By October 25, 2013 29 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)

  • EARLINE BENTLEY

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

  • Modderrhu

    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

    • ray

      They did but named it django. Jk. Bit I agree. History is so messed up.

      • wendel chandler

        history is messed up purposely !…to keep blacks from claiming their rightly own place vital to so much American history..for example…INVENTORS…amerikkka does not want u to know the vital roles of the black man/women of America, and how we as a people have contributed to this great country.no decent place in history…only whatever is bad we are charged with.

      • D-Ray

        That’s why its His-Story. Not history.

    • irmixie

      nice try, Anthony Mackie

    • George

      They did, it’s called Django Unchained. lol

  • Dot

    Wonderful information. Thank you.

  • GuyB

    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…

    • http://kristiswords.wordpress.com Kristi Koons

      Once again real history will out, and becomes a much more fascinating tale than the one manufactured in the interest of political correctness
      Thanks so much for the real story!!

  • Lawrence Jones

    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

      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…

  • Eric

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

  • http://aol Graham

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

  • Erik

    GREAT JOB !!!

  • Tilly

    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

      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.

  • Victoria Lehman

    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

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

    • M

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

    • Will Phoenix

      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?

  • Gary

    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!

    • Keith T

      Bass Reeves was also the inspiration for Clint Eastwood’s character in the western “Hang ‘Em High.”

  • Michelle

    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.

  • Morgan D. Lerner

    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.

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  • Will Phoenix

    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.

  • Will Phoenix

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