Friday, February 9, 2018

Myth Debunked: Bass Reeves was NOT the Inspiration for THE LONE RANGER

For almost a decade there has circulated a myth that falsely suggests 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 continues to circulate across the internet like wildfire. With a lack of concern for factual documents, many on the internet continue to mistake myth for fact. While the real life of Bass Reeves deserves to be better-known for his accomplishments, it is unfortunate that his good name is being tarnished by this false Lone Ranger connection.

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, none of whom conspired to take credit away from Bass Reeves. On top of this, proof was found that The Lone Ranger was intentionally patterned off of Tom Mix. Yes, you read that correctly. Tom Mix was the inspiration.

To summarize within a couple paragraphs... Most radio programs of the 1930s were created and produced in-house, in-studio or solely in the hands of an advertising agency representing the sponsor. With script writer Fran Striker in Buffalo, New York, and director James Jewell and producer George W. Trendle stationed in Detroit, Michigan, a number of letters and telegrams were sent back and forth providing us with an almost day-by-day account of the creation and evolution of The Lone Ranger program. This, in a nut shell, is extremely rare for historians of vintage radio broadcasts of the 1930s. Through these historical letters, we can verify the true origin of the radio program. As an example, it was Jewell who came up with the idea of an Indian sidekick but it was Fran Striker who created the name of Tonto. In short, while most reference guides claim one person responsible for the creation of the radio program, it was really the participation and input of three individuals. Thus is comes down to a single letter sent to Fran Striker from director James Jewell asking the script-writer-for-hire to pattern the series after Tom Mix, the screen idol who starred in numerous cowboy westerns.

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.

Yet, one individual who wrote a biography about Bass Reeves continues to ride on the coat tails of anything related to The Lone Ranger, including the 2011 Disney motion-picture, to publicize his Bass Reeves book. Not only has the author of that book stated publicly more than once that he never found anything conclusive to back his claim that The Lone Ranger was the inspiration for Bass Reeves, but we have a smoking gun -- a letter from Jewell to Striker -- specifically asking the script writer to pattern the fictional cowboy after Tom Mix. 

There was a direct model being used for
The Lone Ranger and it was Tom Mix.

As the Internet is the wild west of myths and misconceptions, there is not much we can do but continue to share the facts every time we see someone running with this silly (and false) Bass Reeves connection.
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. The good name of Bass Reeves should not be tarnished with a fictional Lone Ranger connection -- he should be acknowledged for what he did and not something he truly had no involvement with. 

So the next time someone on Facebook or social media reprints the myth, you can provide them this link.