By Art Burton
When The Lone Ranger debuted on the radio in Detroit in 1933, racism was at a zenith in the United States. That the story could have possibly originated with an African American could never be published or talked about publicly. I wrote about the similarities in my biography on Bass Reeves, Black Gun, Silver Star. I stated in the book that we would not be able to prove conclusively that Reeves was the inspiration for the Lone Ranger. We can say unequivocally that Bass Reeves is the closest person to resemble the fictional Lone Ranger on the American Western frontier. Here are the similarities:
• Bass Reeves was a Texan like the Lone Ranger.
• Research shows that the name of the fictional character was Reid, no first name given in the radio or television show. Reid is similar to Reeves.
• Bass Reeves handed out silver dollars; the Lone Ranger gave out silver bullets.
• Bass Reeves rode a gray horse that had the appearance of being white; additionally, he rode sorrel horses during his long tenure as a lawman.
• The deputy U.S. marshals in the Indian Territory were mandated by federal law to take at least one posseman with them when they went into the field to arrest felons. Many of Bass’s possemen were American Indians. At one time, he worked with Grant Johnson, an African/Indian who had strong Indian features. Their work together was said to be legendary.
• Many of the white settlers in the Indian Territory did not know or remember Reeves’ name. They just referred to him as the ‘Black Marshal.’ Like “Who was that masked man?”
• Bass Reeves worked in disguise regularly, just as the fictional Lone Ranger did.
• The Lone Ranger’s sidekick, Tonto, was stated to be a Potawatomi Indian. That tribe was found in the Indian Territory, now the state of Oklahoma.
• George W. Trendle, owner of the Detroit radio station that began the Lone Ranger series, was a lawyer who took credit for coming up with the idea of the fictional character. Many of the felons Bass Reeves arrested were convicted in the Fort Smith, Arkansas, federal court and were transported and housed at the Detroit House of Corrections in Michigan.
• When the Lone Ranger was first shown in comics and movie serials, he had a black mask that covered his whole face. Later for television, the black mask was reduced to just cover a smaller portion of his face.