Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Original Maverick

Sam Maverick.
Sam Maverick was the original “maverick.” His name would come to embrace the name of a Texas county, unbranded cattle, and free-thinking individuals. He would help in the creation of the Texas Republic, its annexation by the United States, and would become one of the largest land owners in Texas in the 1850’s and 1860’s. Maverick was born in 1803, the year that the Lewis and Clark expedition set out from St. Louis to find an all-water route to the Pacific. His birthplace was in Pendleton, South Carolina in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains near today’s Clemson University. His father was a successful land speculator acquiring lands in South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. Sam spent his early years growing up in Charleston and Pendleton. In 1822 he enrolled in college at Yale. He graduated four years later in 1825 and moved back to Pendleton to help his father in the family business.

He was very good at handling land deals and sometime after he began to help his father he decided to become a lawyer. He moved to Virginia for several years as he pursued a law degree. He returned to South Carolina in 1829 and became a lawyer. He ran for office in the South Carolina legislature in 1830 but was soundly defeated because of his anti-secession and anti-nullification views. He certainly was a lone wolf in trying to convince his constituents that South Carolina was better off in the Union. Because of his political views and his desire to acquire a land empire like his father had done, he left South Carolina in 1833. After living briefly in Georgia and Alabama he set off for the far western frontier and arrived in San Antonio, Texas in September 1835.

Detail of a mural in the museum at Gonzales, Texas. Photograph by J. Williams (Jul. 6, 2003).
Sam Maverick arrived with lots of other Americans just as the Texas Revolution was heating up. Because of the number of Americans arriving in this important city and the rumors of Rebels outside, the Mexican authorities cracked down and placed many, including Maverick, under house arrest. Mexican military forces began to concentrate in the city. Outside of San Antonio de Bexar, Texas volunteers began to gather under Stephen F. Austin. Shortly afterwards, San Antonio was put under siege by this rebel Texas army. During his months in captivity, Sam was able to study the layout and defenses of the Mexican forces from his house prison. In December 1835, the city under siege, Maverick was released along with other Americans with the promise they would not participate in the fighting and would go straight back to America. Sam, however, had other ideas. He went to the Texas volunteers’ camp and reported all that he had seen. Impressed with his knowledge he was picked to command a force to take the city. The Texas forces were successful and were able to take the city of San Antonio, including the mission of the Alamo in December 1835. This set the scene for the Battle of the Alamo in March, 1836. Many of the men who had wrested the city from Mexican control would face a larger Mexican force attempting to reassert control.

Sam Maverick was so well liked and had helped so much in the taking of San Antonio that he was elected as one of two delegates by the Alamo garrison to attend the Texas Independence Convention at Washington on the Brazos on March 1, 1836. Later, he would write that attending the convention saved his life. It was during this time that the siege of the Alamo took place and he speculated that he would have been with the defenders if he had not gone to Washington on the Brazos to meet about Texas Independence. At Washington on the Brazos, Maverick signed the Texas Independence document, one of 4 South Carolinians to do so. Soon afterwards he heard of the fate of the men defending the Alamo. He then rode back to South Carolina to assure his family that he was alive and well, fearing the mail would not outrace the news of the Alamo massacre. He also had some business to take care of for his father. On his way through Alabama he met, fell and love, and then married Mary Ann Adams. The couple returned to San Antonio and set up a home in 1838. Here Maverick became a lawyer and began to once again turn to land speculation. He also began to serve in the Texas legislature. He argued strongly that Texas should become an American state and was instrumental in making that occur. Afterwards he would serve in the state legislature from 1851-63. He also served two terms as the mayor of San Antonio. He began to acquire thousands of acres of land during this time. In the 1850’s and 1860’s he was one of biggest land barons in the state of Texas. By his death in 1870, he owned more than 300,000 acres of land. Most of his holdings were in West Texas. Maverick County in West Texas is today named in honor of him.

"The Reading of the Texas Declaration of Independence" Charles and Fanny Norman, Star of the Republic Museum, Washington, Texas

It was during this time that the term “maverick” came into use. Sam had accepted some cattle in payment for debts. He was not really a rancher but he ran these cattle on his lands. He let the cattle roam free on the open grasslands where most were unbranded until others branded them. It wasn’t long before Cowboys and others began referring to any stray, unbranded cows as mavericks. In addition, his friends used the term to refer to his independent, free-thinking stance. This mantle came to be used on others who seemed to have Sam Maverick’s traits which included reluctance to go along with the crowd, a stance of dissent from the dictates of larger group or causes, and a passionate sense of independence.

Maverick, being maverick, opposed succession but seeing that he was once again outnumbered, he relented and supported the Confederate cause. During the war he served on the Texas Succession Convention and as the Chief Justice of Bexar County. After the Civil War he was pardoned and worked against the radical Republican regime of Reconstruction. His health began to decline during these years and he passed away in 1870 after a brief illness. The term maverick has a real connection to the American West and frontier and the people who lived there. Sam Maverick stands tall as an enduring symbol of freedom, independence, and fearless belief in standing for what one believes in.

Andy Thomas

Sources used to write this blog:
Marks, Paula Mitchell. “Samuel Augustus Maverick.” The Handbook of Texas Online. August 23, 2007: http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/MM/fma84.html

Andrew Gill: “Bexar County Judge Samuel Augustus Maverick.”

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