American Indians, Blacks in the Old West, Famous People of the Old West

Bass Reeves: The inspiration for the Lone Ranger?

Bass Reeves
Bass Reeves

Just in time for the release of Disney’s “The Lone Ranger” movie, the July issue of True West magazine has an intriguing article about the possible real-life model for the masked man. The author, Art T. Burton, wrote a biography of Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves, and he makes a compelling case.

Reeves, a former slave, was one of the first African Americans—and maybe the very first—to receive a commission as a deputy U.S. marshal. He had a 32-year career as a lawman in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), and Burton says Reeves was famous during his lifetime, with people telling stories and singing songs about his accomplishments.

By the time he retired in 1907, Reeves claimed to have arrested more than 3,000 felons. According to Wikipedia: “Reeves brought in some of the most dangerous criminals of the time but was never wounded, despite having his hat and belt shot off on separate occasions.”

Here are some of the facts that Burton cites in his article:

  • Federal law required that Reeves have at least one posse member with him in the field, and the men who rode with him were often Indians. (He lived with the Seminole and Creek Indians and is said to have spoken several Indian languages.)
  • “The Lone Ranger left silver bullets as his calling card. Reeves gave folks silver dollars to remember him by.”
  • “The Lone Ranger worked in disguise, a technique Reeves regularly used to catch unsuspecting felons.”
  • “When the Lone Ranger first started appearing in comic books and movie serials, he wore a black mask that covered his entire face.”

It’s worth noting that Reeves lived until 1910, and George Trendle and Fran Striker launched “The Lone Ranger” radio show a scant 23 years later.

The article isn’t posted online yet, but check out the True West website in the meantime. It is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in or writing about the Old West.

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