Mavericks and Mavericking

By: David Dary

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: April 1, 1995

Although there are several versions of how unbranded cattle came to be known as "mavericks," nearly all of them involve Samuel A. Maverick, a native of South Carolina who moved to Texas in 1835. Between 1844 and 1847 Maverick moved his family to the vicinity of Decros Point on the Gulf Coast in Matagorda County. There, Maverick apparently reluctantly accepted a herd of 400 cattle instead of being repaid a $1,200 loan. When the family returned to San Antonio, he left the animals in the care of a black family. The cattle were neglected, and many of the calves were not branded. Residents soon were referring to any unbranded cow as "one of Maverick's." In 1854 Maverick was approached about his wandering cattle and sent two sons and some hired men to move what cattle they could find to his San Antonio ranch. In San Antonio the cattle were neglected again and allowed to roam unchecked over a wide area. In 1856 Maverick sold his cattle and brand to A. Toutant Beauregard, a brother of Confederate general Pierre G. T. Beauregard, on range delivery, which meant the purchasers had to hunt for the cattle on the open range. The men covered several counties looking for strays. Any unbranded cattle were claimed as "Maverick's" and branded. By 1857 people around San Antonio were referring to unbranded cattle over one year in age as "mavericks." Unbranded calves under that age and still suckling were considered to be the property of whoever owned the mother. After the Civil War there were numerous unbranded cattle, especially in Southwest Texas and on the coastal plains southeast of San Antonio, and the term became common. In the St. Louis Republic of November 16, 1889, George Madison Maverick, Samuel Maverick's son, published an article on the origin of the term maverick.

The Eleventh Texas Legislature passed a law against driving another person's livestock from its accustomed range and theoretically outlawed mavericking, but the practice was not generally considered theft until the late 1880s, after open-range ranching gradually came to an end, and cattle ranchers began acquiring grazing land and fencing their property. The Cowboy Strike of 1883 occurred in part as a response to the ranchers' insistence that mavericks were company property and could not be taken by the cowboys as wages. More recently, the term maverick came to refer to any living creature, human or otherwise, that goes its own way rather than acting as part of a group or herd.

David Dary, Cowboy Culture: A Saga of Five Centuries (New York: Knopf, 1981). J. Frank Dobie, The Longhorns (Boston: Little, Brown, 1941; rpt., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1980).
  • Ranching and Cowboys
  • Cattle Management

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

David Dary, “Mavericks and Mavericking,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 15, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

April 1, 1995