You will be redirected back to your article in seconds
Back to IndieWire

Was The Man Behind ‘The Lone Ranger’s’ Mask A Black Man? (In Theaters Tomorrow, 7/3)

Was The Man Behind 'The Lone Ranger's' Mask A Black Man? (In Theaters Tomorrow, 7/3)

Editor’s note: A repost, since the film opens in theaters tomorrow…

Because of my recent piece regarding The Great Gatsby which opens this week, and the theory, according to
one scholar, that Gatsby in F. Scott
Fitzgerald’s
book was actually a black man passing for white (read HERE), I’m
reminded of another major summer blockbuster and the secret history behind
it, that I recall reading about a few years ago.

I’m talking about the Jerry Bruckheimer produced new version of The Lone Ranger, with the very bland as to be practically nonexistent
Armie Hammer as the Ranger, and the
very charismatic, no-doubt-is-going-to-steal-the-film Johnny Depp, as his trusted Indian sidekick Tonto.

But was the Lone Ranger actually based on the exploits of
a real life black hero? The evidence points to a resounding yes.

That person was Bass
Reeves
(the gent pictured above with one helluva mustache) who, not surprisingly,
was written out, or purposely overlooked in histories of the West, by historians, until recently, and who was the subject
of a long overdue book written a few years years ago by Art Burton, titled 
Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves.

Naturally born a slave in 1838, Reeves’ master brought him
along as his personal servant when he went off to fight with the Confederate Army, during the Civil War. And seeing an opportunity when it presented itself, Reeves escaped
for freedom after, reportedly, beating up his master following an argument over a card
game.

Reeves fled to the then Indian Territory (which
later became the state of Oklahoma) and lived among the Seminole and Creek
Indians. After the war, he married and eventually fathered ten children.

He became a Deputy U.S. Marshall working in Arkansas and the
Indian Territory (the first black one ever) when the existing U.S. Marshall,
James Fagan, who himself was a
former Confederate Army officer, needed deputies to establish law and order in
the region, and had heard about Reeves, who knew the area well and could speak
several Indian languages. Fagan made him a deputy.

So where does the Lone Ranger connection come in? Well, according
to Burton, like the Ranger, Reeves was a master of disguises which he would use
to track down wanted outlaws, and even adopting their clothes and mannerisms to blend
in with them.

According to Burton, Reeves also gave out silver coins as
a sort of personal trademark, which is not too dissimilar from the Lone
Ranger who uses silver bullets.

Also, like the Lone Ranger, Reeves was an expert crack
shot; So good, in fact, that he was barred from participating in shooting
contests being that he had an unfair advantage. And Reeves always rode a white or
grey horse like the Ranger.

Also Reeves had his own Tonto of sorts – an Indian posse man
and tracker he often rode with, when he was out capturing bad guys (close
to 3000 in all, during his years as a marshal, 14 of them he killed).

But Burton also draws the connection between Reeves and the
Lone Ranger with the fact that many of the outlaws Reeves captured were sent to
a federal prison in Detroit. And by some strange coincidence, The  Lone Ranger was first introduced to the
public in 1933 on a weekly radio
show broadcast from WXYZ in Detroit.

Perhaps the stories about Reeves told by those convicts in that Detroit prison, circulated around for years
and eventually reached the ears of the creators
of The Lone Ranger, who used them as the inspiration
for their fictional creation.

Sadly, Reeves’ years as a deputy came to an end in 1907
when the territory became the state of Oklahoma and the state, strictly following
the Southern states segregationist Jim Crow laws, took away his badge and he retired.
He died three years later in 1910, to be totally forgotten… until recently.

And that’s the story of American history isn’t it? Just barely
scratch the surface and you’ll always find a black man underneath.

And yes, I know. Wouldn’t a film about Reeves make one
helluva movie?

This Article is related to: Features and tagged