Sam Maverick

Texans take credit for a lot of things they weren’t responsible for, and they are usually quick to deny the things they really did — but they are Texans, after all, and it goes with the territory.  One of the things people assume came from Texas was branding livestock.  It isn’t true.  Branding livestock with fire-heated irons has been around since 2700 B.C.  The purpose, of course, is to identify the ownership of grazing animals.  Not every rancher in Texas bothered with branding, and this leads us to the word used to identify un-branded cattle: Maverick.  It also denotes someone who’s an independent thinker, or someone who’s cantankerous — or maybe even both.

According to tradition, the term maverick comes to us from the Texian whose name was Samuel Augustus Maverick, a lawyer, soldier, politician, and land baron who was notorious for refusing to brand his cattle and allowing them to graze wherever they wished.  It is impossible to tell how many of Sam’s cattle were “requisitioned” by dishonest cattlemen, who having discovered them wandering on the open range, promptly branded them as their own.  This was in the time before barbed-wire fences, of course.  

Samuel (called Gus by his family) was one in a long line of Texas’ many interesting characters.  His ancestors arrived in America in 1624, eventually migrating to Charleston, South Carolina.  After his paternal grandfather passed away in 1793, Lydia Turpin Maverick, remarried Robert Anderson, who served during the Revolutionary War as a major general.  In 1802, Gus’s father, also named Samuel, married Robert Anderson’s daughter from a previous marriage, Elizabeth.  Gus was born in 1803 and escaped the small pox disease that had taken two of his siblings.  Samuel, having experienced the untimely death of his children, became convinced that Charleston was an unhealthy place to live and moved his family to Pendleton, South Carolina.

Like most folks back then, Gus’s early education was the effort of his mother over a candle-lit table in the evenings, after supper.  After Elizabeth passed away in 1818, Samuel sent Gus to Connecticut to study under a tutor in preparation for admission to Yale College.  It was in his college years that Gus finally became known as Sam.  He graduated from Yale in 1825, returned to Pendleton, and apprenticed under his father to learn how to manage business affairs.

Whatever hopes Samuel had for his son for one day taking over the family business began to crumble after Sam first heard about Stephen F. Austin’s Texas colonies.  The seed for adventure in Texas was planted, but it took some time for the seeds to take hold.  In 1826, Sam purchased land in Pendleton when the price was right.  What he did with that land is unknown to us, but in 1828 he traveled to Winchester, Virginia to study law under Henry St. George Tucker, Sr.[1]  By 1829, Sam Maverick was licensed to practice law in Virginia and South Carolina.  In 1830 he tested the political waters by campaigning for a seat in the South Carolina legislature, but the 27-year old was running his campaign contrary to the sentiments of voters back then, and he was overwhelmingly defeated.  Sam did not favor nullification.

Sam moved to Georgia in 1833, taking on the management of a gold mine.  Unknown to many people, gold mining played a critical role in the early history of Georgia in the northern mountains.  Hernando de Soto discovered it there in 1540, but it was the discovery of gold in the Carolinas that led early-American miners to Georgia.  The first major strike occurred in 1831 near Gainesville and it set into motion the migration of some 3,000 or so prospectors.  By the time Sam Maverick showed up, wealth was pouring out of the Georgia gold mines.  The problem was that this land belonged to the Cherokee Indians — which became an underlying reason the government moved them out of Georgia.

Some gold mines were successful, others not so much.  Sam’s mine fell into the latter category and he returned to South Carolina in 1834.  During the winter of 1834-5, Sam relocated to Alabama to manage his father’s plantation, taking with him 25 of his father’s slaves, later joined by his widowed sister and her three children.  Sam was unhappy in Alabama.  He didn’t like planting, and he didn’t like having to “master” his father’s slaves.  By this time, the seeds had taken root and in 1835, Sam Maverick migrated to Texas.

From New Orleans, Maverick booked passage on the ship Henry, arriving at Velasco, Texas (the mouth of the Brazos River) in April 1835.  He staked out his first land claim before the end of May, but in order to register the land, he had to travel to San Felipe de Austin.  His journey took him along the Brazos, which caused him to look for additional land.  Unfortunately, Texas wasn’t entirely “healthy” in those early days, and Maverick contracted malaria.  The disease sent him into San Antonio de Béxar, where he discovered large tracts of unclaimed land.  He began buying them up.

The fly in that ointment was that in 1835, Texas was a troubled land.  Mexican officials had finally settled the question of its republic by adopting a centralized, authoritarian form of government, and the Anglo-settlers, known as Texians, weren’t going to stand for it.  Mexico’s president, Antonio López de Santa Anna was equally determined to force the Texians into compliance.  Stephen F. Austin, having been held in a Mexican jail for 18-months, returned to Texas with information about Mexico’s government that stirred up the Texians even more.

By the time Austin returned to Texas, Mexico was already a hotbed of insurrection — and it wasn’t only a few Texians.  Several Mexican states were already in rebellion over the issue of centralism, and, true to form, Santa Anna moved against those states with a strong military force.  Earlier, in June, a few Texians had used this political unrest as an excuse to “rebel” against the imposition of customs duties.  Mexico used these demonstrations as an excuse to send a military detachment into Texas to enforce the customs laws.  Texian opinions were never in short supply, always sharply divided, and freely offered at any time or place. They didn’t care as much about customs duties as they did about the presence of Mexican troops, and of course, there was always that larger issue of centralism vs. federalism in Mexico City.

Texian leaders called for a “consultation” to determine whether a majority favored rebellion, independence, and a return to federalism, or to accept political centrism.  The consultation was scheduled for 15 October.  In August, the citizens of Gonzalez overwhelmingly supported Santa Anna’s government.  That is, until, on 10 September, a Mexican soldier bludgeoned a Texian for “insubordination.”  The incident led to widespread outrage and public protests.  This, in turn, led Mexican authorities to demand that the Texians turn over their weapons to Mexican authorities.

Colonel Domingo de Ugartechea, the commander of all Mexican troops in Texas, dispatched a corporal and five troopers to retrieve a cannon previously loaned to the Texians.  Ugartechea’s demand convinced some that the Mexican army was preparing to attack the colonies and eliminate their militias.  At a Gonzalez town meeting, only three citizens voted to return the cannon. The remainder of the citizens, including its Mayor, Andrew Ponton, refused to hand it over.  This issue quickly became a point of honor and a symbol of Texian independence.  Citizens of Gonzalez apprehended Ugartechea’s men and escorted them out of town. 

On 19 September 1835, Stephen Austin issued a “call to arms.”  Not every Texian agreed with Austin that a fight was necessary, including, even then, most of the settlers at Gonzalez.  Nevertheless, several Texian colonies began organizing militia companies as a means of self-defense against the possibility of Santa Anna’s use of force.  Still, the Texians at Gonzalez overwhelmingly supported Santa Anna, the issue of the Cannon aside.

On 27 September, Ugartechea dispatched 100 Mexican dragoons to Gonzalez with an order to return the cannon.  The officer commanding this detachment was Francisco de Castañeda.  His orders were simple enough: retrieve the cannon and use force if necessary.  When Castañeda reached Gonzales, he found that the citizens had removed the ferry and all boats from the Guadalupe River, and that 18 armed Texians were waiting on the other side of the fast-moving river.  The first shot fired in the Texas Revolution occurred on 2 October when Texians from Gonzalez reaffirmed their loyalty to the Mexican Constitution of 1824 (federalism) and refused to knuckle under to the dictates of Ugartechea and Santa Anna.

On 16 October, General Martin Perfecto de Cos (brother-in-law to Santa Anna) placed John Smith, Sam Maverick, and A. C. Holmes (then living in Béxar at the home of John Smith) under house arrest.  General Cos forbid these men, under pain of death, to leave their homes.  On 24 October, the Texian army arrived in Béxar and initiated the siege of San Antonio.  During this time, Maverick kept a journal of the events inside Béxar, dutifully recording all that happened there.  He (and Smith) sent messages to the Texians, providing them with useful information about the number and disposition of General Cos’s military force.  In particular, Maverick regularly communicated with his childhood friend, Thomas Jefferson Rusk[2].

After General Cos released Maverick, Smith, and Holmes on 1 December, Maverick and Smith made a bee-line to the Texian camp to report on the situation inside San Antonio; both men urged an immediate attack.  General Edward Burleson, commanding the Texian forces, was unsure that this was, at that time, a wise move.  If there was going to be a fight, he wanted to win it.  He reasoned that a loss to the Mexican army at this early stage would simply demoralize his few men, most of whom were already arguing for winter camp.  Winter camp simply meant, “go home.”  And, of course, there were things these men had to do around their farms and ranches.  Beyond this, Burleson lacked sufficient supplies (ball, shot, and powder) to sustain a long engagement.  Ed Burleson was not being foolish; he was being cautious, and he knew that urban warfare was extremely difficult even under the best of circumstances.

But “Old” Ben Milam was impatient for a fight.  When he asked Burleson’s permission to form a volunteer force, Burleson relented, and three-hundred men soon formed to carry out the assault.  Sam Maverick was assigned to act as a guide for Milam’s force, while Smith guided a second group under Frank Johnson[3].  The battle raged for five days.  When Milam was shot and killed by a Mexican sniper, Maverick caught his body as it fell.  On the sixth day, Sam Maverick attended the ceremony at which General Cos surrendered his force to Burleson.

Earlier, in the previous November, the provisional government of Texas decided that all land sales in Texas, after 20 August 1835, would be voided.  Unshaken by either the new law or his experience with the Texian army, Maverick remained with the army in San Antonio, and continued to purchase land after the end of the siege of Béxar.  After hostilities ended in San Antonio, an election of delegates was called —men who would act as the citizen’s representatives to the provisional government of Texas.  Members of the military garrison were prohibited from voting, however, because they were transient (non-citizens of Béxar).  Accordingly, Texian soldiers held their own election and selected Sam Maverick and James Butler Bonham[4] (another Maverick friend from Pendleton, South Carolina) to represent them at the convention for independence.  Bonham declined to serve, however, electing to remain with the Texian garrison at the Alamo.  Jesse Badgett[5] was elected as a delegate in Bonham’s place.

Jesse Badgett departed immediately to the site of the convention at Washington-on-the-Bravos.  Sam Maverick remained at the Alamo until 2 March, on the same day other delegates were signing the Texas Declaration of Independence.  By this time, the Alamo was surrounded by Mexican troops, and according to the Maverick family’s history, William Travis urged Maverick accept a mission to convince the delegation to send immediate reinforcements.  Sam arrived at the convention on 5 March, along with John Smith, who carried one of Travis’ final message to the delegation.

At the time of Maverick’s arrival at Washington-on-the-Bravos, the convention was in recess for the weekend.  Maverick and Smith’s messages called the delegates back into an emergency session on 6 March.  By the time the session was concluded, the Alamo had fallen to Mexican forces and all of its defenders were dead.  Maverick attached his signature to the Declaration of Independence on the following day[6] and remained at the convention to help draft a new Republic of Texas Constitution —a document that essentially rendered all of his land claims invalid.  This work was completed on 16 March and an interim government was formed.  Subsequently, Maverick traveled to Nacogdoches, where he fell ill.  After his recovery, he returned to Alabama to aid his widowed sister.

Soon after his return to Alabama, 33-year old Sam Maverick met 18-year-old Mary Ann Adams, fell in love, proposed marriage, within three months, the couple married.  Early in 1837, after the sale of his Alabama property, Sam and Mary Maverick moved to New Orleans.  Sam’s decision was tied to business investments, but it allowed him to monitor events in Texas.  When matters were settled to his satisfaction, he and Mary returned to South Carolina to introduce his bride to the family.  While there, on 13 May 1837, Mary gave birth to Sam Maverick, Jr.  In October, the Maverick family set off overland to Texas, accompanied by several slaves, Mary’s brother Robert, and his three slaves.

The Mavericks reached Texas on New Year’s Day 1838.  In February, leaving his family with a friend in Jackson County, Sam continued on to San Antonio and began, once again, to purchase land through the acquisition of headright[7] certificates.  As a participant in the Texas Revolution, Maverick received his own headright on 2 March.  Mary and the baby joined Sam in San Antonio in June, renting rooms until they were able to purchase their own home along the San Antonio river in 1839.  Another son was born in March 1839.  By the end of the year, Sam had purchased 41 lots inside the city —banking on the expectation that more settlers would be eager to purchase his land, but there were fewer Anglo migrations after 1838.

Having received his license to practice law, Maverick began arguing cases within the Texas District Court system.  In January 1839, Maverick was elected to serve as the Mayor of San Antonio, which at the time was on the edge of the Texas frontier.  While serving as mayor, he also performed the duties of city treasurer and justice of the peace.  Maverick escaped certain death in late 1839 when, as part of a land survey party, he departed his encampment ahead of schedule.  Not long after his departure, a band of Comanche raided the camp and killed all but one man, whom they scalped.  The frequency of Comanche raids prompted Sam Maverick to join the local militia.  It was a “ready reserve” arrangement where militia members agreed to respond to emergencies within fifteen minutes of a centrally located dinner bell.  On 19 March 1840, Sam participated in the Council House Fight.  Two days later, business called Maverick away to New Orleans, Alabama, and South Carolina.  Maverick intended to relocate his family to Linnville, Texas, but before the move could take place, the Comanche War Chief Buffalo Hump destroyed the town and everything in it.  Nevertheless, by the end of 1840, Sam Maverick owned 4,605 acres of land and had an additional 12,942 acres under survey.

Despite President Santa Anna’s capture during the Texas Revolution and his agreement to cede Texas to the Texians, the Mexican Congress repudiated the treaty claiming, with some justification, that Santa Anna signed the treaty while under duress.  In the minds of Mexican officials, Texas was still the rightful property of the Republic of Mexico — which meant that hostilities between Texians and Mexicans was far from over.

In February 1842, word came to the Texians that Santa Anna was once more organizing a military expedition into Texas.  The Mavericks joined a group of Texians who decided to withdraw from San Antonio, known today as the Runaway of ’42.  The Maverick family eventually ended up in Gonzalez.  Believing his family safe from the brewing fight, Sam joined Texas troops to re-take San Antonio, but by then the Vasquez Expedition had retreated back to Mexico.  When they arrived in San Antonio, the Texians found that Vasquez’s troops hand damaged many of the houses, but only those belonging to Texians.

Several Indian scares in the area of Gonzalez prompted Maverick to move his family to La Grange (Fayette County) near the Colorado River.  In August, Sam returned to San Antonio to argue a legal case.  While there, Mexican General Adrian Woll led an expedition to San Antonio, surrounded the city, and placed 150 Texians under arrest.  Around sixty of those people had gathered in Maverick’s home to discuss their options, which were essentially only two: fall to Mexican gunfire, or surrender.  General Woll marched the captured Texians toward the Rio Grande, starting out on 15 September.  Texian militia made two attempts to rescue them, but neither was successful.

Woll marched his captives to Veracruz, Mexico — a distance of 850 miles, a three month ordeal.  The Mexicans mistreated the captives, forcing them to sleep in the manure of animal pens and denying them adequate rations and water.  Upon arrival in Veracruz, the Texians were chained in two’s and forced to perform hard labor.  Maverick protested this treatment, but his only reward was solitary confinement.  Mexican authorities offered Maverick his freedom on several occasions, but only on condition that he publicly renounce the Texian’s claims to Texas.  This he would not do.

Mexican authorities released Sam Maverick on 30 March 1843, and he returned to Texas.  Overwhelmingly elected to the Texas legislature, he was active as a member of several committees.  Throughout this period, Mary and the children were frequently ill.  In November 1844, Sam relocated his family to Matagorda Bay, which was a much healthier environment.  According to tax rolls, in 1844 Maverick owned just over 35,000 acres of land in Béxar County and surrounding territory, and additional 20,000 acres under survey, and 21 lots inside San Antonio.

Sam Maverick

After the United States annexed Texas in 1845, Maverick became a staunch unionist and sided with Sam Houston at the beginning of the American Civil War.  As a member of the legislature, however, he voted with the will of his constituents for secession.  He later negotiated with U. S. Army Major General David E. Twiggs for the peaceful surrender of federal garrisons in Texas.[8]  Twiggs, with southern roots and sympathies, had no problem ceding federal property to Texans, after which he promptly resigned his commission.

Maverick again served as mayor of San Antonio from 1862 to 1863.  After the war, he was instrumental in reorganizing the Democratic Party in Texas.

Now, back to the branding of cattle.  Maverick steadfastly refused to do it.  But why wouldn’t he?  According to Sam, he didn’t want to inflict pain on his animals.  Well, that’s what he said, but his neighbors accused him of a more dishonest reason.  By refusing to brand his cattle, they said, it allowed him to collect their unbranded animals and claim them as his own.  We don’t know the answer to such a charge, but circumstantial evidence suggests that the accusations were unfounded.  Sam Maverick never grew his heard.  He may have become a land baron, but he was never one of the cattle barons.  Sam’s son, George, attested to the fact that his father acquired 400 head of cattle (that he did not want) as payment of a $1,200 debt.  Maverick then left the care of these animals to a Negro family, who eventually grew the herd near the Conquista Ranch.  But because none of his cattle were branded, they became “mavericks” and some of them ended up in the herds of his neighbors.

Sam Maverick passed away following a brief illness on 2 September 1870.  He was laid to rest in San Antonio.

Sources:

  1. Green, R. M.  Samuel Maverick, Texan.  Alamo Printing, 1952.
  2. Marks, P. M.  Turn Your Eyes Toward Texas: Pioneers Sam and Mary Maverick.  Texas A&M University Press, 1989.
  3. Maverick. M.  The Memoirs of Mary Maverick.  Alamo Printing Company, 1921.
  4. The Handbook of Texas (online), Samuel Augustus Maverick (1803-1870)

Endnotes:

[1] Virginia Congressman, a state Senator, and President of the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

[2] Within a short time after his arrival in Texas in 1835, Rusk became a prominent leader in the Texian rebellion, served as a general at the Battle of San Jacinto, served as Texas’ first Secretary of War, and later served as a US Senator representing Texas through 1835.  After his wife died from tuberculosis in 1856, Rusk began suffering from a tumor at the base of his neck.  He committed suicide on 29 July 1857 while serving as President Pro Tempore in the United States Senate.

[3] Francis (Frank) White Johnson served under Burleson as his second-in-command of the Texian Army with duties that included adjutant and inspector-general.  Formerly a river boat operator, malaria eventually led him to Texas in 1826.  He was employed within the Texian colonies as a surveyor, and he is known today for plotting the new town of Harrisburg, Texas.  Johnson eventually became the surveyor-general of San Felipe de Austin and briefly served as the town’s Alcalde(mayor).  In temperament, Johnson was a hothead who was always spoiling for a fight with Mexican authorities, particularly in matters involving the rights of citizens.  Johnson seemed unaware of the fact that in Mexico, citizens did not have rights in the same way as they existed in the United States.

[4] Bonham, a native son of South Carolina, became one of the true heroes of the Texas Revolution.  After declining to serve as a delegate to the convention, Bonham made his services available to his cousin, William Travis.  During the siege of the Alamo, Bonham acted as a messenger from Travis to Fannin at Goliad requesting reinforcement.  When it was clear that Fannin could provide no reinforcement, Bonham then rode to Washington-on-the-Brazos, the site of the Convention for Independence.  Robert Alpine Williamson gave him a message to carry back to Travis: ‘Help is on the way.  Hold the Alamo’.  This is the message he carried back to Travis, arriving there on 3 March 1836.  To deliver this message, Bonham was required to skirt Mexican cavalry pickets.  Bonham was at the Alamo on 6 March 1836; it is where he met his fate.

[5] Jesse B. Badgett served under William Travis at the Alamo until he was elected to attend the Convention for Independence.  After signing the declaration, he returned to his home in Arkansas.  Nothing more is known about Badgett.

[6] Sam Maverick’s signature does appear on the original Declaration of Independence, but his name was omitted from the published edition.  

[7] A legal grant of land made to settlers.  These were common in the expansion of British North American colonies (often granted by the Virginia Company, Plymouth Company, etc.) and used in Maryland, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.  Most land grants ranged in size from one to 1,000 acres.

[8] A son of Georgia, David E. Twiggs (1790-1862) served with distinction in the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War, and Mexican-American War.  For an overview of this substantial family, see also Twiggs-Myers Family (in 3 parts).


About Mustang

US Marine (Retired), historian, writer.
This entry was posted in American Frontier, American Southwest, History, Mexican American War, Pioneers, Politicians, Revolution, Texas. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Sam Maverick

  1. Andy says:

    A fascinating tale of early Texas and an early Texan. One of your best. Of course, I freely admit my partiality to your skills as a writer and the subject matter.

    Well-done, my friend, well-done.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am amazed at the way Maverick could just up and take a loss, move on and start over repeatedly.

    Liked by 1 person

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