Original 'Maverick' Was Unconventional Texan

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A man at the Republican National Convention holds up a sign reading "The Maverick."

The term "maverick," often applied to John McCain, comes from the name of an unconventional Texas rancher. Joe Raedle/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Joe Raedle/Getty Images

One word in politics that has gotten a lot of use recently is "maverick." It's often used to describe Republican presidential candidate John McCain. But where does the term come from?

Word maven William Safire explains that "Maverick" was the name of a Texan in the 1800s. Samuel Maverick, in fact.

"He refused to brand his cattle, and the reason he gave was he didn't want to be cruel to animals," Safire says. "But all his friends and neighbors said that wasn't so — he was just going around trying to round up all the unbranded cattle and claim them for himself."

Maverick was also a Southern politician who signed the Texas Declaration of Independence.

His great-grandson lives in Los Angeles. A self-described "city-slicker," Andrew Maverick likes hearing tales of his great grandfather — and those unbranded calves that roamed freely in Texas.

"When people around there saw a calf running around without a brand on it and no mother — several of them, they'd say, 'Those are mavericks.' "

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Correction Sept. 8, 2008

The audio version of the story characterizes Maverick as a "Texas rancher." He was actually a lawyer, legislator and landowner. Also, the story called him a "conservative" politician. Politically, Maverick was a progressive Democrat.



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