The Lone Ranger, Behind The Mask
“In the early days of the western United States, a masked man and an Indian rode the plains, searching for truth and justice. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when from out of the past come the thundering hoof beats of the great horse Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again!”
Those were the opening lines of the radio and later TV series, The Lone Ranger. The Lone Ranger was depicted as a man on a white horse wearing a white hat and a black mask, that went out and caught bad guys and righted wrongs everywhere. Yet few know the true story about the Man behind the mask. Every legend has its grain of truth and the Legend of the Lone Ranger is no different.
Bass Reeves is believed to be the man behind the mask. He was born a slave in 1838. He like many slaves before him, took his owners last name as his own. Bass Reeves was his owner’s personal companion and went to battle with him when the civil war broke out. It was during the civil war that Bass ran away from his master. Different stories are
out there about why he ran (from card game cheating to just hearing they were freeing slaves)but the fact is he did and he ran into Indian Territory.
He took refuge with the Five Civilized Tribes. The Civilized tribes consisted of Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole. They also welcomed escaped and freed slaves into their tribes and Bass Reeves found a home with the Seminole. While there, he became a sharp shooter with a pistol and “fair to meddling” with a rifle.
The Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 freed Bass Reeves and he left Indian Territory to become a farmer in Van Buren Arkansas. He was a rather successful farmer as well, but his life changed again when Isaac C. Parker was appointed Judge of the Federal Western District Court at Fort Smith in Arkansas. It was common for folks wishing to avoid the law to take refuge in the Indian lands and it was over ran with murders, horse thieves and all manners of criminals. The Indian lands at the time of Parkers appointment had had no federal or state jurisdiction
Parker appointed US Marshal James F. Fagan to head the 200 deputies that Fagan was ordered to hire. When Fagan
heard of Bass Reeves, knowledge of the area and his ability to speak several Indian dialects, he recruited Reeves. Hanging Judge Parker gave the orders to clean up the Indian lands and bring back the criminals for prosecution. “Dead or alive”
Bass Reeves always rode a white stallion. His boots were always shined to perfection and he wore a a large white hat. . He Always wore two colt pistols, butt forward. He rarely missed his mark. He was known for his politeness and his courteous manner. he soon began to earn a reputation as a courageous man who always had success in bringing in or killing the many wanted men hiding in the Oklahoma range. Some of his success was due to the fact he was a master of disguises and had many alias. Sometimes he was a cowboy, a farmer, a gunslinger or an outlaw. Many times Reeves would leave the fort and return several months later herding a bunch of outlaws. Paid in the rewards and fees he would spend time with his family then ride out again.
Tales of Intrigue, imagination and courage were told of his captures. Once he was chasing outlaws in the Red River Valley. Knowing the two criminals were at their mother’s home, Reeves gathered a posse and camped 28 miles away. Reeves dressed as a tramp hiding his gun and badge under his clothes he went out on foot When he arrived at the mothers house he looked the part with dirty clothes, a cane and a hat with three bullet holes in it. He told the woman who answered the door a tale of pursuit by the posse who put the bulletholes in his hat. He then asked for a bite to eat. She invited him in and while he ate, she mentioned her two sons. She even suggested that the three should join forces.
When the sons came back , Reeves and the outlaws talked and decided it would be a good idea to join together. . The home was small and all three of the men went to bed in the same room, soon the two outlaws were snoring and Reeves handcuffed both of them without waking them up. In the morning, he kicked the boys awake and then marched them back to the camp, their mother cursing him for the first few miles.
He was a principled man and he had a strong sense of integrity and honor. So much so that when his son was wanted for murder, Reeves himself went out after him and brought him back for trail. His son was found guilty and went to Leavenworth prison where he served until he was pardoned.
Bass Reeves was a deputy until 1907, when law enforcement was assumed by the state agencies he took a job as a Muskogee Oklahoma Police dept. but there was no crimes during the two years he served.
Bass Reeves was diagnosed with Bright’s Disease and it put him to bed. On January 12, 1910 he died. In his career, that spanned 35 years, Bass Reeve was one of the most effective lawman in Indian Territory. He brought in more than 3000 criminals. He shot 14 men during his service but Reeves always said that he “ Never shot a man when it was not necessary for him to do so in the discharge of his duty to save his own life. “
Ok. So what does that have to do with the Lone Ranger? Well despite the skin color, there are many similarities. They have similar shooting skill, the white stallion they rode, and the both had a Native American helping them in the hunt for outlaws. Reeves gave out silver coins; Lone Ranger gave out silver bullets. They are both spiffy dressers with their white suit, tall hat and shiny boots. Also many of the criminals that Reeves apprehended ending up in Detroit’s Federal Prison, where the Lone Ranger radio show originated.
“A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty Hi-Yo Silver! The Lone Ranger! … With his faithful Indian companion Tonto, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains led the fight for law and order in the early western United States! Nowhere in the pages of history can one find a greater champion of justice! Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear! From out of the past come the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again.”