commentary by Patrick H. Moore

Who was that masked man?

I always watched the Lone Ranger on TV when I was a child and I wasn’t wild about it — not my favorite western, a bit too predictable — EXCEPT I always remembered the original TV episode which was magnificent. The army guys had been pinned down in the rocks along the river and massacred by some bad Native Americans. Nearly everyone was dead. The man who was to become known as The Lone Ranger was croaking for water, or rather he was too stoic to be croaking so he was just toughing it out, parched under the blazing sun beating down on the riverbank. 

bas3The shadows lengthened and along came a good Native American picking his way skillfully through the rocks. It was the man who was to be known as Tonto. Tonto found the Lone Ranger there on the riverbank while I watched in a state of wonderment. Tonto nursed the Lone Ranger back to health and when he had regained his strength the series began for proper. He and Tonto set out to round up the bad guys.

So that’s how I was introduced to the Lone Ranger. In contrast, let’s have a little fun with the real story which is brought to us by Ann Werner of Liberals Unite. Ms. Werner writes:

If you grew up in the 1950’s, you knew who it was, or at least you knew it was the Lone Ranger, if not his actual name. He and his sidekick Tonto tracked down the bad guys in the Old West and they always got their man! The Lone Ranger was known for riding his white stallion named Silver and for his silver bullets.

bass5That was just the television show. It was predated by a 1933 radio show and before that, there was the book written by Zane Gray in 1915 titled “The Lone Star Ranger.” Generations of kids grew up idolizing that bastion of law and order and everyone knew that Kemo Sahbee was a term that reflected the best in a human being.

So you might be surprised to know that the real Lone Ranger was a black man by the name of Bass Reeves. His life was the basis for the legend of the Lone Ranger.

Ms. Werner goes on to tell us that “white history has overlooked the fact of his race, there have been a few books written about the man and his times.” One of them, Bad News For Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal, by Vaunda Michaux Nelson, won the 2010 Coretta Scott King Award for best author. Another book by Arthur Burton, Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves was published in 2006 by the University of Nebraska Press.

So here are the facts of the life of the original Lone Ranger, Bass Reeves:

Reeves was born into slavery in 1838. He was brought along by his slave-owning master as a personal servant when the slave owner went off to fight for the Confederacy in the Civil War. The men had time on their hands and got into a high-stakes card game which Reeves won handily. The owner then stepped over the line by attacking Reeves who beat the guy to a pulp. Some say Reeves killed him. After that, Reeves had to “get out of Dodge” or face certain death. He wisely fled to the Indian Territory, which is now Oklahoma, and lived among the Seminole and Creek Nations.

bass7After the war ended, Reeves had a huge family which he which he supported by working as the first African-American Deputy U.S. Marshal in Arkansas and Indian Territory. According to the Burton account, this is where the Lone Ranger story originated.

Reeves was a clever lawman. A “master of disguises” (there’s that mask!), much like the undercover cops of today, he dressed and adopted the mannerisms of the people he was looking for so that he could infiltrate the groups and their milieu.

Like the later Lone Ranger, Reeves rode a white horse and was very good with the six-shooter, too darned good, in fact. Legend has it that he was banned from shooting competitions because he rarely missed. He had a certain savoir faire and handed out silver coins to the locals in the areas where he was tracking down criminals which made him very popular and inspired people to help him find his man.

Ms. Werner writes:

bas4So when the “Lone Ranger” came to town, the people knew that he would get his man, the town would be made safer and somebody would be the lucky recipient of a valuable silver coin. His frequent traveling companion was a Native American posse man and tracker, and together the two apprehended almost 3,000 bad guys. Since a large number of those apprehended were sent to the federal prison in Detroit, it isn’t surprising that WXYZ in Detroit is where the first (Lone Ranger) radio program originated in 1933.

And the other unsurprising detail is the fact that the legend of the Lone Ranger was built on suppressing the fact that the original Lone Ranger, Bass Reeves, was an escaped runaway slave. By the time I came to him decades later he was as white as Moby Dick, Herman Melville’s Great White Whale.

It sure was a good first episode, though.



2 Responses to The Real Lone Ranger Was a Black Crime-Fighting U.S. Marshal

  1. liselasalle says:

    I didn’t know much about the fake Lone Ranger and even less about the real one. But now that I do, I like him a lot.

    Ann Werner you rule!

  2. Darcia Helle says:

    Very cool bit of history!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:

Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can take care of it!

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.