Thursday, April 2, 2015

Myth Debunked: Bass Reeves was NOT The Lone Ranger

The historical figure Bass Reeves.
For almost a decade there has circulated a myth that falsely suggested an African-American U.S. Deputy Marshal named Bass Reeves was the inspiration for the fictional character of The Lone Ranger. Triggered by recent folklore and influenced by racial bias, the myth circulated across the internet like wildfire. With a lack of concern for factual documents, many on the internet mistook myth for fact. While the real life of Bass Reeves deserves to be better-known, it is unfortunate that this fanciful “inspiration for the Lone Ranger character” theory is what has brought him additional attention.

For almost a decade there has circulated a myth that falsely suggested an African-American U.S. Deputy Marshal named Bass Reeves was the inspiration for the fictional character of The Lone Ranger. Triggered by recent folklore and influenced by racial bias, the myth circulated across the internet like wildfire. With a lack of concern for factual documents, many on the internet mistook myth for fact. While the real life of Bass Reeves deserves to be better-known, it is unfortunate that this fanciful “inspiration for the Lone Ranger character” theory is what has brought him additional attention.

Besides documenting the true accomplishments of Reeves, a book published a decade ago caused unnecessary confusion by falsely suggesting he was the inspiration for the fictional character of The Lone RangerFollowing examination in archives across the country, it was discovered that three individuals, living in two different states, were responsible for the formation of The Lone Ranger. On top of this, proof was found that The Lone Ranger was intentionally patterned off of Robin Hood and Tom Mix, debunking the myth that one person deliberately created a children's program based on a historical figure that was never printed in reference books until two decades later. 

Type Bass Reeves on a standard google search and you will find websites claiming he was the inspiration for the Masked Man, but no archival or historical documents proving this statement. Thankfully, a recent 22-page thesis was published, now available as a free eBook (in PDF format), debunking the myth in detail. Also included are reprints of archival documents to back up the facts.

A link to that free PDF can be found below.

Bloggers today would provide a good turn to Bass Reeves by documenting his accomplishments, rather than repeating a myth that diverts attention from his achievements. You can also do Bass Reeves (and The Lone Ranger) a good turn by sharing this pdf on your blog, newsletter, Facebook page and other venues to get the word around. The author and publishing company is giving this away for free. And the next time someone on Facebook or social media reprints the myth, you can provide them this link.






24 comments:

Eddie said...

A few months ago, our local paper printed an article that mentioned "The Lone Ranger." It talked about the show's offensive depiction of the white man as savior of the west rather than the destroyer of it, and how its depiction of Native Americans and Native American culture was an embarrassment on the scale of Amos and Andy.

Things like that, on top of young people not knowing or caring about figures like The Lone Ranger, make me wonder if these properties have any future at all.

Mark Ellis said...

Thanks for a very informative and entertaining article, Martin!

Thomas said...

Interesting article. I hadn't heard any of the Bass Reeves business. I have to admit that I don't much listen to (or watch) THE LONE RANGER. It's a little too kiddie-oriented for my tastes. I prefer my westerns a little more grown-up.

Eddie, around the time that awful movie came out last year, I remember reading a piece or two that criticized the depictions of Native Americans on "The Lone Ranger," which I suppose shouldn't be surprising, given how things are these days.

Anonymous said...

Years ago PBS aired a documentary called "Reel Injun" about depictions of Native Americans in film history. From what I remember the early sound era (late 1920s or early 1930s) focused more on Indians attacking stage coaches versus the silent era's "noble savage" (films like Ramona, and The Fighting American). My point is.. "The Lone Ranger" radio program must have stood out in its earlier years by having a white hero live, ride, fight, and communicate with an American Indian three times a week for a juvenile audience who would remember both characters as icons and heroes.

Mike said...

The problem is, Anonymous, people these days don't like look at these situations with that kind of wise perspective. Everything gets filtered through the hyper-sensitive brand of political correctness that runs rampant these days, where everything in the past is expected to conform to currently acceptable ideas.

J'aime Rubio, Author said...

I am so glad you wrote this! I had been planning to do an investigation on this story myself but I was satisfied with your findings. I believed that Trendle had created the character solely as I found in old books and radio broadcasts I have. I now believe that Striker and Trendle created it together, whether or not the idea came from one particular person we may never know for sure. I do agree that Bass Reeves is NOT the Lone Ranger nor was he even known to this writers at the time of the creation of the story. Thank you for your research!! ---

Anonymous said...

Hi All... I have read the letters above ...as I expect you have as well and .. it clearly shows that Striker was somewhat of an opportunist .. and looked to attach himself as the originator Trendle... he clearly was not ... in fact upon the Conception of the Lone Ranger …Striker was no where around or involved ... his involvement came a few years later… as a employee/writer ... when Striker Died the newspapers Mis-Printed that Striker created the show... Trendle spent muchly effort reprimanding the media for such an error... and retractions were of course made ... there is so much to the Trendle-Campbell-Meurer Inc. story ... and hard feels of contempt are felt even today ... as if it just happened ... I am Raymond J Meurer's Great Niece and I have quite a bit of juicey info that I can't share ... interesting though… is how they used the Stories to feed the NWO machine ... as a race stimulator … and trash the wholesome nature of an American Adventure Story ... such a shame what they did to the film ... not surprising though ...

Anonymous said...

Thank you for clarifying. I stumbled onto the Bass Reeves mystery more than once. Every few months someone newly arrives at this conclusion and runs with it. Word spreads through Facebook; fans start believing the rumor again. Nice to know someone reprinted archival documents and did the leg work to clear up the matter. Maybe next time someone wants to run with the Bass Reeves story they will think twice and refrain from spreading such rumors.

Anonymous said...

After looking for other sources supposedly "Debunking" this particular myth I have yet to find any other than yours. Yet their seems to be various articles suggesting, that Bass Reeves, may have indeed been the inspiration for the Lone Ranger.

Sandra Robinson said...

Dear Anonymous (July 15 posting), what Mr. Grams did proves that fifteen websites can be wrong. I am familiar with those other sites and they report speculation. Mr. Grams posted facts and as you mentioned, his is the only one that bothered to scan proof rather than reprint what other websites have. In short, what most people do is assume what they read on the internet is all true, and the more websites that list something in error, the more factual it must be. A common misconception. Thank you, Mr. Grams. Most of us know Bass Reeves was not the inspiration and that they myth started from that unscrupulous author of a Bass Reeves book who used the Disney Lone Ranger movie to promote his book. Keep posting archival finds. Enjoy your blog.

Art T. Burton said...

In regards to Bass Reeves being the inspiration for the Lone Ranger fictional character, I never said that it was definitive, but coincidental similarities. Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves’ legacy is much bigger than the fictional Lone Ranger. I did say in my biography on Reeves, "I doubt we would be able to prove conclusively that Reeves is the inspiration for The Lone Ranger," …. "We can, however, say unequivocally that Bass Reeves is the closest real person to resemble the fictional Lone Ranger..." Reeves worked for 32 years as a deputy U.S. marshal (1875-1907) in the Indian Territory (pre-state Oklahoma) and became a legend in his lifetime.
The radio station was owned by a lawyer, George W. Trendle. He and Fran Striker, the scriptwriter put their efforts together and started the radio show in Detroit in December of 1932. Being a lawyer it is quite possible that Trendle talked to criminal justice attorneys in Detroit, especially as it related to the Detroit House of Corrections. During Bass Reeves tenure with the federal court at Fort Smith, Arkansas, the majority of felons he arrested were sent to Detroit.
The uncanny similarities between Bass Reeves and the Lone Ranger are 1. Reeves worked in disguise throughout his career as a lawman, as did the Lone Ranger. 2. Reeves rode a (gray) white colored horse at one time during his career. 3. Reeves gave out silver dollars; Lone Ranger gave out silver bullets. 4. On many occasions Reeves had an Indian sidekick when he was on patrol in the Indian Territory. Deputy U.S. marshals were mandated by federal law to take at least one posseman with them when they were in the field. A posseman was hired to assist with arrest. They also took a cook and guard along also. The Texas Rangers didn’t work with Indians in the post-Civil War Texas. Tonto was notated in the show as a Pottawatomie, one of the tribes located in the Indian Territory. 5. Many people in the Indian Territory didn’t know Reeves’ name and called him “The Black Marshal.” Who was that masked man? 6. The Lone Ranger’s last name was Reid, similar to Reeves. 7. In the American Cowboy Magazine’s Texas Ranger Collector’s Edition, 2014, it mentioned that the fictional Lone Ranger took his nephew Dan Reid with him sometimes when he was chasing felons. Sometimes, Bass Reeves took his nephew John Brady on his trips into the Indian Territory to arrest criminals.
I stand by my research and never had devious thoughts of stating the truth that I found. May the mythical Lone Ranger live forever. Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves doesn’t need the Lone Ranger now or before. His record will stand on its own merit.
Art T. Burton, July 21, 2015, author of Black Gun, Silver Star, The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves.

Anonymous said...

Real or not, I am thankful "modern" history is beginning to recognize the importance of inclusion of all humanity and not just a select few.

Anonymous said...

The thing on this page that debunks this myth the most is the ridiculously silly comment by the actual author of the book who all the media is quoting now as historical fact. It's pretty funny the author actually posted here.

Mr. Burton's connection here between Bass Reeves and the Lone Ranger is a total reach. He rode a gray horse once. Wore a disguise sometimes. They called him the Black Marshal. Damn, it's uncanny. Must be the Lone Ranger. Are you kidding me?! This could be any number of other lawmen. Also, how about the major differences?

Also, the completely hilariously stupid speculation where Mr. Burton mentions since Trendle was a lawyer he talked to other lawyers and heard the story. Trendle wasn't even a criminal law lawyer. He did contracts and leases. Major difference with no crossover. But I guess if you can't tell the difference between a Texas Ranger and a U.S. Marshal how can I expect you to know the difference between lawyers.

Mr. Burton's comment here reminds me of the bogus Lincoln-Kennedy Coincidences urban legend. I guess his Bass Reeves-Lone Ranger is the new one.

Joe Harding said...

I was going to purchase a copy of Black's book about Reeves until I learned that he ridiculously uses a flimsy connection that the subject of his book was the inspiration for a character four different staff members and one non-WXYZ staff member created over a period of weeks through creative process. Black loves the free publicity and knows folks on the internet will run with any story that sounds like an injustice. Reeves should have been acknowledged for what he accomplished, but Black cares only about book sales. He should be ashamed of himself. Maybe he will spend his royalty checks from the book sale launching a new product line of Bass Reeves action figures in the image of The Lone Ranger.

Tony said...

"I am so glad that I found this site so that I can completely disregard new information that recently shook my worldview to the core. What a relief - first Jesus, now the Lone Ranger? Thank goodness I can return to a reality where overwhelming 'coincidences' can just be 'splained away by the kind of good 'ol common sense that makes sense to ME and how I already see the world."
-the underlying and unspoken premise of damn near every comment on this page

Jesse James Bell said...

History says your wrong, Always trying to take what pride us Black Americans have ! You are the only one in a sea of many that says he was ! I am the real Jesse james and so was my dad from Dodge City !

Anonymous said...

Doc nupe..... BRAVO!

Shanequa Oliver said...

Thank you. I wrote a report in high school earlier this year about Bass Reeves. As an African American I was disgusted that the achievements of Bass Reeves was being overshadowed by a myth that he was the inspiration for the fictional Lone Ranger. I am also disgusted that my fellow Blacks jump on the bandwagon and cry 'racism' without knowing the facts. Art Black admits his theory has no backing but that did not stop others from ignoring his use of such terms as 'assume' 'coincidence' and 'assumption'. Crediting Bass Reeves as the original Lone Ranger is an injustice. Any person of color who rides the wave and claims injustice needs to review the facts and not assumptions/coincidences. Thank you for presenting the facts.

Sanford Wells said...

Most people are going to jump in quick and comment with little if anything to verify their statements. There is virtually no evidence to support Bass Reeves was the original Lone Ranger. Art Black admits this and he is quick to brag he started the myth. As the proud owner of numerous books about The Lone Ranger I am extremely grateful to see that someone did what Black choose not to: rummage through archival documents to verify Reeves was never considered. I came across your blog after reading your piece in Radio Community which is far better a piece than what you posted on your blog. I recommend you cut and paste that article proving with scanned documents the origin of every facet of the development of The Lone Ranger. If the editors of Radio Community restrict the article to their periodical, I would consider asking for an exception. Bass Reeves is getting the credit he deserves as a Federal Marshal and it is a darn shame that Black Lives Matter activists would prefer to tarnish the good name of Bass Reeves by crying foul without reviewing all the facts. Reminds me of when Tawana Brawley accused four white men of raping her and started a race riot in the streets of New York. It later came out she was never raped and staged the whole thing. I wonder how many people involved in that riot felt after they realized they discredited the Black community for something that never really happened?

Unknown said...

It's sad when we're never satisfied with what is represented by fiction and history. Who cares that Bass Reeves is not the inspiration for the Lone Range. Isn't it enough to know that Bass Reeves is part of our history that is real. I am sure things may have been added to his legend throughout the years but fact is he lived and he was a great lawman. I'm sure you won't dispute Daniel Boone was a historical figure even if the song from his television series said he shot a bear when he was only three. LOL

Charles Buttram said...

Unknown, who chose to remain anonymous, made an error. It is Davy Crockett that the song claims he shot a bear when he was only three, not Daniel Boone. And "unknown" believes we should shelve the importance of getting the historical facts correctly?

Thanks you for setting the record straight. Bass Reeves is and always will be credited for his many accomplishments. It is sad that the Lone Ranger myth is circulating faster than his real deeds.

Anonymous said...

You have spurred my interest now I have to read the book on Bass Reeves

Edgar E. Mills said...

Thank you for setting the record straight. For two years I had an essay on my blog proclaiming unjust due to Bass Reeves for being the inspiration of The Lone Ranger. You have settled my curiosity. When I was in college I was taught to "stick to the facts." I bought a copy of Mr. Black's book and you, Mr. Grams, are correct. Black never states The Lone Ranger was created in the image of Reeves. Black carefully worded his "theory" and he has since run rampant with conspiracy theories on top of conspiracy theories. It is irresponsibility on the part of Mr. Black, as a historian, to have considered writing such a notion without any facts. And it appears idiots like myself ran with the story because it was on dozens of other websites. All of those bloggers told me the same thing when I inquired: "I saw it on another blog." This morning I removed my blog entry and will now compose a new one debunking this Lone Ranger myth. Bass Reeves should receive his due as one of the earliest African American U.S. Federal Marshals. It breaks my heart to see people like Mr. Black, and other bloggers, trying to tarnish his good name by claiming he was robbed of credit for a radio program he had no involvement with.

Gene Ream said...

Thank you for clarifying what I always suspected. The Lone Ranger was a work of fiction created by multiple people and evolved over the years and Bass Reeves was never even taken into consideration. But I guess every black person out there who wants to feel they themselves have been scarred with racial prejudice would jump on the Bass Reeves/Lone Ranger legend. Reminds me of when Tawana Brawley accused white men of raping her and blacks started rioting in the streets, setting fire to stores and stealing merchandise. Later it came out she admitted she made up the story. But those who had nothing to do with Brawley and never knew her personally and looted and burned storefronts still think they were victimized to racial injustice.