The Lone Ranger wasn’t just a legend perpetuated by books, radio shows, television series and movies; he was a real man, a crimefighter who lived with Native Americans in what would become Oklahoma—and he was black.
“The real ‘Lone Ranger,’ it turns out, was an African American man named Bass Reeves, who the legend was based upon,” Political Blind Spot reported. “Perhaps not surprisingly, many aspects of his life were written out of the story, including his ethnicity. The basics remained the same: a lawman hunting bad guys, accompanied by a Native American, riding on a white horse, and with a silver trademark.” Born a slave, Bass Reeves escaped during the Civil War, fleeing to what was then Indian Territory to live “harmoniously” among the Seminole and Creek Indians. “After the Civil War finally concluded, he married and eventually fathered ten children, making his living as a Deputy U.S. Marshal in Arkansas and the Indian Territory,” Political Blind Spot reported.
“If this surprises you, it should, as Reeves was the first African American to ever hold such a position.” Like the legendary Lone Ranger, Reeves handed out pieces of silver—coins, though, not bullets—that would become his trademark. He was a master of disguise, an expert marksman, and he even, for a time, rode a silver horse. “Like the famed Lone Ranger legend, Reeves had his own close friend like Tonto,” Political Blind Spot reported. “Reeves’ companion was a Native American posse man and tracker who he often rode with, when he was out capturing bad guys. In all, there were close to 3000 of such criminals they apprehended, making them a legendary duo in many regions.” More from the site: The final proof that this legend of Bass Reeves directly inspired into the story of the Lone Ranger can be found in the fact that a large number of those criminals were sent to federal prison in Detroit.
The Lone Ranger radio show originated and was broadcast to the public in 1933 on WXYZ in Detroit where the legend of Reeves was famous only two years earlier. A couple of books have been written about Reeves’ life: Vaunda Michaux Nelson won the 2010 Coretta Scott King Award for best author for her book, Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal. Arthur Burton published Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves. This Land has covered Reeves, too, in an excerpt from Michael Wallis’ book Wild West 365.
Wallis wrote: Bass Reeves was born a slave and died a hero. … Reeves became fluent in Creek and several other Indian languages and was a master of disguise, a talent he often employed when pursuing criminals. He also was ambidextrous and could shoot a pistol with great accuracy using either hand. At a time when unconcealed racism was widespread, the physically imposing Reeves won the respect of his fellow deputies and even some of the outlaws he tracked down and brought to justice. -
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