Was the Lone Ranger Black?

Was the Lone Ranger Black?

100 Amazing Facts About the Negro: The character’s story is strikingly similar to that of 19th-century lawman Bass Reeves.

By: Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Posted: Dec. 9 2013 1:00 AM

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Bass Reeves

Wikimedia Commons

Editor’s note: For those who are wondering about the retro title of this black-history series, please take a moment to learn about historian Joel A. Rogers, author of the 1934 book 100 Amazing Facts About the Negro With Complete Proof, to whom these “amazing facts” are an homage.

Amazing Fact About the Negro No. 59: Which former slave became a deputy U.S. marshal and a renowned symbol of law and order in the Wild West?

Imagine if Morgan Freeman, Jamie Fox, Will Smith or Denzel Washington had been cast to play the Lone Ranger alongside Johnny Depp’s Tonto this past summer (and, coincidentally, out on DVD next Tuesday). I’m not kidding. According to Art T. Burton, author of the 2006 biography Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves, the real-life analog of America’s iconic black-masked lawman may have been a black man named Bass Reeves, a deputy U.S. marshal who, for more than 30 years, patrolled the western territories hauling in outlaws of every stripe—and race. “Considering his long service and remarkable dedication to duty,” Burton writes, “had Reeves been a white lawman it is quite possible he would have been as popular as any ever written about during the late 19th century.” 

Seizing on the parallel between Bass Reeves and the Lone Ranger (whose “real” name in the original radio show was John Reid), Burton notes how both at one time rode white horses, rode out with Native American sidemen and relied on disguises and, while the Lone Ranger made silver bullets famous, Reeves handed out silver dollars. Equally striking, the men who ended up in deputy marshal Reeves’ custody, if convicted, were taken to the Detroit House of Corrections, the same city where The Lone Ranger premiered on radio in 1933.

If that’s not enough, Burton quotes a contemporary, D.C. Gideon, who in 1901 wrote, “Bass is a stalwart Negro” who “weighs one hundred and eighty pounds, stands six feet and two inches in his stockings and fears nothing that moves and breathes.” Funny, because in an article in the Saturday Evening Post in 1939, Fran Striker, a principal writer for The Lone Ranger series, is said to have “beg[un] by visualizing the Ranger as just over six feet tall and weighing 190 pounds—a good working build for a Western hero.”

So, despite the obvious dissimilarity of skin color, you might ask, “Who was that masked (black) man?” And, coincidences aside, was he really the model for the Lone Ranger?

Bass Reeves, ‘The Invincible Marshal’

Bass Reeves was born a slave in Crawford County, Ala., most likely in July 1838, Burton suggests. His owner was a white man, William S. Reeves, a war veteran and legislator who decamped to North Texas when Reeves was 8. While Williams Reeves refused to teach young Bass to read the Bible, he did let him learn the ways of the gun.

During the Civil War, Reeves, in his early 20s, accompanied his owner’s son, Colonel George Reeves of the 11th Texas Cavalry Regiment, on the Confederate side (a fact he later used to put whites at ease). At some point, Bass fled into Indian Territory, where, among the five (so-called) civilized tribes (the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole Indians), he became so immersed in Native American culture he learned to speak Muskogee. In 1870, Reeves, by then married with four kids, moved to Van Buren, Ark., making his way as a farmhand, horse breeder and territory scout and tracker. By the next census in 1880, he and his wife, Jennie, had eight kids between the ages of 2 and 16, with more to follow.

The turning point in Reeves’s life was the arrival of Judge Isaac C. Parker, a two-term U.S. congressman from Missouri tasked with overseeing the federal district court in Western Arkansas. Its base was Fort Smith, Ark., a few miles from Reeves’ house. Judge Parker’s jurisdiction covered some 75,000 square miles, including the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). To police it, he ordered his marshal to hire 200 deputy marshals, though, according to a National Park Service historian to whom Burton spoke, there were never more than 40 to 50 deputies working at any given time. Bass Reeves was one of those men, and but for a couple of interruptions, he would serve for 32 years in a career that tracked—and in many ways enabled—the evolution of the Western frontier from territory to statehood.  

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slotking

slotking 5ptsFeatured
46 minutes ago

As a black man, I find many of the articles on the root to be bogus, misleading, and often slanted.

WHY, because it run by slaves to the white liberal.  Still working to keep the black man down.

They try to turn everything into some kind of race issue.  Why, because they do not want blacks to see that the white liberals who tell them what to do, have not done a thing to help blacks and make it better for us.

who owns the root? the wash post! yest the root is run by whites

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Milagros Baez

Milagros Baez from Facebook5ptsFeatured
3 hours ago

Would not surprise me….the Black Cowboys were never acknowledged

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Mike in Georgia

Mike in Georgia 5ptsFeatured
5 hours ago

As a 60 year-old white man who loves history, especially the Old West and Civil War, I found this article both interesting and deceiving. I enjoyed it. First, it was interesting simply because it sounds af if this man was a pioneer in American law enforcement regardless of his race. And, I believe a movie based on his life might be both informative, entertaining and interesting. He seems to have been a man of honor. 

Now, having been a Lone Ranger fan since its early TV days (and only being born in 1953), there appears to be no credible evidence that the show’s creator based it on Mr. Reeves. And, since the show was a fictional account, the Lone Ranger character should always remain a white man with an Indian (using old terminology) sidekick. Neither Tonto nor the Lone Ranger should be “remade” as anything other than what they were created as. That’s in my humble opinion. Imagine Tommy Lee Jones playing Martin Luther King, Jr. in a movie remake. How strange would that be?

Now, the deceiving issue is with your headline and the article’s slant. It is written as if  to “imply” that the “white man” kept the fictional character from being black for racial reasons (can’t give a black man his due credit) when, in fact, there was no apparent knowledge of your subject by the creator. I have already seen, in some of the comments that people have made, that this is how they feel. Shame on you for leading them to the water trough of race-baiting. Was this your actual intent? I hope not. But, be careful with your words. Communication can be deceiving when words are used incorrectly. 

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1NorthlanderLikeReply

Tracy Reeves-Fletcher

Tracy Reeves-Fletcher from Facebook5ptsFeatured
6 hours ago

We may be related….so cool.

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Alida Dinkins

Alida Dinkins from Facebook5ptsFeatured
6 hours ago

What else is new.

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Roberteen Bruce

Roberteen Bruce from Facebook5ptsFeatured
6 hours ago

I think I have heard that before.

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Arveta Jackson Blake

Arveta Jackson Blake from Facebook5ptsFeatured
6 hours ago

Update the textbooks, people!!!

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Mark Deskins

Mark Deskins from Facebook5ptsFeatured
6 hours ago

yep….

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keithbusting

keithbusting 5ptsFeatured
6 hours ago

Then I guess it stands to reason that the Phantom in the comic strip was also black, even though he was always drawn as a white man. No wonder, they called him ” O Ghost Who Walks.” Meanwhile back at the ranch, ” hi oh silver.”

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Gloria Lee

Gloria Lee from Facebook5ptsFeatured
6 hours ago

Our history was stolen..

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Frank Barber

Frank Barber from Facebook5ptsFeatured
6 hours ago

Yall late…. Reeeeeeal late

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Dirk A. Mason

Dirk A. Mason from Facebook5ptsFeatured
7 hours ago

Wow! Never knew those “civilized” Native American tribes owned slaves!

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Mel Lovejoy

Mel Lovejoy from Facebook5ptsFeatured
7 hours ago

…I don’t think the bigots will get to Heaven…

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Jody Sykes

Jody Sykes from Facebook5ptsFeatured
7 hours ago

They’re always revising history,to suit their image.

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tyronewashington

tyronewashington 5ptsFeatured
8 hours ago

santa claus was also black……………but  racist people  try to  say he was white……….

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tyronewashington

tyronewashington 5ptsFeatured
8 hours ago

us black people just don’t get credit for a lot of stuff that was credited to white people……..if it wasn’t for black people we would all be living in caves still   and   riding on tyranasoureses for out transportation…………..I am starting to think that not only do we have that fast twitch muscle in our legs, but also our brains are much more evolved……we invented a lot of things and the biggest 1 is peanutbutter   by George carver……………who would a thought of mashing up a peanut  to get peanut butter?

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Patsy Wells

Patsy Wells from Facebook5ptsFeatured
9 hours ago

I know I saw this article last week. He really wasn’t bad looking and had a nice body. And he had an Indian as his partner.

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Angela Nelson

Angela Nelson from Facebook5ptsFeatured
9 hours ago

would explain why he’s the Lone ranger, I guess. INTERESTINGLY RANDOM THOUGHT FOR TODAY

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Gerald McKellar

Gerald McKellar from Facebook5ptsFeatured
9 hours ago

I’m not surprised …They’re really going to freak out when they get to Heaven and see JESUS !!!

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Helena Waters

Helena Waters from Facebook5ptsFeatured
10 hours ago

I urge you to read Art Burton’s’Black,Red & Deadly’-Black & Indian Gunfighter d of the Indian Territories. 1870-1907.

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Irene Byrd

Irene Byrd from Facebook5ptsFeatured
10 hours ago

isn’t history wonderful

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Yogi Thebro

Yogi Thebro from Facebook5ptsFeatured
10 hours ago

I never knew that. I love nonpolitical stories like this. Please keep ’em coming.

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Grits

Grits 5ptsFeatured
10 hours ago

Lone Ranger was black Tonto was half black, a black man show Columbus the way to America. Black man also invented the wheel and fire. Jesus was black, had a great big Afro. Black man went to the moon and back 4000 years ago that’s why those chicken bones were up there.

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1PTDLikeReply

Shane Strange

Shane Strange 5ptsFeatured
7 hours ago

Corny!!

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Linda Stacee Prescott

Linda Stacee Prescott from Facebook5ptsFeatured
10 hours ago

ASE’ to my oldest child Love you soo much….

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Mignon Tink Psumthin

Mignon Tink Psumthin from Facebook5ptsFeatured
10 hours ago

Linda Prescott

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Art Blair

Art Blair from Facebook5ptsFeatured
10 hours ago

Yeah, you know it!

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Jan Stringer

Jan Stringer from Facebook5ptsFeatured
10 hours ago

LOL..

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Ricky Enoch

Ricky Enoch from Facebook5ptsFeatured
10 hours ago

Ok…

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Paul Pearce

Paul Pearce 5ptsFeatured
11 hours ago

Seems like a nice piece of history that didn’t need to be tied to “The Lone Ranger” to be told.  Un-necessary over reach.

How about pointing out something that is easily demonstrated as factually accurate – that in those old Westerns – half the time the “Cavalry rides in to save the day” – to be historically accurate – they were Black?

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3NorthlanderCJMacPTDLikeReply

Jesse James

Jesse James 5ptsFeatured
11 hours ago

I would love to see the life story of this “other” Ranger…sounds pretty cool.

And By the way…Does it matter if Jesus was Black or any other color…who cares?

Enjoy the ride folks….the journey can be fun…relax!

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1Mike in GeorgiaLikeReply

Doctor Inevitable

Doctor Inevitable 5ptsFeatured
12 hours ago

I love this article (be it fact or fiction). I’m trying to picture Wesley Snipes with a Winchester and twin revolvers.

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1trexLikeReply

Dmactds1

Dmactds1 5ptsFeatured
12 hours ago

I’ve heard of this fellow before and it’s always a shocker for me to learn that others had no idea that the “black experience” in the US was so diverse in the early days. Oh well…

I also have two complaints to register with the management of this publication; the first being that with the introduction of the bar at the bottom of the screen on every page showing other articles, we older readers are left with a smaller space to see whatever we’re actually reading, that’s because, many, like me, have to increase the size of the type by “zooming in” on the subject page.  I mean, there’s a ‘Table of Content’ and links to other articles on the right hand column…, why is there a need for yet more limiting information at the bottom of the window?   I don’t know any other way to put it, I hope I’ve made my concern clear.

The other complaint are the obtrusive ads whose audio begins blasting while one is trying to read.  The reader then has to reduce, or “zoom out” to find the offending culprit ad.

Once I’m able to get everything to kinda settle down, I invariably find some worthwhile reading in ‘The Root’, but it’s getting past all those initial irritants that’s sometimes ‘off-putting’.

Regards,

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1patsi2LikeReply

David Petrie

David Petrie 5ptsFeatured
13 hours ago

Yeah, and he was also gay, a vegan and supported feminism.  Jesus was black, too, along with Winston Churchill!

Geez…

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1lorent5709LikeReply

hal bleavy

hal bleavy 5ptsFeatured
12 hours ago

@David Petrie

So do you think that Jesus was white?

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Grits

Grits 5ptsFeatured
10 hours ago

No, he was half and half like Obama.

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monty

monty 5ptsFeatured
6 hours ago

Whatever made you think that Churchill was white? I really don’t know what they teach in schools these days. Smdh!

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Matthew Lee Franks

Matthew Lee Franks 5ptsFeatured
13 hours ago

You study History a bit Norm (hitlerlitter) you will see you are full of it. Fact is, just like he wrote it. Maybe you should do some studying of history. He only listed similarities and also showed why it probably wasn’t that way. He was only stating that there are overwhelming similarities, as well as Reeves Service to the Government WAS, AND THIS IS FACT, a real thing. Try School and reading before running off at the mouth.

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Mike in Georgia

Mike in Georgia 5ptsFeatured
5 hours ago

@Matthew Lee Franks But the problem Matthew was he WAS trying to imply that it was probable by his headline and slant. That is the prohibitive factor in journalism…teasing by implying fact which under further review is wishful thinking only. Bad journalism…now if the headline had read, “Bass Reaves, a Lone Ranger himself!”, then the article would have been factual and informative instead of provocative (trying to imply racism). 

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PTD

PTD 5ptsFeatured
13 hours ago

This is another ignorant post by Prof. Henry Louis Gates. The Lone Ranger was almost certainly modeled on Captain John Hughes and the character was created by a writer in New York, not Detroit.

For a less ignorant examination of the Lone Ranger and Tonto, see “Tonto Hate Depp Tonto” at www.pookiethedestroyer.com or  http://pookiethedestroyer.com/?p=3135

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hal bleavy

hal bleavy 5ptsFeatured
12 hours ago

@PTD

You just proved that you did not read the story LOL!

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PTD

PTD 5ptsFeatured
12 hours ago

@hal bleavy @PTD I read it and its full of the sloppy errors and lousy scholarship typical of Prof. Gates.

Prof Gates doesnt mention Cpt. Hughes, the real life inspiration for the character, and fails to ID writer Franz Striker (who resided in Buffalo NY -not Detroit) as the primary creator of the character.

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Blackcap Conure

Blackcap Conure 5ptsFeatured
14 hours ago

Mel Brooks needs to do the next Lone Ranger movie.

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Grace Acosta

Grace Acosta 5ptsFeatured
12 hours ago

@Blackcap Conure He already did.  “Blazing Saddles”.  

THE NEW SHERIFF IS A N*****!  

Is it twoo what they say about bwack men?  IT’S TWOOO, IT’S TWOOO!

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Norm Hinderliter

Norm Hinderliter 5ptsFeatured
14 hours ago

It is a FACT, not racial discrimination, to say that Negroes, of the ninteenth century, would not have been allowed such careers.

Just as women did not actively, enter the work-force, until World War 2, Negero males were not emploed, either.  Not beyond picking crops, in fields.

No black man, including the Lone Ranger, would have been a black man.

Only white MALES were allowed any careers, until World War Two.

To suppose that the Lone Ranger was a black man, in the old west, is no different than saying that the U.S.S. Enterprise, is, currently, in space-dock.

Negroes were not allowed into ANY occupation, prior to the mid-twentieth century.

Fact, not racial hatred.

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hal bleavy

hal bleavy 5ptsFeatured
12 hours ago

@Norm Hinderliter

You are an ignoramus, please tell me that you are not the head of a household.

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1Paul PearceLikeReply

Cool Thug

Cool Thug 5ptsFeatured
12 hours ago

@Norm Hinderliter

A black man wouldn’t have been allowed such a career, Norm? Yet there it is in writing! Judge Isaac Parker was appointed judge for the Western District of Arkansas by President Ulysses S. Grant in March of 1875. Judge Parker then appointed James F. Fagan as U.S. Marshall. Marshall Fagan was then directed by Judge Parker to hire some deputy Marshalls. One of those deputies was Bass Reeves.

Source:

Burton, Art T. (May-June 1999) “The Legacy of Bass Reeves: Deputy United States Marshall.” The Crisis (Baltimore, Maryland: The Crisis Publishing Company).

Sometimes history is a mother, isn’t it, Norm?!

In fact, Norm, because the earliest human remains are found in Africa, it’s safe to say that Adam and Eve were black too. Yeah, Norm, sometimes biological anthropology is a mother as well.

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Dmactds1

Dmactds1 5ptsFeatured
12 hours ago

Norm…, you REALLY don’t know what you’re talking about.

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1Paul PearceLikeReply

Paul Pearce

Paul Pearce 5ptsFeatured
12 hours ago

@Norm Hinderliter

Norm –

I’m wondering why someone would write something so obviously incorrect.  Bothering to register on a site just to troll – seems incredibly weak minded – even more weak minded than the ignorance of the comment.

Were you attempting satire?  Because it comes off as a public display of ignorance.

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1NorthlanderLikeReply

CJMac

CJMac 5ptsFeatured
8 hours ago

@Norm Hinderliter I’m sure you are the bearer of all knowledge. 

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