By October 25, 2013 70 Comments Read More →

The REAL ‘Lone Ranger’ Was An African American Lawman Who Lived With Native American Indians

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The real “Lone Ranger,” it turns out, was an African American man named Bass Reeves, who the legend was based upon. 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.

Historians of the American West have also, until recently, ignored the fact that this man was African American, a free black man who headed West to find himself less subject to the racist structure of the established Eastern and Southern states.

While historians have largely overlooked Reeves, there have been a few notable works on him. Vaunda Michaux Nelson’s book, Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal, won the 2010 Coretta Scott King Award for best author. Arthur Burton released an overview of the man’s life a few years ago. Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves recounts that Reeves was born into a life of slavery in 1838. His slave-keeper brought him along as another personal servant when he went off to fight with the Confederate Army, during the Civil War.

Reeves took the chaos that ensued during the war to escape for freedom, after beating his “master” within an inch of his life, or according to some sources, to death. Perhaps the most intruiging thing about this escape was that Reeves only beat his enslaver after the latter lost sorely at a game of cards with Reeves and attacked him.

After successfully defending himself from this attack, he knew that there was no way he would be allowed to live if he stuck around.

Reeves fled to the then Indian Territory of today’s Oklahoma and lived harmoniously among the Seminole and Creek Nations of Native American Indians.

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After the Civil War finally concluded, he married and eventually fathered ten children, making his living as a Deputy U.S. Marshall in Arkansas and the Indian Territory. If this surprises you, it should, as Reeves was the first African American to ever hold such a position.

Burton explains that it was at this point that the Lone Ranger story comes in to play. Reeves was described as a “master of disguises”. He used these disguises to track down wanted criminals, even adopting similar ways of dressing and mannerisms to meet and fit in with the fugitives, in order to identify them.

Reeves kept and gave out silver coins as a personal trademark of sorts, just like the Lone Ranger’s silver bullets. Of course, the recent Disney adaptation of the Lone Ranger devised a clever and meaningful explanation for the silver bullets in the classic tales. For the new Lone Ranger, the purposes was to not wantonly expend ammunition and in so doing devalue human life. But in the original series, there was never an explanation given, as this was simply something originally adapted from Reeves’ personal life and trademarking of himself. For Reeves, it had a very different meaning, he would give out the valuable coins to ingratiate himself to the people wherever he found himself working, collecting bounties. In this way, a visit from the real “Lone Ranger” meant only good fortune for the town: a criminal off the street and perhaps a lucky silver coin.

Like the Lone Ranger, Reeves was also expert crack shot with a gun. According to legend, shooting competitions had an informal ban on allowing him to enter. Like the Lone Ranger, Reeves rode a white horse throughout almost all of his career, at one point riding a light grey one as well.

Like the famed Lone Ranger legend Reeves had his own close friend like Tonto. 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.

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.

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Of course, WXYZ and the later TV and movie adaptions weren’t about to make the Lone Ranger an African American who began his career by beating a slave-keeper to death. But now you know. Spread the word and let people know the real legend of the Lone Ranger.

(Article by Micah Naziri)

70 Comments on "The REAL ‘Lone Ranger’ Was An African American Lawman Who Lived With Native American Indians"

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  1. EARLINE BENTLEY says:

    thank you Micah for this vital information!!!!!!!!

  2. Modderrhu says:

    They should make a movie of the REAL Lone Rangers life, that would be interesting…I would go see it! Bet it’s in the works…. Love Denzel but he is getting a bit old to be romping around on horses and fighting people. They need a young guy, like…..how about Anthony Mackie? He even looks like Reeves just needs to thicken up the stash a bit

  3. Dot says:

    Wonderful information. Thank you.

  4. GuyB says:

    A lot of resemblances can also be found in the recent Quentin Tarentino movie « Django unchained ». The slave freeing himself and becoming a hero figure, the bounty hunting etc…

  5. Lawrence Jones says:

    Thanks for sharing. There are a lot of stories out there. My ancestor was in the Buffalo Soldier unit that helped to capture “Billy the Kid” in the midwest. Also, that top photo with the man with long hair is not Bass Reeves it is “Jim Beckworth/Beckwith”. He became a chief of the Crow Indians.

    • revroscoebeauregard says:

      Buffalo Soldiers.. slowly, more are getting to learn of this proper history.. I live among the REDBONE people, and research is showing me that my ancestors were also ‘mix’ people. And within this community of Starks, LA, is a beckwith creek.. Many of the mix raced people settled in NO MANS LAND, the eastern side of the Sabine River, as it was a safe place to live.. No strong government, but did allow some Waysiders, to develop.. In any community, there will be a criminal element…

  6. Eric says:

    Wow!!!!!! I remember my Grandfather telling me that
    The Lone Ranger, was a Blackman.

  7. Graham says:

    Wow. Is the Lone Ranger also the character Jamie Fox played.?

  8. Tilly says:

    i’m not surprised at all- there were quite a few black cowboys back in the day, but history would have you believe that there were none.

    • Will Phoenix says:

      What history is that? Define “quite a few” or even “cowboys” for that matter. Most people live uneventful lives and are forgotten regardless of color or gender or any other separatist label.

      • Follow @offensivedialog says:

        There was never slavery and racism never existed. Feces smells like roses and unfairness isnt in the human genome.

        • Will Phoenix says:

          There certainly was not any slavery within your life time and maybe not even within your grandparents time. I am not sure what your point is though really. i think the statement to which you responded stands as it is and we were finished with this thread awhile ago.

  9. Victoria Lehman says:

    And to illustrate the particularly debased position of First Nations peoples in this “hierarchy” of racism, please note that the name of his First Nations companion appears to have been completely lost to History, or at least ommitted in the Article.

    • PBSpot Admin says:

      Yes, we could not track down and reference to specific names of such companions. Sad.

    • M says:

      Thanks for pointing that out. I always say that in America it’s black and white and we’re invisible.

    • Will Phoenix says:

      They did not have the technology we have today either. But playing the race card has been incredibly popular since being overly PC came into fashion. it could not also possibly be that some people just don’t want their names in the papers, could it?

      • Theodora says:

        So you mean talking about the racism you have suffered is called using the race card, just because people were not complaining so much about it before, Ok.

        • Will Phoenix says:

          Yes, of course, that is exactly what I mean –as opposed to what I wrote–but you go ahead and be right because I have no time to argue. Are you serious? I belong to the one minority no one gives a sh*t about and you don’t see me making silly claims . . .please . . . since we became so PC this kind of claim has become increasingly prevalent. It is not a matter of suffering it is a matter of making ludicrous claims. The one man was a murderer and the Lone Ranger never even killed a criminal!

          • Theodora says:

            I can see you are not living in the real world. Then again you could be living in your own world with no regard for people outside of it. No one has time for someone who thinks like you do, I just wanted clarification.

          • Will Phoenix says:

            I will try to clarify since you didn’t get the sarcasm. I am referring to the article. I am not referring to anything else. This article and claims like it. This is not about human suffering. This about people trying to get attention be it page hits, money or 15 minutes of fame. I am honestly sorry you missed that. My bad.

          • Ted Seay says:

            Presumably Deputy U.S. Marshall Reeves isn’t guilty of trying to seek attention here since, as best I can make out, he’s dead.

            If others are trying, on his behalf, to bring some modicum of historical fact to the legend of the Lone Ranger, why is this PC? Simply because Marshall Reeves was black?

            For that matter, how can you call him a murderer, even if his owner died? Have you heard of self-defense, or do you deny it as an option for human chattel slaves?

          • Will Phoenix says:

            This conversation is old. If you decide to read all my posts so that you fully understand then by all means let me know. The article was published in 2013 so if this was important to you then you would have already commented on it. I am good with everything I said.

          • Ted Seay says:

            Bob, weave, duck, obfuscate — anything but admit you’re wrong.

            No premeditation, no murder, thanks for playing, buh-bye.

          • Will Phoenix says:

            This conversation is old. If you decide to read all my posts so that
            you fully understand then by all means let me know. The article was
            published in 2013 so if this was important to you then you would have
            already commented on it. I am good with everything I said. (Unless you are a lawyer with a link to your credentials i am finished with this.) Thou shall not kill. Whether or not he would get off for any reason is besides the point but i guess since you are too busy to read all my posts and i am not rude enough to ignore you this conversation has continued.
            Tell you what? I am finished. Go ahead THINK you are right. I get paid to write so unless you are going to credit my PayPal account or at least buy me a beer I am finished with this OLD post.

          • Gerald Harty says:

            will, in(yesterday programs), I heard Tonto always called Him ¨King O SOBIE¨,what was meant by that?….just curious…..

          • Will Phoenix says:

            Kemosabe means something along the lines of someone who is secretly looking out for you or something like that. They generally translate it into English as faithful friend or loyal scout. I am finished with this old thread though lol

  10. Gary says:

    I had hear of Bass Reeves as a native of Arkansas with some knowledge of its history. Reeves was one of Judge Parker’s best Marshall’s at Fort Smith. ( re; True Grit)I don’t know when the fact an African American was in this position was acknowledged, but it has been a long time that I know of. They are raising funds for the U. S. Marshall’s museum in Fort Smith, and I would bet Bass would be in it!

  11. Michelle says:

    Great story – I agree – would love to see the REAL LONE RANGER make it to the movie screen – sounds like the perfect role for actor Davi Jay (played a Mardi Gras Indian on TREME) as the role of REEVES. Wish we could always get the real HISTORY of events.

  12. Morgan D. Lerner says:

    This piece is mostly right. Leaves out much concerning is time in Texas and should have noted the memorials that have been placed in Oklahoma and Arkansas to help keep his legacy alive and popularize his story for generations to come. Bass Reeves, a fictionalized film of his life and career, was released by Ponderous Productions of San Antonio in 2010.
    Morgan Freeman has expressed interest in playing Reeves in a motion picture so a “true story” movie may still come. Nevertheless the truth is there is no real Lone Ranger. He is an amalgamation. We are right to want real history but we should not be suprised when we don’t find it in comic books and movies of superheros.

  13. Actually no matter if someone doesn’t know then its up to other people that they will assist, so here it takes place.

  14. Barrett says:

    54 lb weight loss compared to a little over three pounds with a placebo. The reason is that while some may be safe there are some that were taken off the market.

  15. Will Phoenix says:

    There were interesting characters of all races. The Lone Ranger was fictional. This guy apparently was not. I’m not sure I caught the part where it is proven that the fictional character was based on this one real person.

  16. Will Phoenix says:

    By the way, did you miss the part where this Reeves possibly murdered someone?

    • Brian says:

      No, that part was awesome.

      • Will Phoenix says:

        OK. Nice. Well, that speaks for itself. i guess we’re finished here.

        • Brian says:

          Yeah, he almost killed or possibly did kill the person who kept him enslaved. What, you want me to feel bad for the slaver? Wah, wah, I thought I could own a person and it turned out badly for me. Who could have foreseen it? And me being such a good person.

          • Will Phoenix says:

            It was the way you celebrate an actual murder like you were watching a TV show or movie that I reacted to actually. . . and yes it was legal at one point to own slaves and at one point people did not think it was wrong.

          • Brian says:

            And yet it was wrong, however legal it was, and it was a good thing that he got away from it. And how did I react to it like I was watching a TV show? I said it was awesome. It was. A man had been enslaving another man, and said other man rose up and beat the tar out of him. That is awesome. It was awesome when Frederick Douglass did it, too. And it was awesome whe Django Freeman did it, fictional though he was. Hey, when I saw Downfall, I felt relief and happiness when Hitler died, ant to shame me for that, too?

            You’re not going to get me to feel guilty for being happy a slaver got what was coming to him 150 years ago.

          • Will Phoenix says:

            Murder is morally wrong too and has been longer than slavery has been. Feeling relief after Hitler died and thinking murder is “awesome” are two different things.

          • Brian says:

            Murder of a slaver, yes. Who was holding him in slavery. That’s not morally wrong. How else was he supposed to get away? Just sit there and wait for legislation? What’s your problem with self defense?

          • blackjackbouvier says:

            According to the story, at least, sounded like it was self defense. His owner attacked him after losing at a game of cards. Sure it wouldn’t have mattered in a court of law in those times. He had no choice but to escape.

          • Will Phoenix says:

            Assuming the man survived of course it was still attempted murder.

          • Brian says:

            Attempted justifiable homicide, you mean

          • Will Phoenix says:

            OK attempted homicide if you insist. Pretty sure there were less legal technicalities and so forth back then.

          • Brian says:

            Attempted JUSTIFIABLE homicide. You left out the key word there.

          • Will Phoenix says:

            Pretty sure there were fewer legal technicalities and so forth back then.

          • Brian says:

            Yes, there was far less justice back then, you are correct. He could have been killed just for looking at someone wrong. The important thing is that he clearly would have been morally justified, even if it would have gotten him in legal trouble.

          • Will Phoenix says:

            That leads into: “Thous shall not kill” versus a group of people saying: “Well, I can’t blame him.”

          • Brian says:

            If someone was holding you against your will and you kill them while attempting to escape their clutches, you are morally justified. The fault is theirs, not yours. “Thou shalt not kill” vs. “I can’t blame him?” Sure. After all, the former is a thought terminating cliche that obviously doesn’t always apply, whereas the latter is real people actually looking at the situation.

          • Will Phoenix says:

            Seriously? You call something from The Bible nothing more than a cliche? There are many religions that hold to that. Religious and/or non-atheist people are real too. Like I said: when you speak of morals that is the can of worms you open . . . ironically on Jesus Christ’s birthday lol

          • Brian says:

            There are plenty of cliches in the bible. You can’t cite “thou shalt not kill” as if it’s some kind of dealbreaker when the bible is filled with people killing with complete justification. Obviously, it’s not a hard and fast rule, even in that book. There are times when it is acceptable to kill.

          • Will Phoenix says:

            It’s part of the 10 Commandments. Also, you will note that there is a difference between what happened before God cleansed the Earth and what happened after. My point is simply killing is a “no-no” in most major religions. That’s a fact. That’s why I said you really didn’t want to get into it morally.

          • Brian says:

            “It’s part of the 10 Commandments.”

            Okay, so? Doesn’t change the fact that there’s plenty of justified killing in the bible. Stealing, too. So “thou shalt not steal” and “thou shalt not kill” are clearly not hard and fast rules.

            ” Also, you will note that there is a difference between what happened before God cleansed the Earth and what happened after. ”

            The incidents I’m thinking of happened after YHWH flooded the earth.

            “My point is simply killing is a “no-no” in most major religions. That’s a fact. ”

            And literally everyone agrees that killing is justified in certain circumstances.

            “That’s why I said you really didn’t want to get into it morally.”

            Why not? “This religion says this” isn’t a moral argument.

          • Will Phoenix says:

            First of all, i don’t think you have acknowledged the fact that the killing to which you refer came before God cleansed the Earth. It was wrong so He cleansed the earth. I do not know that literally everyone agrees that killing is justified in certain circumstances. Look at the protests that spring up every time or at least quite often when someone is walking that last mile. Without religion there would be no moral compass.
            How about this? it’s Christmas so you can be right. merry Christmas

          • Brian says:

            ” i don’t think you have acknowledged the fact that the killing to which you refer came before God cleansed the Earth.”

            What do you mean by “cleansed the Earth?” Is this a reference to the Flood? Because that’s usually the circumstance where I see that phrase, and Moses was definitely under that.

            ” I do not know that literally everyone agrees that killing is justified in certain circumstances.”

            I think the number of people who think it’s morally wrong to kill someone who is about to kill you is statistically zero, I can tell you that much.

            “Without religion there would be no moral compass.”

            Utter nonsense. I have no religion, and I do have a moral compass. Plenty of religious people don’t have much of a moral compass. The morals of me and of a religious person such as yourself come from the same place, you just pretend they come from your religion because that’s what you’ve been told. Or maybe they do. After all, I usually use slavery as an example of where morality and the bible conflict, but you’ve spent this thread trying to assert that someone was a bad person for trying to escape from slavery, so maybe you really do use the bible as a moral guide.

          • Will Phoenix says:

            Wow. i said you could be right, was that not enough? I have no clue what you mean by ?Moses was under that”. it doesn’t really matter though. We were not discussing killing someone who is about to kill you. Besides, I see no links to any surveys.
            Without the existence or presence of religion there would be no moral compass. Does that work better for you? I never said i was religious.
            I was not asserting someone was a bad person for trying to escape slavery. We were discussing someone possibly committing murder after he was free.
            But, Merry Christmas, you can be right.

          • Brian says:

            “I have no clue what you mean by ?Moses was under that”.

            I meant after that. Brain fart. Moses and his armies, and later Joshua and his armies committed many acts of murder and theft.

            “We were not discussing killing someone who is about to kill you.”

            I was saying there are circumstances where most would consider killing justified. This is such a circumstance.

            “Without the existence or presence of religion there would be no moral compass. Does that work better for you?”

            No, because it’s still nonsensical. Different religions have different morals, and many people find aspects of their own religion morally reprehensible, but ignore them or explain them away.

            “I never said i was religious.”

            You claimed morality came from religion, and used “thou shalt not kill” as if it was some sort of valid argument, so I figured it was a safe assumption.

            “I was not asserting someone was a bad person for trying to escape slavery. We were discussing someone possibly committing murder after he was free.”

            No, he possibly murdered him in order to escape slavery. Do you have no reading comprehension? His enslaver brought him to the war as a servant, and attacked him after losing a game of cards. Reeves defended himself, and, knowing that he would be killed for doing so, thrashed him possibly to death and ran away, escaping from slavery. He was not free at the time.

          • Will Phoenix says:

            No point in arguing The Bible since I don’t have one handy and as someone with no religion i doubt you have one handy either. I don’t believe it was such a circumstance. I believe that whatever the case he went overboard in his actions.
            It is not nonsensical to say that without God or some sort of spiritual beliefs there would be no morals. You may not approve of my word choice but I have little time to rephrase until it suits you/clarifies enough for you to grasp my point. As someone who has studied religions I can honestly say that many of them have some common beliefs and not killing is one of them. If you want to argue this case as an exception to the rule be my guest i already said you could be right anyway. Considering the fact that i read the piece months ago and there was a significant break in this conversation I will let your slight at my reading comprehension go. Besides, I already told you a couple times now you can be right. I honestly don’t care anymore providing you put no words in my mouth.

  17. Mr. Samuels says:

    The point is the truth has been told. Now let move on to the next LIE!!!!!

  18. Mr. Samuels says:

    Truth has the inherited power to produce the promised effect. Yes the truth will set you free.

  19. mitchell DAY says:

    What a bunch of nonsense! He rode a white horse? Gee nobody else in the west could have done that! He paid informants with silver coins? As opposed to what? He was a master of disguises? Like Charlie Siringo? He used a Native American tracker? Like the entire U.S. Cavalry? And what about the all the other U.S. Marshals working in the Indian Territory? Like Bill Tilghman? This is ridiculous. The Lone Ranger was a fictional character with no evidence to the contrary!
    ” Perhaps not surprisingly, many aspects of his life were written out of the story, including his ethnicity.” That’s because there’s no connection between U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves and the fictional Lone Ranger! Geez people will believe anything!
    Now everybody shut up while I watch “Ancient Aliens”! THAT’S reality!!!!!!!

  20. David Stewart says:

    Why would an article that seeks to redress the injustice of history against a black man, neglect to give us the name of the First Nations colleague he rode with? Guess the Indian gets his chance at correcting the record next century. . .

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