Susan Page Davis here. When I was younger, I was an avid fan of the western show Maverick. Now I’m more intrigued by the man whose name gives us that word.
Samuel A. Maverick
By Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions],
via Wikimedia Commons
Samuel Maverick is known as the man who wouldn’t brand his cattle, although he did a lot of other things in his life—important things. The word “maverick” has come to mean independently minded, and here’s how that started.
Samuel Augustus Maverick was born in 1803 in South Carolina, the son of a Charleston businessman, also named Samuel Maverick, and his wife, Elizabeth Anderson.
Maverick was probably home schooled and then studied with a tutor. He graduated from Yale in 1825. He worked with his father to learn about business, then studied law in Virginia. He became licensed to practice in both Virginia and South Carolina, and then ran for a seat in the South Carolina legislature but did not win.
It seemed Maverick did not enjoy farming, or at least not plantation style. His father gave him 25 slaves to operate a new plantation in Alabama, but Maverick did not like supervising slaves. In 1835, he moved to Texas, where he bought large tracts of land near San Antonio.
This photo shows the house at Montpelier, a plantation in Pendleton, S.C.,
once owned by the Maverick family.
Public Domain photo via Wikimedia Commons
The Texas Revolution began in September of that year. The commander of the Mexican Army in San Antonio distrusted the Americans living there and ordered many not to leave the city. A guard was posted at the door of the house where Maverick was staying. The Texan army arrived soon, and began the Siege of Bexar by Oct. 24. Maverick kept a detailed diary during this time. He and his fellow prisoners were able to send out letters telling the Texans what was going on in the city.
Maverick was allowed to leave the city on Dec. 1 and was instrumental in the attack that followed four days later. Although the provisional Texas government declared land sales after August 20, 1835 would be voided, Maverick continued to buy land. He stayed with the garrison at the Alamo.
|The Alamo, used by permission
When the fortress was besieged, he left with messages to the Texas Independence Convention. By the time the convention could act, the Alamo had fallen.
Maverick signed the Texas Declaration of Independence and helped draft the new Texas constitution. This document did make some of his land claims invalid, but it also gave all residents land grants. After this, he returned to Alabama for a short time. While there, he married Mary Ann Adams. He sold his Alabama plantation and moved with his wife to New Orleans. They visited his family in South Carolina and in October, 1837 left for Texas. They now had a son, Samuel Maverick Jr. Mary’s brother Robert also went with them.
Maverick bought land around San Antonio again and rented rooms until they bought a home in early 1839. Maverick got his Texas law license and began practicing. In January, 1839, he was elected mayor of San Antonio for a year. He also joined the militia and acted as a justice of the peace and city treasurer while practicing law and buying and selling land. By the end of 1840, he owned more than 4,600 acres and had almost 13,000 more acres under survey.
The Mexican War began in 1842, and Maverick joined Texan army troops to fight. He was in San Antonio in September, when the city was attacked by Mexican troops. With about sixty other Texans, Maverick was captured and forced to march toward Mexico. Rescue attempts failed, and after a three-month march, they reached San Carlos Fortress in Vera Cruz, where they were imprisoned and set to hard labor.
Samuel was elected to the Texas Congress while he was in prison. He was offered his release several times if he would support Mexico’s claims to Texas, but he refused. He was finally released on March 30 and returned home May 4, 1843.
He continued to serve in the Texas Congress. According to tax records, he owned 35,299 acres outright in 1844 and had more than 20,000 under survey, as well as twenty-one town lots. He was truly a land baron, and after Texas became a state, he served in the Texas Legislature. He also served again as mayor of San Antonio. Maverick County was named in his honor.
|Photo by Carol M. Highsmith [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
So what did cattle have to do with it?
Over the years, Maverick repeatedly refused to brand his cattle. This didn’t sit well with some people, but he said he didn’t want to inflict pain on them. Other people later suggested his motive was to round up any unbranded cattle and claim them as his own. Most historians say he was just too busy with other things and wasn’t interested in branding.
Branding Cattle, By Unknown or not provided
(U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Records only show that Maverick ever owned a small herd of about 400 cattle. These were given to him in payment of a debt, and Maverick apparently didn’t want them. But there they were. He had a family tend to them, but apparently, the branding was sketchy and a lot of cattle wandered away, perhaps to be claimed by other ranchers. More than ten years later, he still had about 400 cattle when he sold the herd. Most people think Samuel Maverick just didn’t want to be bothered with his cattle.
Nevertheless, his name has become associated with independence. The word maverick now has two standardized meanings: an unbranded range animal or motherless calf, and a slang term for a person acting with stubborn independence. A more modern usage is a person who does not go along with a group or party, but thinks independently.
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Susan Page Davis is the author of more than eighty novels and novellas in the historical, romance, mystery, and suspense genres. She’s always interested in unusual events of the past. A Maine native, she now lives in western Kentucky.