The Term "Maverick" as Applied to Cattle

The one who stretched his philosophy to the breaking point about my vacation at the University was my father, and the one who hoped for the best was my mother. The two are still living, both about eighty. They are living much in the manner of early Americans, and they are the last of their kind.

Millions of American families are now passing from one phase to another. You can travel everywhere in the nation and see the big houses of our fathers and mothers, which were built in an era of prosperity and expansion for big families, and which can't even be maintained by the children. I see them everywhere, being rented as Ye Olde Beauty Shoppes, undertaking parlors, cheap apartment houses, joints. Many are falling to pieces, and some are being torn down and business buildings put in their places.

My parents live on "Sunshine Ranch"—the sunshine part is all right, but it is not a ranch, for it has only about three hundred acres. They live right below the three acres they gave me. My mother has a great house—no, not a great colonial house with high white columns surrounded by magnolias and Old Black Joes with grey wigs and movie uniforms bowing and scraping, but a big frame house, made of lumber, well-built but plain. I can remember when it was put up. I was nine. In 1905, when we came there, lumber was cheap. The forests were being destroyed because of the heedless cutting of the trees, but we were unaware of all that. We built the house on this bald hill, where there was nothing but low mesquite brush and cactus.

There is a custom in Texas, and for all I know, all over the world, that when your house is finished you hang a limb, with all its green leaves, from the very top of the house. We did this, and had kegs of beer. The Germans sang songs. An old German carpenter told us how in 1870 he followed the mighty Bismark, and took Paris.

Soon after the house was completed, my father planted pecan trees, and watered them from the well we dug on the hill. He built terraces to hold water and save the soil. That was thirty years ago, and now every year we have a "pecan picnic" and the relatives all come. I have five brothers and five sisters, and somewhere between sixty-five and seventy nephews and neices, according to the last estimate.
Sentiment attaches us to the large family. But it is already gone. With it, changed ideas, economics, habits. Co-operation of people in general is more likely to increase than to decrease, being necessary under heavier populations with much smaller family units.

Every Sunday my mother invites all the relatives to the old home, and in the dining room, which is as big as a whole apartment in New York or Washington, we all congregate and jabber. My mother sits at the head of the table. In the winter there is a wood stove. My father is the king of all he surveys, and my mother takes the part of Mussolini.

My mother has executive ability, running the place and doing the ordering and talking for both. My father has taken one attitude toward all his children which is a good policy anywhere; he does not try to dictate their thoughts. He has always hoped that they would develop their own opinions. He merely offers information, so that they will not go into the world as a set of nit-wits.

As for our economic or religious opinions, he cares nothing. As for our family tree, all he knows, he says, is that he had "a good mother and father." Talk of ancestors bores him, and if he reads such chapters in this book it will only be as a paternal duty.

I am beginning to suspect, after forty years of observation, that this retiring role of my father, wherein my mother takes the part of an active Prime Minister, is a shrewd one. For really, he has been a sort of Speaker of the House of Maverick, speaking little. Since the family is large, the emotions are turbulent, and the opinions mulivarious, so the slightly Fascist tendencies of my mother have been necessary. But as for the Speaker—when anyone gets out of line, he pounds the gavel, symbolically, by a cough, and a severe look.

The House comes to order.

Anyhow, on these lands where we live, and which we got through the King of Spain, and which the King took away from the Indians without even taking the trouble to leave Madrid—we sit around and talk. My sister Agatha is the genealogist of the family. She knows all about our ancestors. She married a Republican. I was only six at the time and could not prevent it. She speaks of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the ancestors, of heralds and coats-of-arms. She is my special genealogical brain-truster.

I have not cared much about ancestors, thinking that my grandfather, Samuel Augustus Maverick, by signing the Texas Declaration of Independence, had done enough. But he gave the name "maverick" to cattle, and I'm going to tell you the true story once and for all. When I get through with that, I am going to tell some history by ancestors when all of us were Colonials, and when as a nation we were very young.

Oh, about the maverick cattle. We must first know about Jack, for he belongs to the immortals, like Dred Scott and the Austrian Archduke. Because Jack did nothing, he caused the milling and bellowing herds that went up the trail to Abilene to be called mavericks. Dred Scott did nothing—an abolitionist filed suit for him, and millions of white men went to killing each other. The Archduke did nothing—all he did was to get shot, and it started a war ending in the killing of tens of millions.

Now Jack was supposed to take care of my grandfather's cattle, and didn't. He was triflin'. He had a branding iron but he never used it. No one could make him work. He had come as a small child to Texas, with his mother Jinny [Anderson], who was cook. So my grandfather sent him away with his mother, to take care of the cattle. Instead of taking care of the cattle, Jack was constantly sending word as to his health and that of his mother, and inquiring about the health of the Maverick family. But he let the cattle run wild, never branded them, and so people called Maverick's cattle "mavericks." One of the many letters that Jack had sent up to San Antonio by white neighbors is worth reading. In it, Jack tells the story of his life. Here is what he says:

Matagorda, 25th Novr. 1849
S. Maverick, Esq.
  Dear Sir:
  Your servant "Jack" had done me the honor to make me his amanuensis and requests that I inform you as follows, viz:
  In the first place he sends his most dutiful regards to you and your family and says that his mother and self are quite well.
  2nd. He says that he is very anxious to see you as without assistance he finds it quite impossible to pen and brand your cattle on the Peninsula and the stock is consequently becoming more wild and unmanageable daily.
  3rd. He wishes to receive your approval of his marriage, which with your sanction he is anxious to consummate with a girl here called Elizabeth and owned by Miss Ward.
  With best regards to self and family, I remain
Your humble servt.        
John C. Graham

Aunt Jinny

Here is the story: During the year 1845, Sam Maverick took in four hundred head of cattle on a debt. He put them on an island or peninsula where the water was so shallow that they could walk ashore and roam and range as they pleased. Jack lived there with his mamma (he did not call her mammy) and must have been good to her, because he never bothered about the cattle.

People would say: "Those are old man Maverick's cattle." And they talked a great deal about "Maverick's cattle that were never branded." The gold rush came in 1849, and people landed on the coast of Texas in little ships, and by wagons traveled through Texas to California. They carried the name "maverick" away with them. Eight years after the cattle had been under the casual care of Jack, who was now married, the cattle were moved up near San Antonio. Then in 1853 they were rounded up, branded with Maverick's brand, and sold.

It was during that period of time that "Maverick's" (cattle) changed to mean mavericks—just unbranded, roaming cattle that anyone could brand if they caught them.

Great myths grew up of "Old Man Maverick." I have had old timers in nearly every part of the country tell me they personally knew, or their fathers knew, my grandfather. They tell me what a cattle baron he was, owning mighty ranches and sending thousands of head of cattle roaring up those tumultuous trails to the markets. I could fill a book with wild legends, but none of them has any basis whatever.

My grandfather never even owned a cattle ranch, except to own land and either sell it or rent it if there was a profit in it. He owned no cattle as a cattleman, and the extent of "mighty herds" was two cows, which he milked in a mediocre manner, until my father learned how. And as for cattlemen, my father is the same kind as my grandfather: I am the same as both—a milk-cow, three-acre ranchman—except that in any milking contest I would put both of them and probably all my ancestors to shame. Such, however, is evolution.

To lay all the mythical ghosts of Maverick forever, I hereby declare to all men by these presents, and to him who hath ears to listen, greetings: nobody in my family ever wore a ten-gallon hat, high-heeled boots, spurs, or packed a gun. Nobody in my family ever yelled yippee! whoopie! or sang a cowboy song—at least, not as cowboys. The only Mavericks ever to wear boots are my daughter, Terrelita Fontaine, age eleven, and my son, Maury Jr., age sixteen, and some of my nephews and nieces, and I think they ought all to be spanked for being drug store cowboys.

Sam Maverick, after whom the cattle were named, because Jack was lazy, was no "rough and ready" fellow, even though he fought in bloody battles, was a plain man, but led a spectacular life. He was quiet, unassuming, to the point of shyness, a graduate of Yale, and a real scholarly fellow.

The interesting part of the Maverick story is that he was not a cattleman. It's a lesson to me, at least, that legends and myths grow from little or nothing.

Well, what else was Sam Maverick? He was a landowner and a land speculator. Land owning by the Mavericks and the American mavericks is a matter bound in with the migrations and Indian fighting and history of our country from the beginning. The lure and the land to the Mavericks—and the profits in it—started around Boston, and, with a whole regiment of ancestors, we will take in early colonial history.

Sam Maverick, my great grandfather, father of the man who named the cattle, was said to be the biggest landowner in the world [History of Pendleton District, Simpson]. I believed this for a long time, but it is probably not true. At any rate, he, and his son who went to Texas, had the land fever, and either together or separately owned vast tracts in Alabama (formerly Mississippi Territory) , South Carolina, Georgia and Texas. Besides this he owned much property in the city of New York, some of which might have been in the family for a hundred years before, and which for all I know may be owned by some of my Van Wyck cousins now.

Many old families have been maintained for generations by land originally purchased for a song. In my great-grandfather's papers I find that he predicted the heavy emigration to Texas, and told my grandfather to buy all the land he could since it would inevitably rise in value. The old land-owning families are similar to many of the old bond-holding families of New England who got their start in buying depreciated American bonds from American soldiers. And some of the bond purchasers were very worthy Tories who hid out during the Revolution.

Now this land holding and bondholding is no longer the sure thing for the old families. Many of them have lost out, especially those of moderate wealth. Now many of what we please to call "the old stock" are up against realities, facing teh necessity of going to work.
Since many of the old American families have only the tradition, but not the income, it might be well for them to realize that the economic order of the day has changed.
Connected with the economic destruction of many of the old American families is the economic rise of the New American families.

Now come the Gianninis, the Rosensteins, the Marcantonios and Hrdlickas, marching on, succeeding to our property by outright purchase or by foreclosure of mortgage, marrying our children, whether we like it or not, attending universities which our very reverend blue-eyed Presbyterian ancestors established, making speeches in our common language, and voting, as they should, for Roosevelt. The tradition of families and racial groups living to themselves, of other "comfortably fixed" or rich families intermarrying and increasing their wealth—this—all this, is dead and gone.
City life, rapid transportation, new inventions, congestion of populations, have ended the old American traditions. We are all in the same pot, the big pot. New American tradition is in the making, with new economics.
There are many similarities, however, between the situation now and the time of our colonization and Revolution. Let us look at these ancestors of ours.