The Lone Ranger, who has become a western icon, is surprisingly an African-American man named Bass Reeves. Many details of his real life were omitted out of the Lone Ranger story, the biggest detail being that he was in fact a black man. The basics of his life remained the same however. Reeves was a lawman who hunted bad guys while traveling with a Native American. He rode a white horse and had a silver trademark.
Hollywood is not the only place to have ignored the true identity of the “Lone Ranger.” Apparently, historians also totally overlooked the fact that Reeves was a free black man. Reeves traveled to the west to get away from the racist ways of life found in the eastern and southern states in America. Before Reeves was free, he was a personal servant to his slave master.
He eventually ran off and fought with the confederate army during the Civil War. Reeves took advantage of the disjointed state of the south during the war and ventured to obtain his freedom. According to historians, Reeves beat his slave keeper nearly to death before escaping. Apparently, he only beat the slave owner after the owner lost a game of cards to him and began to attack him. Reeves knew that since he had successfully defended himself, there was no way he would continue to live if he stayed in the area in which he harmed his owner.
Reeves eventually left to live in Indian Territory; that land is now considered Oklahoma. He lived peacefully beside the Seminole and Creek Nations of Native American Indians. After the Civil war was over “The Lone Ranger” married and had ten children. He became the first African-American to ever hold the position of a U.S. Marshall.
The Lone Ranger radio show first broadcasted from Detroit in 1933.
The first ranger used a black mask to cover his entire face. Burton said that this, too, was no coincidence.
“Black people were invisible in the 1930s,” he said. “You couldn’t show a strong black man at that time in history. This would be kind of a backhanded tribute to a person who was black.”
And the similarities don’t end there. The Lone Ranger was known simply as “Reid.” Burton said that the name sounds eerily similar to “Reeves.”
Hollywood has produced plenty of films about the mythical American West. But Burton said movie makers have never managed to truly capture the West that Reeves rode through.
“It would be great if they could make a movie about him,” Burton said. “He is someone all Americans can feel proud about.”
“He was a true American hero.”
Bass Reeves (far left) policed the Indian Territory between 1875 and 1907.
Art Burton spent 20 years researching Bass Reeves’ life. He compiled his work into the book “Black Gun, Silver Star.”
At this point in American history, a large amalgamation of Native American tribes had been pushed into a 75,000 square mile space that would later become the states of Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska. Some Native Americans owned slaves, Burton said, so the area had a significant population of African Americans as well.
Reeves lived with the Seminole and Creek Indians, learning their language and their customs. When the federal government began looking for people to police that large region, Reeves was chosen to bridge the gap between the Indian Territory’s multiracial population.
Reeves worked as a U.S. deputy marshal between 1875 and 1907. His bosses at Fort Smith, Arkansas would give him the names of people who were on the run from the law. Reeves would memorize the warrants, then ride out onto the prairie on his grey-white horse.