History Features

Was Bass Reeves the Real Lone Ranger?

Bass Reeves biographer makes his case that the Lone Ranger character is based on the frontier deputy marshal.


With a budget of $250 million, this summer’s Disney movie, The Lone Ranger, will be the largest of any Western ever made in cinema history. Yet just who exactly was the Lone Ranger?

We know George W. Trendle and Fran Striker created the character for radio in 1933. A lawyer who owned WXYZ in Detroit, Michigan, Trendle wanted to develop a radio series with a cowboy as the hero. He came up with a masked, lone Texas Ranger and then turned the idea over to Striker for further development. Trendle originally gave Striker credit for developing the character. The next year, though, he forced Striker to sign over his rights to the Lone Ranger and Trendle claimed credit as the creator.

The late 19th century saw the storied exploits of a real-life legendary deputy U.S. marshal named Bass Reeves. Several details made him unique. First, he was a former slave in Texas who never learned to read or write. Second, he overcame his handicap of being illiterate by memorizing the...

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