Oct. 22, 2009 - Contrary to popular belief, Samuel Maverick was not a cattle thief. Contrary to popular culture, he was not a professional gambler either.
For decades, the term "maverick" was used to denote a cattle thief. A 1960s television series starring James Garner was named "Maverick," giving ill-informed viewers the idea that Sam Maverick must have been a Bat Masterson-type character, scheming and gambling his way across the Wild West.
Both images are far from accurate. No one ever believed the TV Maverick anyway, but the image of Maverick as a cattle rustler has not died easily.
Maverick's historical bad rap did not come from the media of its day, but from an encyclopedia entry, which was taken as gospel by researchers and copied into other dictionaries and encyclopedias. Typical is a 1919 encyclopedia entry that states "a maverick is a stray and unbranded cow."
The entry should have stopped there but went on to elaborate, "The term is derived from Samuel A. Maverick, a Texan who appropriated a good many head of cattle which he found straying at the end of the Civil War."
The elaboration was an exaggeration, or more accurately, a lie. Samuel Maverick was a native of South Carolina who graduated from Yale University in 1825, studied law in Virginia and ran unsuccessfully for the South Carolina legislature before first making his way to Texas in March of 1835.
He left Texas for a time and got married in Alabama to Mary Ann Adams Maverick, who would bear him 10 children and make a name for herself as a chronicler of frontier Texas.
After Sam and his family returned to the state in 1838, he served as a legislator in the Congress of the Republic of Texas, and as mayor of San Antonio. However, he made his fortune in West Texas real estate. Maverick County in West Texas is named in his honor.
In 1844, he moved to Decrows Point on Matagorda Bay, where his only foray into the cattle business resulted in spurious allegations against his character that dogged the family for generations. Maury Maverick, Jr. wrote to the Dallas Morning News in 1958 to point out, "My great grandfather, Samuel A. Maverick, was not a cow thief. He was graduated from Yale University before he came to Texas to fight in the revolution against Santa Anna. Yale graduates do not steal cattle. They might steal a few stocks and bonds. But they absolutely do not steal cattle."
Maverick honestly received the only cow herd he ever had when he accepted 400 cattle as payment for a loan and put the cows on his Matagorda Bay property. A ranch manager (actually a slave) known as Jack was put in charge of the herd.
Jack was highly regarded by the Maverick family and once saved the Mavericks' daughter, Agatha, from burning to death. By all accounts, Jack was the kind of ranch manager who preferred not to bother cattle by gathering and branding them, so he let them roam pretty much as they pleased.
It didn't take long for unbranded strays to pop up all over the area. The strays were usually termed "Mavericks" in honor of the supposed original owner. A friend wrote to Maverick, "Send someone to look after your stock or you will have in 18 months time not one yearling or one calf to every 10 cows."
Maverick moved the herd from his Matagorda Bay property to his Conquista Ranch near Floresville,and sold the cows -- reportedly at a hefty profit -- to Toutant Beauregard, notable to history as the brother of Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard.
After Samuel's death in 1870, Mary Maverick became an active member of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and the San Antonio Historical Society. She kept diaries of her life on the Texas frontier, and her writings are widely cited in studies of frontier life in Texas, particularly her eyewitness account of the Council House Fight in 1840.
The Maverick television show borrowed the family name but did not base the story on Samuel Maverick, or for that matter, anybody else who actually existed.
"A San Antonio television station asked me if I'd like to go to Hollywood and appear on the show," Maury Maverick said in 1958. "I was told I'd have to wear my cowboy outfit. I don't have a cowboy outfit. So, I decided not to go."