Richard Stride Commentary: A Look Back at a Legend: Who Was the Real Lone Ranger?


Do you like the show “Yellowstone” or its spinoffs, “1883” and “1923?” 

If you have not seen them, you should give them a try. Western TV shows and movies have always been popular. I loved them growing up. My set of six-shooter cap guns and holster were some of my favorite toys.  

I recently went searching for one quintessential American lionheart, the Lone Ranger. What I found was interesting. I found out no one really knows who the Lone Ranger really was or if he even ever existed.  

So, I dug a little deeper and started reading what I could find. My research told me the legend of the Lone Ranger came about during the Great Depression. Families during this time were struggling. They had one escape — radio. The medium provided hours of getaway from life’s struggles. In January 1933, introduced by Rossini’s curtain-raiser music “William Tell,” came the Lone Ranger. America needed a hero, and the Lone Ranger was that paladin.  The Lone Ranger became an American icon with radio, television, movies, books and even comics. 

I had to go deeper. I just couldn’t accept that the iconic Lone Ranger wasn’t based on a real person. But who is the Lone Ranger? I found my answer.  

One person comes close to the legend. His name was Bass Reeves. According to author Art T. Burton, who writes in “Black Gun, Silver Star,” “Bass Reeves is the closest real person to resemble the fictional Lone Ranger on the American Western Frontier of the 19th century.” 

Check out the book if you are interested (I had to read it, so I did). Historians and agree with Burton.  

Bass Reeves was a Black American born into slavery in Arkansas in 1828. Bass was a slave of William Reeves. Bass couldn’t read or write but his mother read and taught him the Bible. It was said that he could recite chapter and verse. He had the amazing ability to put things to memory after just one hearing. After the older Reeves gave Bass to his son, his son discovered Bass was a natural shooter and an incredible marksman. His ability with the six-shooter was “simply astounding” as one historian put it. 

Bass would later claim he fought in the American Civil War, “under Colonel George Reeves, earning his freedom because of his unusual bravery in the battles of Chickamauga, and Missionary Ridge,” writes author and historian Bill O’Reilly. Some other historians believe he served as a soldier with the Union Indian Home Guard Regiments during the war.   

Bass came to live in Oklahoma territory and learned to speak several Native American languages. He gained fame as a proficient trader, horseman and ambidextrous crack shot with six-shooters and rifles. He quickly became a person the U.S. Marshals could depend on for tracking and interpreter services. Judge Isaac Parker appointed Bass a U.S. deputy marshal in 1879. He quickly gained a reputation for always “getting his man,” characteristics later associated with the Lone Ranger.  

The U.S. Marshal Service was tasked with rounding up fugitives, such as murderers, rapists, cattle robbers, etc. The U.S. Marshals Service was the law enforcement branch of the federal judiciary. Deputies were paid for the work they did. The more fugitives they delivered, the better the pay. Reeves also rode with a “posse man,” often a trusted Native American and a cook (like the Lone Ranger and Tonto). It was said that he would leave a silver dollar for those who helped him capture the fugitives. The Lone Ranger left a silver bullet. Reeves was also a man of integrity and once arrested his own son for killing his wife, and his minister for selling whiskey.  

Bass was a deputy U.S. Marshal for 33 years. He arrested more than 3,000 people and killed only 20, in the line of duty of course. Bass was said to bring 16 to 19 men at a time. Most deputies only brought in five or six at a time. 

I believe Bass Reeves was the inspiration for the Lone Ranger. Unfortunately prejudice appears to have prevented the Lone Ranger television series from presenting Bass as he was. Still not convinced Bass Reeves was the original Lone Ranger?  A new western called, “1883: The Bass Reeves Story,” is said to premiere in late 2023 or possibly 2024. The Lone Ranger rides again. Hi-yo Silver away!             


Richard Stride is the current CEO of Cascade Community Healthcare. He can be reached at