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Original Mavericks 2008-08-26

Posted by lukethelibrarian in Texas.
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This is not a political blog, at least to the extent that anything we do and care about can be non-political.

That said, however, I just wanted to observe that there have to be a lot of folks in San Antonio smirking every time they see references to John McCain as “the original maverick”. It seems that “maverick” is going to be pushed as one of the buzzwords of this campaign season, so perhaps it’s time for a little lesson on the true etymology of the word. The true Original Mavericks were the fine Texans of the Maverick family, who indeed left an indelible mark on the city of San Antonio.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the origin of the noun “maverick” — an unorthodox or independent-minded person — is from the name of Samuel Augustus Maverick, “a Texas rancher who did not brand his cattle.” That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Samuel Augustus Maverick (b Pendleton SC 1803, d San Antonio 1870) opposed South Carolina secession and nullification at a time when such opposition was a very unpopular thing there. Eventually arriving in San Antonio just before the 1835 siege of Bexar, he was placed under house arrest by Mexican general de Cos, then when released, he joined the volunteers to return and retake the city from his former captors. He was one of two delegates elected from the Alamo garrison to the Texas Independence convention. He served terms as mayor, treasurer, and city council member in San Antonio during the Republic, was again imprisoned by the Mexicans, and as a member of the Eighth Texas Congress advocated annexation to the US. As a Democrat in the Texas State Legislature (1851-1863), “…he worked to ensure equal opportunity for his Mexican and German constituents, to foster fair and liberal laws for land acquisition and ownership, to develop transportation and other internal state improvements, to provide protection for the frontier, and to ensure a fair and efficient judicial system.”

But the Maverick family legacy goes on. Samuel’s granddaughter Mary Rowena Maverick Green (1874-1962) was one of the first women on the San Antonio School Board (and a trustee for the Public Library), advocated for the city’s first eight policewomen and first juvenile judge, opened the city’s first legal aid for the poor, demonstrated for woman suffrage in Washington and worked as a member of the National Women’s Party of Texas for state passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920 — a lot of work for a widow with four children. As an advocate for preservation and restoration of the city’s historic buildings, she “singlehandedly saved” the house of General de Cos from destruction by the Water Board — the house of the very general who had held her grandfather under house arrest during the Siege of Bexar.

Samuel’s grandson F Maury Maverick (1895-1954) was a WWI veteran, US congressman from 1935-1938 and a fervent champion of FDR’s New Deal, which thoroughly angered the conservative Democratic party leadership of Texas at the time. He is said to have coined the term “gobbledygook” to compare indecipherable nonsense bureaucratic language to the sound of turkey gobblers. After losing his run for a 3rd term in Congress, he was elected mayor of San Antonio (1939-1941) but later defeated in an election where conservative opponents portrayed him as a “communist.” After his term as mayor he returned to law practice, where he gained a reputation defending civil liberties.

The tradition continued with Maury Maverick Jr (1921-2003), Maury’s son, Samuel’s great-grandson and a WWII veteran who constantly recalled his own father’s words, “Never, never be for war.” As a state representative in the ’50s, Maverick took aim to defeat a bill that would have levied the death penalty against those convicted of Communist Party membership; in a brazen effort to highlight the ridiculousness of the bill, he introduced a “competing” bill that would have called for life imprisonment for anyone even suspected of being a Communist. He got what he wanted — both bills were defeated.

After an inspiring career as a civil-rights lawyer, Maury Maverick Jr became a regular Sunday columnist for the San Antonio Express-News from 1980 until his death in 2003. In his final column, published on the 2nd of Feburary, 2003, he questioned the “justness” of the imminent war in Iraq, quoting a resolution from a convocation of local Catholic clergy, and then closing with a quote from his own Vietnam-era diary where he chronicled his work defending conscientious objectors: “I would walk to a federal court with a boy who didn’t want to kill or be killed in Vietnam. It was as if I had walked in with a mass murderer. People are frightened, including some judges, when you represent a political or religious dissenter.”

You see, in San Antonio, we know a thing or two about Mavericks. The original kind. And I really have to wonder not only why Mr McCain would claim to be an original maverick, but also why he would even want to set himself up for a comparison with such truly incomparable individuals.

P.S. Just found this Washington Post article that actually was able to get Maury Jr’s opinion on McCain as “maverick.” Classic stuff.

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