The Wild West of Yester-Year

Sam Maverick
By Rachel Kovaciny

My husband likes to tease me that “it’s so nice how you grew up in the sixties.”  I didn’t—I grew up in the eighties and nineties. But my brother and I didn’t get to watch many modern TV shows or movies until we were in our upper teens.  Instead, our parents raised us watching the movies and shows they had watched when they grew up in the sixties. You know, John Wayne and James Stewart movies, Rogers and Hammerstein and Gene Kelly musicals, things like that. What we now call Classic Hollywood. As for TV shows, we watched Combat!, Star Trek, The Andy Griffith Show, The Big Valley, and Maverick. For me, just like for the people in my parents’ generation, if you say the word “maverick,” it brings to mind images of James Garner and Jack Kelly in cowboy hats and fancy vests, playing poker or doing everything in their sly powers to avoid getting in a gunfight.

The show creators gave the Maverick brothers that last name because they wanted to evoke the idea that they were unconventional. Instead of being ever ready to use their fists or guns to take on their antagonists, like all the other cowboy heroes on TV, these guys used their wits and charm to get themselves out of trouble, most of the time, anyway.  The show runners wanted audiences to know this show would be different right from the get-go. 

Webster defines the word ‘maverick’ as “an independent individual who does not go along with a group.” Have you ever wondered why that’s what the word means? Or why the show’s creators used that word for a last name? 
“Maverick” started out as someone’s last name. It comes from Samuel Augustus Maverick, a Texas cattle rancher, lawyer and politician. He signed the Texas Declaration of Independence in 1836 when Texas was fighting to leave Mexico. Sam Maverick was not a native Texan. He grew up in and around Charleston, South Carolina, and was educated at home. Maverick then attended and graduated from Yale University before studying law and passing his bar exam in Winchester, Virginia. He lived in Georgia and Alabama for a time, managing a gold mine and then a plantation.

 In 1835, at age 32, Sam Maverick moved to Texas. He had plans to buy land and begin a large-scale ranching operation, but he arrived just as the Texas Revolution fired up. He took part in a few sieges and battles and was even part of the beleaguered garrison at the Alamo. On March 2, 1836, Colonel Travis sent Maverick to urge the Texas political convention to send reinforcements. Maverick carried one of Travis’s last written messages with him in vain—the Alamo fell four days later. During all this excitement, Sam Maverick bought an impressive amount of land, but fell ill with what may have been malaria and returned to Alabama. There he married Mary Ann Adams. The two returned to Texas in late 1837, after the birth of their first child. There he set about building up a cattle empire and took part in local politics. He also spent time in a Mexican prison because of the ongoing hostilities between Mexico and Texas, during which they put him in a labor camp. His demands for the prisoners to receive more food landed him in solitary confinement. They only released him because the U.S. minister to Mexico intervened and insisted Maverick was a U.S. citizen.


After returning from prison, Maverick entered politics and got elected to the Congress of the Republic of Texas, where he fought for annexation to the United States.  After annexation, they elected him to the Texas state legislature.  During all this, he continued to amass land, cattle, and wealth. They named Maverick County in western Texas in his honor. But none of that is the reason his last name now means someone who does their own thing. That came about because Sam Maverick refused to brand his cattle. He let them run free all over his vast land and when round-up time came he claimed all unbranded cattle as his.  Which meant if his neighbors weren’t vigilant about branding their cattle, he could declare some of them as his property. Any unbranded cattle in the region became known as “mavericks” because everyone assumed they belonged to Sam Maverick. The term came to mean any person or critter that was a nonconformist.