Why do we say “maverick”?

After many months of hearing the term “Maverick” I asked myself, “what does it really mean? I went to my own dictionary and looked up the meaning. According to Webster's Dictionary it means “unbranded calf.

” Apparently, Sam Maverick in 1870 was the first to not brand his calves.

My next question was “what is John McCain's meaning?” Could he be meaning someone who goes out against the pack? Well, in this case, it didn't work.

I asked some of my friends what they thought “Maverick” might mean, and Carrie told me that it is “someone who splits from the herd, or does his own thing.

” Her friend, Kim says “it could mean something from his naval days.” Most of my friends concur. I wonder if they are right.

I started thinking of everything that I have read about John McCain, and I think that my friends have a lot of good points.

I did some research on his naval days and realize that he wasn't “Maverick” when his plane was shot down over Hanoi.

A friend who flew in the Air Force in Vietnam told me “when the air raid signal rings, you have 15 seconds to close down the aircraft and eject from the plane.

” Why did McCain keep on flying? Why did he go into enemy territory? Was it stupidity, or a “false sense of bravery?” I don't know, and I don't think that anyone will really ever know.

When McCain's captors realized who he was, they offered him a chance to leave. McCain turned them down. Was this “Maverick? or a false sense of bravery?” Why did he stay, when he could have been freed? Why did he take these risks? I suppose he was following his mandates. So even that is not “Maverick” in my book.

According to what I read, McCain says he would do it again. I guess that he didn't learn his lessons very well. He graduated the bottom 10% of his class. It is wonderful to have pull, but it is not necessarily a great advantage. He was given the chance to fly airplanes, even though he crashed five along the way.

Is this stupidity or “maverick?”

Maverick definition and meaning


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Definition of maverick from the
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Definition from Wiktionary, the free dictionary

See also: Maverick

WOTD – 23 July 2018

From the surname of Texas lawyer and politician Samuel Maverick (1803–1870), who refused to brand his cattle.[1] See Maverick.

The poker noun sense (“a queen and a jack as a starting hand in Texas hold 'em”) may be from the theme song of the US Western television series Maverick (1957–1962), which says of the eponymous protagonist that “[g]amblin’ is his game” and that he is “livin’ on jacks and queens”.[2]



maverick (comparative more maverick, superlative most maverick)

  1. Of cattle: unbranded.
    • 1875, “Investigating Commission of the Northern Frontier”, in Reports of the Committee of Investigation Sent in 1873 by the Mexican Government to the Frontier of Texas. […], New York, N.Y.: Baker & Godwin, printers, […], OCLC 1006490491, section V, pages 62–63:Occasionally some young men who have no cattle of their own will take part in these expeditions, or they will give their services by the year to receive a pro rata of all the maverick cattle that may be found. [Quoted from The Texas New Yorker, pages 110–111.]
    • 1963, Harry T. Getty, The San Carlos Indian Cattle Industry (Anthropological Papers of the University of Arizona; no. 7), Tucson, Ariz.: University of Arizona Press, OCLC 318444563, page 65:But I would rather have maverick cattle, they are more accustomed to range conditions. My cattle from the registered herd have not done too well.
    • 2016, Victoria Lamont, “Western Violence and the Limits of Sentimental Power”, in Westerns: A Women’s History, Lincoln, Neb.; London: University of Nebraska Press, →ISBN, page 40:Attempts to regulate the distribution of maverick cattle throughout the 1880s affected particularly the access of cowboys to mavericks.
  2. Showing independence in thoughts or actions.

    He made a maverick decision.  She is such a maverick person.

    • 2003, Leon Claire Metz, “Maverick”, in The Encyclopedia of Lawmen, Outlaws, and Gunfighters, New York, N.Y.: Facts On File, →ISBN, page 170, column 2:A maverick person tends to be wild, unsettled, and irresponsible, often an outlaw not bound by the rules and mores of society.



maverick (plural mavericks)

  1. An unbranded range animal. [from 1860s]
    • 1872, W. G. Kingsbury, “Cattle-raising in Western Texas. How It is Conducted—Profits of the Business, &c.”, in A Brief Description of Western Texas, […], San Antonio, Tx.: Herald Steam Job Printing House and Book Bindery, OCLC 1021977, page 36:In this distribution, care is taken to leave not only those which bear the owner's mark and brand, but his due proportion of the mavericks* that have been found upon the expedition. [footnote: *The term “maverick” is applied in this country to all animals that have neither mark nor brand upon them, and originated in this way: […]]
    • 1884, The National Live-stock Journal, volume 1, Chicago, Ill.: George W. Rust & Co., OCLC 809142895, page 55, column 3:Under this law 2,035 mavericks (orphan calves) were discovered and disposed of by the round-up foremen. Formerly the custom was to brand mavericks with the brand of the owner of that portion of the range where they were found. Under the new law, all mavericks are branded with the association brand, and sold at auction.
    • 1904

The Texan Origins of the Word Maverick

This is a biography of a word. It is about a word that was essentially born in Texas, grew up to achieve success here, and eventually became famous the world over.  It has now gone well beyond its modest roots as a simple noun and transformed itself into impressive, symbolic fame as a metaphor. 

The word is maverick. Maverick got its start in San Antonio, Texas, more than 150 years ago.

In the world of words, it is a star: James Garner played Maverick in the TV western of the same name in the ’50s and ’60s, Tom Cruise was Maverick in Top Gun, Senator John McCain’s nickname is Maverick, and in Texas have the world champion Dallas Mavericks basketball team. The word means one who shuns custom, the lone wolf, one who blazes their own trail and is willing to go against the crowd, an independent thinker.

Those are the more symbolic meanings of maverick, but most people know that the word’s original meaning referred to unbranded cattle. Any cow that was unbranded was a maverick.

But what fewer people know is that the original herd of unbranded cattle that launched the expression was owned by a man named Samuel Maverick. Those unbranded cows were Maverick’s cows. That is how the term came about.

Ironic that his failure to brand his cattle branded his name in perpetuity. 

Some say that this was his clever means of claiming all unbranded cattle as his own. 

“There’s another unbranded calf. That’s mine.” Not true.

The fact of the matter is that Sam was not all that interested in ranching. He was a land baron, a real estate investor.

He was more interested in acquiring land than actively farming or ranching it. He at one time owned so much land in Texas that he ranked up there with Richard King and Charles Goodnight.

There is even a county named for him – Maverick County. Eagle Pass is the county seat.

I think it is a shame that Samuel Maverick became famous for his unbranded cattle because there are dozens of far more impressive ways that he demonstrated his maverick nature. He was a rare and unsung hero of the Texas revolution. In so being, he often lived up, quite impressively, to what his name would come to mean. 

As a rich lawyer in South Carolina (with a degree from Yale), everybody in the Maverick clan expected young Samuel would take over one of his father’s many businesses. But he didn’t. He shocked them all when he chose a different path. He said that he was going to Texas to seek his fortune.

He arrived in San Antonio in 1835 as the winds of war were blowing. No one was buying land then because no one was sure they could hold it. Sam bucked that trend. He jumped in quickly and bought huge tracts of land around San Antonio and further east on along the Brazos. He seemed to believe in the old folk wisdom that you should buy land when no one wants it and sell it when everyone does.

He quickly became a trusted and admired man in San Antonio and joined the Alamo militia.

In fact, he would have died at the Alamo had he not been selected by his fellow volunteers to sign the Texas Declaration of Independence as their representative. So he was a maverick on March 2, 1836, when he risked his life, along with 59 others Texans, by the act of signing what Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna considered a treasonous document.

After independence was won, Samuel Maverick served as mayor of San Antonio, again putting a target on his back as a leading citizen of a rebellious city. Santa Anna had not given up on getting Texas back and so kept a list of those who were his enemies. 

Six years after Independence, Santa Anna struck again. He sent General Adrian Woll to rattle his sabre in San Antonio and kill all those who took up arms against him.

Maverick organized a resistance on the roof of the Maverick building. It was comprised of 53 men.

Though they killed 14 and wounded 27 in the initial skirmish, they were soon surrounded by 900 Mexican troops and were forced to surrender.

Fortunately for Maverick and his friends, Woll did not carry out orders to execute them, probably because they were more valuable alive.

Woll instead took many of these prominent Texans as prisoners and marched them back 1,000 brutal miles to Perote prison. One of them died along the way.

Even today, at the Witte Museum, you can the water gourd that sustained Sam during that tumultuous march across Texas and Mexico.

Sam and friends were put into dark cells, chained together, and subjected to forced labor. Sam, as the representative of his men, asked for better conditions and was put into solitary confinement just for asking. 

After a couple of months, Sam was told that Santa Anna would offer him his freedom in exchange for signing a document saying that Texas had been illegally seized and should be returned to Mexico. Lesser men might have taken the deal. But Maverick refused.

He wrote, “I cannot bring myself to think that it would be in the best interest of Texas to reunite with Mexico. This being my settled opinion, I cannot sacrifice the interest of my country even to obtain my liberty, still less can I say so when such is not my opinion, for I regard a lie as a crime and one which I cannot commit.

  I must, therefore, make up my mind to wear my chains, galling as they are.”

While Sam was in the dungeon, unbeknownst to him, San Antonians elected him as their Congressional Representative in the Republic of Texas. 

His release was finally negotiated by General Waddy Thompson, a family friend who was also trusted by Santa Anna. He did not have to sign anything. But Sam refused to leave without his San Antonio friends. He waited for them to be freed, too, which happened within a few days. Then they all traveled back to San Antonio together.

When Sam left the prison, he took with him the chains that had bound him all those long months as a lifelong reminder of the incalculable value of freedom.

Special thanks to Mary Fisher of San Antonio.

W.F. Strong is a Fulbright Scholar and professor of Culture and Communication at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. At Public Radio 88 FM in Harlingen, Texas, he’s the resident expert on Texas literature, Texas legends, Blue Bell ice cream, Whataburger (with cheese) and mesquite smoked brisket. 

Definitions for maverickˈmæv ər ɪk, ˈmæv rɪkmav·er·ick

Princeton's WordNet

  1. maverick, rebel(noun)

    someone who exhibits great independence in thought and action

  2. maverick(adj)

    an unbranded range animal (especially a stray calf); belongs to the first person who puts a brand on it

    • irregular, maverick, unorthodox(adj)
    • independent in behavior or thought
    • “she led a somewhat irregular private life”; “maverick politicians”


  1. maverick(Noun)

    An unbranded range animal.

  2. maverick(Noun)

    One who does not abide by rules.

  3. maverick(Noun)

    One who creates or uses unconventional and/or controversial ideas or practices.

    Florence Nightingale would have been perceived as a maverick during her early career, because she was prioritizing hygiene when everybody else involved in healthcare was focused on other things, such as surgery and pills. (Source: Edzard Ernst and Simon Singh, Trick or Treatment, 2008, p. 36-37.)

  4. maverick(Noun)

    A queen and a jack as a starting hand in Texas hold 'em

  5. maverick(Adjective)

    Showing independence in thoughts or actions.

Webster Dictionary

  1. Maverick(noun)

    in the southwestern part of the united States, a bullock or heifer that has not been branded, and is unclaimed or wild; — said to be from Maverick, the name of a cattle owner in Texas who neglected to brand his cattle


  1. Maverick

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