The Maverick who stood up to the Puritans

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ANOTHER lesson came from ``out west'' to tell me again about Sam Maverick and how he ``enriched'' our language, but I didn't rally until I heard the announcer for a bowling match on TV say, ``This one has all the earmarks of going down to the wire.'' He meant the match would likely be close to the very end - the ``wire'' being the finish of a hoss-trot. First nag under the wire gets the purse. So what about this Sam Maverick? Sam belongs in that category of solid American mis-legends that includes Columbus discovering America, George chopping a cherry tree, the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth, Paul Revere's ride, and maybe even Benedict Arnold. But it's too late.

Things like those, driven over the years into the absorbing noggins of schoolchildren, have become fixtures, until even the unchallengeable dictionary says, ``... probably named after Samuel Maverick, a Texas cattle raiser who neglected to brand his cattle.''

Thus the maverick, a poor, lonely, helpless, sorrowing beef calf that doesn't have any mommie, enriches our language.

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To begin with, Sam Maverick was never in Texas in his life, a principal reason being that when Sam was involved in the settlement of New England there wasn't any Texas. Sam lived on an island in what was to become Boston Harbor, and if you want to visit his general vicinity, you take a Boston subway train and get off at Maverick Station.

Sam was in good shape and prosperous when the kindly Puritans decided to found a city, which they did in 1630. Back in merrie England there was red tape and routine about such things, and in this instance the Crown took notice that Sam and a few others were already in residence in the grant about to become Boston. So conditions were set to protect Sam and the others from encroachment by the newcomers. First document of its kind in the New World.

For Sam, in particular, it meant he could live where he was, take part in community affairs, and the Puritans couldn't pick on him. This is important, because afterward the Puritans did pick on people, and one history book says Sam Maverick was ``... a stubborn loyalist, implacable in his hostility to the political and religious principles....'' He was certainly the odd one, which makes him a maverick.

The bit about ``earmarks'' in a bowling match is not extraneous. Our Sam, who ``neglected to brand his cattle,'' wouldn't have known anything about branding, because in colonial New England the farmers used earmarks. Far back in the archives of any Yankee township will be (if it exists) a special book in which were kept the records of assigned earmarks - each man with his own pattern for his own creatures. The earmark of my great-great-grandfather was a double V; two triangular notches on the right ear. One notch was smaller, so he didn't have a double U; the double U belonged to Laban Skillin, a neighbor. So a man on the TV talks about earmarks and everybody knows what he means without knowing why.

The earmarks in New England served the same purpose as the brands in Western cattle country. As neighborhoods and villages took shape, and settlers were no longer living as isolated families, we began to set up rules and ordinances about fences, and the whole problem of restraining wandering animals. A cow that might live in the forest to forage was quite another matter if she roamed in a village.

There came into being the ``field drover,'' who was an appointed or elected officer charged with catching and confining stray animals upon complaint. He turned such over to the ``pound keeper,'' who held them in the town impounding yard until owners identified them, claimed them, and paid the fees - care and fine. Earmarks handily took care of identification, and since it was easy to tell who owned what by a glance at the ears, many a wandering cow would get taken home before pound expenses set in.

There is one difficulty about connecting Sam Maverick with earmarks - he lived on an island and islanders had little need for marking animals. All along the New England shore are islands that once nurtured big flocks of sheep, and from which no cow was ever known to swim to the main and disport in somebody's garden. No need of fences or earmarks.

Now, Texas may wish to claim there was ``another'' Sam Maverick. There was - he lived in Salem, but we don't know much about him. What Texas should do is get its Sam to take off his ten-gallon hat so we can look at his ears. If he's got Texas earmarks, I'll bake a pot of beans.

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