Big Bend National Park—held a roundup to brand what calves had escaped the fall work. Between two and three thousand cattle were thrown together in the herd.

The chief operators in this part of the country were Dubois and Wentworth. They did not approve of such early work and were taking no part in it, but one of their riders named Fine Gilleland was present to represent their interests.

Among the "little men" was Henry Harrison Powe. He was a Mississippian who had left college to fight in the Confederate Army and was one-armed as a result. He had come to Texas during the hard-handed Reconstruction days. Not many miles from the roundup grounds he had buried the body—eleven bullet holes in it—of a murdered nephew. He was considered an honest man, not at all contentious. His brand was H H P.

In the roundup, among other branded animals, was a brindle yearling bull. It was not following any cow, but the roundup boss and another range man informed Powe that the bull belonged to a certain H H P cow. They had seen him with the cow and knew both animals well by flesh marks. "Are you positive?" Powe asked. They said they would swear to the brindle's identity. Then Powe rode into the herd and cut the brindle out, heading him into a small cut of cows and calves being held by his own son.

Very soon after this, Fine Gilleland galloped up to the cut. "Does that brindle bull have a mother here?" he asked the boy sharply.

"No," the boy replied, "but the boss told Father it belongs to an H H P cow."

"He'll play hell taking it unless he produces the cow," Gilleland retorted. Then, without another word, he separated the brindle and ran him back to the main herd.

Powe saw the bull coming, followed by Gilleland. He rode out and the two men passed some words not heard by others. Then Powe turned back into the roundup and started to cut the brindle out again. Gilleland made straight towards him. Halted in the middle of the herd, the two men had some more words. They were very brief. Powe was unarmed. He rode to the far side of the herd and borrowed a six-shooter out of a friend's saddle pocket.

Back into the herd Powe now rode, found the brindle bull and started him for the H H P cut, following him out. Midway between the cut and the big herd, Fine Gilleland met them. He roped at the bull but missed. Powe pulled his six-shooter and shot at the bull but missed. By the time, Gilleland was off his horse shooting at Powe to kill. He killed.

Gilleland now remounted and left the roundup in a run. In all probability he was honest in claiming the brindle maverick for his employers. Perhaps he hoped to make a reputation. There was a strong tendency on the range for little owners to "feed off" any big outfit in their country. The big spreads sometimes hired men to be hard.

The Powe boy rode immediately to Alpine to notify rangers of the killing. Meanwhile men remaining with the roundup branded-out the calves and yearlings, the H H P stock included.

When the brindle bull was dragged up to the branding fire, there was a short discussion. He was thrown on his right side. Then a man with a running iron burned deep into the shaggy, winter hair on his left side the letters M U R D E R. The letters ran across the ribs from shoulder to flank.

"Turn him over," the man said. The bull was turned over. With a fresh iron the man branded on the right side, JAN 28 90. The bull was not castrated or earmarked.

A few days later two rangers killed Gilleland in the mountains. What happened to the brindle maverick, with that brand that no one would claim, is not so definitely settled. R. W. Powe, the son of the man who was killed, whose account of the matter has been followed in this narrative, says that the Murder Bull was eventually driven out of the country with a trail herd bound for Montana.

Whether he was or not, many stories still circulate over the wide spaces of the trans-Pecos country about "the maverick branded M U R D E R"; How for years he wandered a lone outcast on the range, never seen with other cattle, and, for that matter, seldom seen at all. How he turned prematurely grey, the hair over the scabs of his bizarre brand showing a coarse red. How cowboys in the bunkhouse at the Dubois and Wentworth ranch one night saw the bull's head come through an open window; he was looking, they imagined, for the man responsible for that brand of horror traced on his own side. Some brands grow in size with the growth of animals; generally they do not. According to the stories, the M U R D E R brand grew until the elongated letters stood out in enormous dimensions, making one familiar with literature think of the pitiless Scarlet Letter that blazoned on Hester Prynne's breast and in the soul of every being who looked upon it.

The Murder Maverick became a "ghost steer." A cowboy might see him, usually about dusk; and then he "just wasn't there." There were some who did not want to see him. Eugene Cunningham, Barry Scobee and perhaps other writers have woven "the murder steer" into Wild West stories for the pulp magazines. The gray Confederate coat with slit sleeve worn by the murdered Powe of one arm is in the little college museum at Alpine, under the mountains where the roundup was held, JAN 28 90. That brindle bull hide with the outlandish brand on it really would be a museum piece.

"Maverick steer," a phrase often come upon in fiction, is a contradiction of terms. A bull calf or yearling is turned into a steer—a bull of some age, into a stag—by the simple process of removing his testicles. When a bull is castrated on the range, he is invariably earmarked and branded or—in the occasional absence of iron or fire—at least marked. He is then no longer a maverick; he is a steer, though he may be wilder than he was in the maverick stage. Science does not record examples of males being born without testicles. Nevertheless, according to family tradition, John Mercer while killing wild cattle to supply beef for Sam Houston's army, during the Texas Revolution, shot a very large and fat "maverick steer."

It does not take a range man to understand why various Western states passed laws strictly defining a maverick and making mavericks and orphan calves of the open range public property to be disposed of according to law.

A stockman finding an unbranded animal a year old, or older, in his fenced pasture, where only his own cattle range and breed, calls it nowadays a maverick, though there can be little question of ownership.

About the opening of this century, the Leahy family had a ranch, well fenced, of ten or twelve thousand acres along the lower Nueces River in the thickest part of the brush country of Texas. Their cattle were so wild, the brush was so thick and the river water so uncontrollable that, though they had introduced graded bulls, maverick Longhorn bulls kept the old strain going. To clean out all this outlaw stock, the Leahys finally fenced off about three thousand acres against the river, where the outlaws were concentrated. They caught what they could with dogs and ropes. Everything that was roped fought. A two-year-old heifer when she hit the end of a rope would bounce back charging man and horse with the ferocity of a bull. One such heifer—black, mealy-nosed and line-backed—jabbed her dagger-pointed horn through the heavy leather leggins worn by the brush hand who roped her, through the calf of his leg, and into the vitals of his horse, completely disemboweling him.

By 1900 steer horns of the old length and size had become scarce. In the Leahy thickets were steers with prize horns, old mossy-heads that by day laid up in brush utterly impenetrable to horse and man. At night they would stalk forth on little openings, where they bawled long and mournfully, expressing to the starts their fierce wildness and the utter loneliness of the liberty that their aboriginal strength, their ceaseless wariness, their primitive instincts and keen senses preserved to them. No rider of moonlight or dawn could slip up within a rope's length of them on the circumscribed opening where they pawed the earth like bulls and bellowed their challenges. Age and bullets could alone remove them from the range. The Leahys were determined to clear them out. Hunters with high-powered rifles came from Kansas City and other places, to shoot them for their mighty heads. Thus ended the day of their destiny, though here and there, in the Mexican part of the great brasada, or brush country, a sprinkling of Longhorn mavericks and branded outlaws endured some years longer—for a similar fate.

J. Frank Dobie, The Longhorns

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