Sunday, November 22, 2020

The Origin of Silver, Part 1

By Martin Grams 

The story of how The Lone Ranger acquired the white stallion was told more than once on the radio program, each with slight variations. Authors, with constantly evolving and improving artistic skill, often finds means of improvement when looking back on their own work. So it comes as no surprise that Fran Striker tweaked the origin of Silver with each re-telling. How the stallion came to battle a buffalo in Wild Horse Valley was overlooked, however, when J. Bryan III recounted a variation told to him through George W. Trendle, in the October 14, 1939 issue of the Saturday Evening Post.

“Their first objection was that the hero had no mystery and little romance. Why not make him a sort of benevolent outlaw and give him a mask? Fine! Then it was suggested that he needed something distinctive as an identification. How about a super horse, possibly a white Arabian? Trendle, a horseman himself, said, ‘No, Arabians are too small. But the white horse is a good idea – he’ll stand out at night as well as by day.’ A second conference was called a week later. ‘Let’s run over our stuff,’ Trendle said. ‘Well, this guy is decent, athletic, and ‘up on the bit,’ you know; alert and enterprising. Maybe he has been unjustly banished and is waiting to come into his own again. Anyhow, he goes around righting wrongs against tremendous odds and then disappearing, immediately afterwards. I see him as a sort of lone operator. He could even be a former Texas Ranger.’ ‘That’s his name,’ someone interrupted. ‘The Lone Ranger. It’s got everything!’ Now Trendle and his staff stood back and looked at their creature. The raw material was there. All it needed was someone to blow the breath of life into it.”

Verified that Trendle himself was the primary source for Bryan’s Post article, much of the information today, through historic hindsight, has since been verified as a stretch of the truth. The above story as told from the mouth of George W. Trendle will conflict with everything that follows but is included for the sole purpose of verifying the authors’ attempt to explore all sources of information. 

The original incarnation of Silver began in 1929-1930 when the initial incarnation of a masked man rode to the rescue in a Covered Wagon Days radio script, riding a horse named “Whitey,” obviously referring to the horse’s color. Throughout the 20 years of radio legend and lore, rarely was a horse every referred to as white in color except for those of The Lone Ranger and Tonto. At least nine episodes prior to 1938 featured someone riding a horse named “Blackie,” also referring to the color of the steed. On the broadcast of July 31, 1935, Gail’s horse is named Midnight. At least four episodes referred to other horses as “chestnut” in color. On the broadcast of December 29, 1933, Potluck Simms has a horse named “Paint.” Rarely was any horse referred to by color with the exception of someone falsely masquerading as The Lone Ranger and on those particular episodes it was made obvious that all other horses in the region were any color other than white.


As conceived and should be properly credited to Fran Striker (and verified in the January 21, 1933 letter from Jewell to Striker), Silver was shod with silver shoes when the program premiered over WXYZ and was obviously a trick horse when performing a stunt commanded by a whistle. (It should be noted that the name “Silver” never appears in the first draft of the first radio script, only the second.) For the fourth broadcast, February 7, 1933, Silver was trained to grab a man’s handgun from behind when The Lone Ranger whistles. For episode eleven, February 23, Silver knocks a bully off his horse when commanded. For the broadcast of April 15, 1933, The Lone Ranger whistles for Silver to escort another horse, Diablo, to the window where the masked man and a woman chat. For the broadcast of May 30, 1933, Silver was used as a bloodhound to expose a killer who was wearing the victim’s hat and shirt. Silver was also used as a bloodhound to find the hidden camp of outlaws for the broadcast of March 30, 1934. For the broadcast of August 22, 1933, The Lone Ranger calls on Silver to muscle Bronson, for which the horse races into the building and hurts Bronson’s arm until the crook asks The Lone Ranger to call off the horse. On the broadcast of December 1, 1933, Silver kicks with his silver shod hooves to open a jail door on command. *


Silver was referred to as “the wonder horse,” instead of “the great white horse, Silver,” repeatedly from September 7, 1933 to April 16, 1934. For the broadcast of October 17, 1933, Silver carried a double load with both Jim and The Lone Ranger which “means nothing to those tremendous legs, and the ground flies beneath his silver shod hoofs.” For a number of episodes during the Radlin Gang story arc of January and February 1934, Silver was briefly referred to as “the milk white wonder horse.” For the broadcast of June 11, 1934, Silver was described as being “pure white,” and having “tremendous strength,” and “rippling leg muscles.”


On many occasions (including May 16 and May 25, 1934, and August 23, 1945) Silver gave a distant whinny to alert the sleeping Lone Ranger and Tonto of an intruder coming near camp. In the opening scene of September 23, 1935, Silver is not tied to the hitch rack. When someone in the streets asks a disguised Lone Ranger why the horse is not tied, The Lone Ranger remarks, “It isn’t necessary. He will remain there until I come out.” During the broadcast of December 25, 1935, The Lone Ranger is placed under arrest and locked in a bunkhouse. Time and again the strong legs of the great white stallion drove the silver shod hooves against the stout oak door of The Lone Ranger’s prison, breaking the masked man free to race to the rescue. On January 1, 1936, The Lone Ranger asks Silver to chew through the ropes so he can race out and prevent a murder. On the broadcast of February 14, 1936, The Lone Ranger rides into the camp of the U.S. Cavalry to alert the Captain of the drug smugglers in the area only to be placed under arrest, accused of being one of the smugglers. Seeing there was no escape for his master, Silver fled away from the camp and thundered onward alone to fetch Tonto. 

The great horse Silver never had a problem riding into peril with The Lone Ranger in command. On the broadcast of May 14, 1934, The Lone Ranger rode into the sheriff’s office on top of Silver! On May 25, 1934, The Lone Ranger and Silver race into a burning hotel to save anyone who might be trapped inside. For the broadcast of February 26, 1936, Silver proved to be the hero in a blazing forest fire. 

Several weeks after Caleb Ogden and his daughter, Nancy, broke up their home in the town of Gonzales and headed to the north side of the ravine, Caleb finished his new log house. Nancy did her best to make the place comfortable, not for love of her father, but simply to make it easier to bear living there in almost complete isolation. The new residence could be reached only by going around the ravine, a distance of miles and a full days’ travel and part of a night. The Lone Ranger and Tonto ride into town to encourage the residents to build a bridge over the ravine to ensure quick passage to the other side, essential for transportation as man progresses west. 

When a forest fire breaks out, the flames have the Ogdens hemmed in. The roaring flames leapt to the sky on all sides of the small clearing where Caleb’s house stood. There was no escape, only a choice of death by fire, or a plunge to a quicker death over the ravine. The Lone Ranger, Tonto and Buck Alden, Nancy’s boyfriend, race to the scene and use axes to chop down trees so they fall across the ravine. In a daring and swift move, The Lone Ranger urges Silver to charge and jump over the ravine, 25 feet wide, a jump that would not have been believed by anyone who was not there to witness. Like madmen, Buck and Tonto chopped at the tree while the masked man administered first aid to the injured Ogden. Using rope to furnish a hand grip, Buck crosses the ravine on the tree to rescue Nancy, then her injured father, before the masked man raced Silver back to safety, a jump that was talked about in Gonzales for many years to come. Days later, healed and fully recovered, Caleb Ogden agrees to allow his daughter to marry the man who saved their lives.

On the broadcast of May 30, 1933, Tonto displayed the ability to speak horse language, though this was the only episode Tonto proved this skillset.


TONTO: Him kill feller on prairie.

RANGER: How are you so sure of that?

TONTO: Silver, him whisper to Tonto.

RANGER: (LAUGH) You funny old fellow you, Tonto. You never said you understood horse talk.

TONTO: Hoss, him know plenty.  Him see dead man.  You show dead man to Silver.  Silver him look close.  Him good hoss.  Him whisper to Tonto.

RANGER: Alright Tonto.  I’ll take your word for it.  


Despite a horse whose legendary skills rivaled those of trick horses in motion-pictures, fans today are equally fascinated by the two origins conceived by Fran Striker, the first almost unheard of except through legend until documented in this book.

The first staging of Silver’s origin can be found in the radio script broadcast on the evening of February 6, 1935. Oil was found in Oklahoma. Vast fortunes were made in the wells that were being sunk. Ranch owners forgot their cattle, farmers forgot their crops, and everyone turned their attention to the new wealth that was like an ocean of liquid gold below the surface of the land. An easterner named Art Benson arrives in town and wants an oil lease on the land owned by Martin Gregg, nicknamed Stonewall, who breeds the finest horses in the county. Stonewall was rightly nicknamed; a stubborn and headstrong individual who would not sell or lease his property. Benson, hoping to return with assurance that he tried his best to buy or lease, asks Stonewall to sign a statement attesting such but Benson wrote the statement in a tricky manner so the crafty Easterner had only to tear off a line at the top of the paper and what he had left in his hand was a lease signed by Gregg and witnessed by his wife. Tonto, acting as a guide for Benson to Stonewall’s house, reported back to The Lone Ranger who raced out to the departing stagecoach to rob Benson of the contract and the $10,000 cash payment. Returning to Stonewall’s ranch, the masked man explains the ruse and hands over the payment, detailing how Benson was authorized to pay as much as $50,000 – and now Stonewall gets to choose from two options in his favor: accept an additional $40,000 and allow the drilling or agree to hand over the crooked contract that will get Benson into trouble, but keep the cash.


STONEWALL: Yew heard tell o’ this yere Lone Ranger?




STONEWALL: An’ yuh heard tell of the hoss he rides, named Silver?




STONEWALL: Wal, I haint sayin’ for sartain shore… now mind yuh, I can’t prove a durn thing, an’ I wouldn’t try tuh prove a durn thing… but once they was a hoss that was clean white all over, not a smudge o’ color on him.




STONEWALL: A wild un, thet never c’d o’ bin broke. He was hyar fer only a short time afore he lit out an’ warn’t never seen ag’in.


MATILDA: I remember the time, yuh was so mad at losin’ the hoss yuh wouldn’t eat for a week! Jest mopin’.


STONEWALL: Yere, an’ yuh remember I follered his track an’ come tuh thet clearin’ tuh the south… an’ thar I sees a snow white mare, an’ a snow white colt less’n a week old.


MATILDA: Yuh said somethin’ erbout it.


STONEWALL: I fetched the mare an’ colt hyar an’ thet colt was like somethin’ I never seen before. He seemed tuh hev more brains than some men… an’ as soon as he was old enough tuh travel, both him an’ his maw lit out an’ warn’t seen no more, an’ I said at the time thet I bet they never was a colt botn thet was muscled fer his age as thet un or one thet had the brains thet un had. An’ Matildy, I got an idea thet tharcolt is Silver!


MATILDA: The Lone Ranger’s hoss?


STONEWALL: Thet’s right! An’ that’s why I don’t aim tuh hev no oil drillin’ on this yere outfit! Eff’n the Box Gee was the home o’ Silver, then it stays as it is. I’ll shoot the man that changes it!


Later, after The Lone Ranger arrives on the ranch and saves Stonewall from a scam…


 Goodbye, Stonewall! Come on, Silver!


SOUND: Hoofs start and fade


STONEWALL: Matildy… that… that hoss had black on’t!


MATILDA: I see it did.


STONEWALL: The… the young colt… I had… was pure white!


MATILDA: So yuh allus said!


STONEWALL: I… I reckon thet all this time… I must o’ bin mistaken. Cussed fool I was! Blame fool!


ANNOUNCER: But before we leave The Lone Ranger and Tonto… and Silver, let us join the three characters beside a small stream, where Tonto stands knee deep beside the great horse.


SOUND: Water


TONTO: Tonto… glad see black wash off Silver.


RANGER: We have destroyed the only clue of the origin of Silver, Tonto…


TONTO: Mebbe makum Gregg feel bad.


RANGER: Perhaps… for a time, but he must expand, he must grow with the west.


TONTO: Ugh! You all time know best. There… Silver white again now!


RANGER: Then up you come old Kemo sabe… upppp


TONTO: (GRUNT) Me ready.

Editor's Note: Be sure to tune in next week whenwe'll feature part 2 of, "The Origin of Silver!"


Martin Grams Jr. is the author and co-author of more than 40 books including one about THE GREEN HORNET, and is co-author of the up-coming THE LONE RANGER: THE EARLY YEARS, 1933-1937.

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