Sunday, July 28, 2019

Bass Reeves and The Lone Ranger: Debunking the Myth, Part 2

Welcome to another edition of the Western Magazine Digest. In this issue, Martin Grams, co-author of the up-coming ‘The Lone Ranger: The Early Years, 1933-1937, debunks the myth that the radio and television phenomena, The Lone Ranger, which aired from 1933 through 1957, was, in fact, inspired by Bass Reeves. For those who are not familiar with the aforementioned allegation, Reeves, former slave of Arkansas statesman, William Reeves (~1846), became a Deputy U.S. Marshal after being emancipated in 1865 when slavery was abolished by President Abraham Lincoln (Rep).

This is part 2, and you can read part 1 first if need be: click here.

By Martin Grams Jr., Historical Writer

Few people bothered to review George W. Trendle’s production and legal files to verify the true origin of The Lone Ranger, which is why Burton’s claims were rarely debunked academically. The following are major bullet points for proving Bass Reeves was never the inspiration for The Lone Ranger.

The name of Bass Reeves appears in relatively few printed reference guides prior to Burton’s book; the earliest was published in 1971, almost forty years after the premiere of The Lone Ranger on radio.

No books referencing the name Bass Reeves, other than those listed in Appendix A, have been found to predate Art T. Burton’s biography. With but one exception, the common denominator among these reference guides is the exclusion of any reference to The Lone Ranger and/or a connection to Bass Reeves.

That one exception was John W. Ravage and his book Black Pioneers: Images of the Black Experience on the Northern American Frontier, asking the question, “Could Bass Reeves be the prototype for the Lone Ranger character?” The author posed the question with no supporting facts, providing only an offhanded and facetious comment for the amusement of his readers.

Art T. Burton and Bill O'Reilly's Work

Art T. Burton wrote in his book, “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 on the American western frontier of the nineteenth century.”

In addition, when I questioned the validity of Burton’s theory on my blog in April of 2015, the author himself commented: “In regards to Bass Reeves being the inspiration for the Lone Ranger fictional character, I never said that it was definitive, but coincidental similarities.”

In 2015, Bill O’Reilly’s Legends and Lies: The Real West was published by Henry Holt and Company, LLC, featuring 12 profiles of American legends of the western frontier. The sixth chapter, “Bass Reeves,” borrowed liberally from Burton’s book, in an attempt to “dig deep, uncovering facts that illuminate the legends and debunk the lies that have somehow become folklore.” What O’Reilly’s book accomplished, along with the filmed documentary series of the same name, however, was the exact opposite.

Nothing Conclusive, Only Comparisons

Page after page the career of Bass Reeves was documented with repeated comparisons to the fictional adventures of The Lone Ranger, culminating in paragraph form the following summary: “Did he serve as the model for The Lone Ranger? There is no specific evidence that he did, and the men credited with creating the character in 1933 never spoke about it.” Yet, the accomplishments of Bass Reeves was overshadowed in the book with the suggestion that racial injustice was served upon the legendary lawman, adding fuel to a fire of controversy, and once again pushing Reeves’s credible accomplishments to the sidelines.

It should also be noted that anchorman and political commentator Bill O’Reilly merely lent use of his celebrity status to the book that bore his name on the cover. As revealed within the contents of the book, David Fisher, a journalist and New York Times bestseller, was the author. Through Fisher’s own admission he consulted Art T. Burton’s Black Gun, Silver Star biography and three blogs found on the Internet. It should also be noted that no other books documenting the career of Bass Reeves, published in the last decade, reprinted any reference of the Lone Ranger myth.

The Lone Ranger Radio Program

The origin of The Lone Ranger radio program, on the other hand, is well documented with nothing to indicate Bass Reeves was in any way the inspiration for the fictional character. The earliest historical document for the development of The Lone Ranger is dated December 28, 1932, when radio director James Jewell at radio station WXYZ in Detroit, Michigan, wrote a letter asking Striker to write up “three or four wild west thrillers using as the central figure the Lone Ranger including all the hokum of the masked rider, rustlers, killer Pete, heroine on train tracks...”

As a former theatre owner, Trendle knew Westerns were among the most popular movies and certainly the most profitable. Jewell created a western of his own, but it failed to impress the boss and lasted only a short time before he chose to contact Fran Striker. Striker, then a resident of Buffalo, New York, was already scripting on a regular basis a radio program titled Warner Lester, Manhunter, and had proven to Jewell that he was capable of meeting the strictest of deadlines.

Letters Show No Mention of Bass Reeves

Through a series of letters exchanged between Jewell and Striker, rough sketches and various drafts of radio scripts were submitted, changes were suggested and implemented, and finally on January 21, 1933, a letter from Jewell advised Striker that the new series would start the following Monday, January 30. The same letter made a few suggestions before concluding, “I hope the above suggestions won’t cramp your style. I realize they have changed the character you have created... but only in a minor way...”

The same letter from Jewell to Striker added, “Continue to use the silver bullet and silver horseshoe gag – it’s good.” As verified through this letter, it was Striker who created the silver bullets and silver horseshoes. The creation of the faithful Indian sidekick, however, originates with Jewell.

The character of Tonto was brought into the series beginning with episode 11 of The Lone Ranger. He was born out of theatrical necessity. With just the singular hero and his horse, the narrator was required to play too big a role in explaining the plotline of the episode to the listening audience. In radio plays, dialogue served the dual purpose of telling the story and describing the background of the scenes and the actions of others. In theater and television productions, audiences can see what is happening, but on radio’s audio-only format, it had to be described. Jewell asked Striker to create a sidekick.

On February 18, Jewell told Striker, “It might be a good idea, also, to have an Indian half-breed who always stands ready by his command to help him make his changes.” In a response dated February 20, 1933, Striker wrote: “You will notice the birth of Tonto... carrying a certain mysterious background. I have tried to work into this script the suggestions you sent. By the way, the name Tonto may not be as good as some other name so if you rechristen him I’ll try and catch it on the air.” Fran Striker was able to pick up Michigan radio stations on certain evenings at certain hours. Whatever revisions Jewell made to the scripts during rehearsals and airtime, Striker made note to incorporate those changes into the next script.

8 Months Into the Radio Program

It should also be noted that until November 1933, eight months after the premiere of The Lone Ranger, George W. Trendle was never aware the radio scripts were written by Fran Striker. Trendle knew of Striker’s ability to churn out scripts for Warner Lester but he was under the false assumption that Jewell was typing the scripts himself. From December 1932 to February 1933, Jewell participated in story conferences with George W. Trendle, regarding the direction and formation of The Lone Ranger, then relayed that information to Striker for execution. The elements that made up the characteristics of The Lone Ranger were borne from pulp magazine fare.

A letter from Jewell to Striker, dated January 21, verified Trendle’s request for a happy-go-lucky, laugh- at-danger masked vigilante similar to The Mark of Zorro. Jewell provided suggestions that worked with the physical demands of daily radio drama, Striker provided the rough sketches. The Lone Ranger working in disguise originated from this letter as a result of Jewell’s reference to The Mark of Zorro. It should also be noted that the radio program depicted a different type of masked vigilante than the one we are accustomed to today. Throughout 1933 and the early half of 1934, The Lone Ranger fool-heartedly laughed at danger just as Zorro and Robin Hood ridiculed their combatants before and after swordplay.

When Trendle learned of Striker’s involvement a few days before Thanksgiving, he contacted him personally to offer a permanent job at the station in Detroit. By May of 1934, Striker accepted and months later moved his family to Detroit. It remains a flimsy argument for Art T. Burton to claim three people, one living two state borders away, to have conspired against the legendary Bass Reeves, with no reference to any true-life historical figure among all of the archival correspondence, especially since the name Bass Reeves was never featured in any published reference books prior to 1971. Moreover, multiple letters and telegrams established that fiction literature of swash-buckling fare and masked vigilantes were the true inspiration for the character.

Ranger Patterned After Movie Star?

The greatest influence on the formation of The Lone Ranger was Tom Mix, evident in a letter dated January 21, 1933, in which Jewell told Striker, “We are going to publicize the fact that the Ranger is a Tom Mix type.” Tom Mix was a Hollywood movie star who defined the genre of Westerns during the early days of cinema. Mix was an icon young children admired and Jewell was attempting to mirror that same success story.

The connection between Bass Reeves and the fictional Lone Ranger is questionable at best, in part because the author employs Transmedial Migration; i.e. the adaptation of the properties of fictional characters to real-life historical figures. Burton chose to find a connection from fiction to real-life, not the other way around as most historians would insist. For decades in colleges and universities across the country, history professors have instructed their students to avoid this pitfall.

Respected historians also avoid printing theories with no facts to back up their belief, knowing that many readers mistake assumptions for fact, thus creating “false beliefs.” Thus, the first chapter of Burton’s book diverts attention from the admirably outlined chronicle of Reeves’s accomplishments as documented in the remaining chapters. Bloggers today, however, continue to reprint the misconception that Bass Reeves was the inspiration for The Lone Ranger. No one has, as of today, found any historical documents to prove such a connection between the two. Yet, multiple historical documents have disproved the myth.


Martin Grams Jr. is the author and co-author of numerous books about old-time radio and retro television. Winner of numerous awards in the Best Book categories, author of more than 100 magazine articles and co-author of the up-coming THE LONE RANGER: THE EARLY YEARS, 1933-1937.

Editor's Note: If you have a question or comment for Mr. Grams, please use the Comment utility below, or email it to

Our next feature story appears on the 11th of August! Entitled "Old West Railroads That Survived," It deals with the railroads of the old west, and the ones that survived today as scenic railroads and museum pieces. Included is some general U.S. RR history.

We'll also publish smaller pieces on the off weekends. We look forward to having you on WMD!

Also, do you write stories about the Old West? We'd like to chat with you. Send an email to:! We'd like to hear from you!

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Saturday, July 20, 2019

The Story of Bass Reeves, the First Black Lawman

It is with great pleasure that Western Magazine Digest presents a series of articles on Bass Reeves and The Lone Ranger. The first of several, entitled, ‘Bass Reeves and The Lone Ranger: Debunking the Myth, P1,’ by Martin Grams Jr., Historical Writer, provides background on the popular notion that Reeves served as the model by which The Lone Ranger came about. We’ll feature Part 2 on the 28th as well.

Bass Reeves, named after his grandfather, Bass Washington, was born into slavery in July of 1838, the same month that the Iowa Territory was organized from the Wisconsin Territory (which lasted until 1846). His place in history was that of the first black lawman in the United States. Operating mostly in Arkansas and Oklahoma Territory, he killed only 14 people (in self defense) and he arrested more than 3,000 criminals.

The reason why Bass Reeves is worth noting on WMD centers on two things. First, there are those, such as Martin Grams, the writer of two stories in the Reeves series on WMD, that believe the allegation of a forgotten Reeves with reference to The Lone Ranger is misguided and simply wrong; and two, the story of Reeves’ rise from slave to lawman is nothing less than stunning.

In this story, published on July 20, 2019, we’ll provide background information on the man, Bass Reeves, as well as two videos. Once you’ve digested this information, we believe you will have an even deeper understanding of the man and why a handful of authors believe that Reeves was the template from which The Lone Ranger was born.

Printed Resources:
  1. Bass Reeves (Wikipedia):
  2. Was the Real Lone Ranger a Black Man? (HISTORY):
  3. Bass Reeves: The Bullet-Dodging Black Lone Ranger History Almost Forgot (Briana Jones):
Video Documentaries:

This first video documentary, entitled "The Real Lone Ranger Bass Reeves The Writer's Block 10-27-2016," provides the argument for the notion that Bass Reeves inspired the creation of The Lone Ranger.

Frankly, whether Reeves did or did not is of no consequence to me. It's the man, Bass Reeves, that we need to celebrate. And if he did inspire the creation of The Lone Ranger, that's fine with me, too. But the issue here is finding the "Truth" that supports the assumption that Reeves did inspire the making of The Lone Ranger, and even the foremost proponent of this story has had to admit, there is no absolute proof to support it.

Allow me to play devil's advocate here by saying something that no one wants to talk about. From my own research and that of others, even those who believe that Reeves was the inspiration of The Lone Ranger, there is NOTHING in writing that links the Reeves' story with those who created The Lone Ranger. The Martin Grams paper entitled Bass Reeves and The Lone Ranger: Debunking the Myth, offers a great deal of logic and evidence against it.

The main promoter of the Reeves' story had to admit that there is really nothing that links the two together. However, with that said, the Reeves' story is important because of all that this man had to overcome. The color of a man does not determine his greatness, but rather the man. Reeves was a powerful man with a powerful story, whether he inspired The Lone Ranger or not.

Here's another video produced in the United Kingdom that promotes the notion that the Bass Reeves story inspired the men who created The Lone Ranger in 1933.

Be sure to read Bass Reeves and The Lone Ranger: Debunking the Myth, authored by Martin Grams: click here.

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Saturday, July 13, 2019

Bass Reeves and The Lone Ranger: Debunking the Myth, Part 1

Welcome to another edition of the Western Magazine Digest. In this issue, Martin Grams, co-author of the up-coming ‘The Lone Ranger: The Early Years, 1933-1937, debunks the myth that the radio and television phenomena, The Lone Ranger, which aired from 1933 through 1957, was, in fact, inspired by Bass Reeves. For those who are not familiar with the aforementioned allegation, Reeves, former slave of Arkansas statesman, William Reeves (~1846), became a Deputy U.S. Marshal after being emancipated in 1865 when slavery was abolished by President Abraham Lincoln (Rep).

This is part 1. You can read part 2 now: click here!

Bass Reeves and The Lone Ranger: Debunking the Myth, P1

By Martin Grams Jr., Historical Writer

Readers can spot the difference between historical writing and artistic imagination, even if they cannot explain the difference between them. A good historian begins with chronology, crafts the biography, and sprinkles anecdotes throughout. The best historians are known for consulting historical archives and presenting only the facts, but perhaps the toughest undertaking is deciding what to leave out.

One such example is a misconception about the exploits of an African-American U.S. Deputy Marshal named Bass Reeves, triggered by recent folklore influenced by racial bias brought about by false beliefs and a genuine lack of concern for factual verification. 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 Ranger.

Historians are expected to avoid the pitfall of mistaking folklore for facts, in large measure through the avoidance of speculations. However, the author of the Bass Reeves biography ultimately – and unintentionally – misled tens of thousands of readers into believing a falsehood.

Editor's Note: It's always good to acquaint yourself with the other side of any argument. In this video, you will learn about the former black slave turn one of the greatest lawmen of his time. The case is presented in an extremely convincing manner, but in the end, the narrator admits that there is not an airtight case that proves that Reeves was the inspiration that fueled the Lone-Ranger legend.

The Bass Reeves Narrative

A number of recently-published books about Bass Reeves have increased popularity for the historic figure. His career was extensively – and impressively – documented in Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves, published in 2006 by University of Nebraska Press. The author, Art T. Burton, consulted census records and a large number of second-hand accounts, reflections and insights to compile a 346-page tome documenting the life and career of Bass Reeves.

“Much of what we know today about Bass Reeves persisted in oral stories told by individuals and families whose origins are in frontier Oklahoma.” The author devoted much of the first chapter of his book reprinting numerous recollections from people who never met Reeves personally, documenting facets of Reeves’s life as it was passed down to them from someone who claimed to have met the lawman.

The author admits in his book that the majority of people who personally knew Reeves had passed on, so the stories reported in the book could never stand the standard scrutiny of historians who are diligent in separating fact from fancy, or reality from rumor. The entire book, with the exception of the first chapter, was properly researched according to accepted historian practices.

Among Burton’s suggestive claims in that first chapter was that the fictional Lone Ranger, a radio and television property that gained popularity through sponsorship and mass merchandising starting in the 1930s, was based on the historic exploits of Bass Reeves. Through carefully-selected wording Burton assured readers that his statements were merely theories, with no facts on which to base his conclusion.

Creating the Myth

Failing to follow proper guidelines, such as the avoidance of printed speculation, Burton ultimately created a modern-day myth of interminable proportions. Casual readers overlooked the precise and nuanced wording that Burton employed, and were led to a false impression regarding the facts. As a result, it is estimated that over 100 blogs and websites on the Internet today are reprinting the false connection between Bass Reeves and The Lone Ranger, with many going so far as to report the story as factual.

Leading up to the theatrical release of The Lone Ranger in 2013, produced by The Walt Disney Company, Jerry Bruckheimer and Johnny Depp’s Infinitum Nihil production company, Burton’s claim that Bass Reeves might have been the inspiration for The Lone Ranger reached the news media and numerous bloggers. Word spread like wildfire on the Internet regarding what appeared to be an injustice to Bass Reeves.

Blogs and websites with an economic rather than academic agenda failed to verify the facts before they went to print and ran with the story. Blogs and websites providing a platform for feedback gave readers an opportunity to voice their opinions. This, in part, detracted from the good name of Bass Reeves as readers focused not on his exploits and accomplishments, but instead on the fake Lone Ranger connection for which readers were primarily fixated.

5 Coincidences That Connects Reeves with The Lone Ranger

Burton’s book provided five specific “coincidences” in what the author claimed was a direct connection to The Lone Ranger.

#1 The first was Burton’s contention that Reeves worked in disguise in an effort to get close enough to fugitives to apprehend them. To claim this component of Reeves’s career could have inspired the script writers of The Lone Ranger to wear a mask and disguise is a stretch. Masked vigilantes were commonplace among pulp fiction, from Johnston McCulley’s Zorro in The Curse of Capistrano (1919) and Russell Thorndike’s Dr. Christopher Syn, alias the Scarecrow (circa 1915), to The Shadow (beginning in 1931) and the daring adventures of Robin Hood. Surely those fictional characters, among hundreds of others, were not all inspired by the escapades of Bass Reeves on the basis of his disguise?

#2 Burton claims that Reeves, when he ventured into uncharted territory, was accompanied by an Indian guide. “Federal law mandated that deputy U.S. marshals had at least one posseman with them whenever they went out in the field.” Pioneers, hunters and bounty hunters commonly took along an Indian colleague for both protection and as a guide. Overlooking this fact, Burton suggested that the creation of Tonto, the fictional and faithful Indian sidekick for The Lone Ranger, was one of five reasons why Bass Reeves was the inspiration for The Lone Ranger radio program.

#3 In one account, he related that Reeves, while hunting down members of the Dalton gang, paid for his meal – and the meal of the possemen – with a silver dollar. “Before they went out on the hunt the posse ate breakfast and Reeves paid for the meal with a silver dollar .... We all know that the Lone Ranger’s calling card was the silver bullet. Quite possibly Reeves’s was the silver dollar.” How this one-time incident could be a unique trademark borrowed for use on The Lone Ranger, as suggested by Burton, remains unclear. At that time silver dollars were commonly used as a standard form of currency. The United States Mint produced dollar coins made of silver as early as 1794 and substantially increased production during the years 1836 to 1873.

#4 Burton’s strongest supporting statement to connect the two men was that “Reeves may have ridden a white horse during one period of his career” and elaborated on his statement by describing an incident in which “witnesses testified that the cook threatened to shoot Reeves’s gray horse. A gray horse can look anywhere from near black to near white, so it was possible that Reeves rode a horse that appeared to be white.” Over 100 breeds of horses and mustangs were used for military, farming and transportation during the 1800s, all varied in color from black, paint, gray and white. Reeves would have had more than one horse in his lifetime. Through Burton’s own admission the color of Reeves’s horse cannot be verified as white – another tenuous connection to The Lone Ranger.

#5 Because The Lone Ranger was of muscular build, had an Indian guide named Tonto as a sidekick, often wore a black mask to prevent his true identity from becoming known, used silver bullets as a trademark calling card, and rode a white stallion named Silver, Burton attempted to lay out a strong suggestive claim that The Lone Ranger was based on the daring exploits of Bass Reeves.

There's more, but you'll have to tune in Sunday, July 28th, when we’ll feature part 2 of the Martin Grams Jr. story.


Martin Grams Jr. is the author and co-author of numerous books about old-time radio and retro television. Winner of numerous awards in the Best Book categories, author of more than 100 magazine articles and co-author of the up-coming THE LONE RANGER: THE EARLY YEARS, 1933-1937.

Editor's Note: If you have a question or comment for Mr. Grams, please use the Comment utility below, or email it to

Read Part 2 of Bass Reeves and The Lone Ranger: Debunking the Myth: click here!

Be sure to visit The Lone Ranger and Tonto forum on Facebook!

   Please post a comment below!