Two years ago, I published an item asking whether the Lone Ranger was actually based on the exploits of a real life black hero. This was around the time that the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced recent version of the Lone Ranger story that starred Armie Hammer as the Ranger, and Johnny Depp as his trusted Indian sidekick, Tonto.
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.”
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 author 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.
Burton says that Reeves also gave out silver coins as a sort of personal trademark, which is not unlike 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 he always rode a white or grey horse like the Ranger.
Reeves had his own Tonto of sorts – an Indian 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, which strictly followed Southern states segregationist Jim Crow laws, took away Reeves’ badge, and then 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?
Well, it looks like Morgan Freeman thought the same thing because he’s teamed up with HBO for a miniseries based on the Bass Reeves’ life.
According to Deadline, John Sayles will script the project which will be based on Burton’s book of course.
It’s something that Freeman has been trying to bring to the screen for many years, with difficulty.
“This is a black man in America’s legendary Western history who has been totally overlooked. Any chance I get to revisit historical moments of our country is important to me,” Freeman said.
No word on casting and when the project can be expected. Although Freeman could play the older Reeves, who was in his 70s when he died, as is Freeman currently.
This news of HBO’s coming on-board comes just a couple of weeks after the cable TV network announced that it had boarded Viola Davis’ Harriet Tubman bio.