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The real “Lone Ranger,” it turns out, was an African American man named Bass Reeves, who the legend was based upon.

Perhaps not surprisingly, many aspects of his life were written out of the story, including his ethnicity.

The basics remained the same: a lawman hunting bad guys, accompanied by a Native American, riding on a white horse, and with a silver trademark.

Historians of the American West have also, until recently, ignored the fact that this man was African American, a free black man who headed west to find himself less subject to the racist structure of the established Eastern and Southern states.

While historians have largely overlooked Reeves, there have been a few notable works on him.

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Arthur Burton released an overview of Reeves.

‘Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves’

Burton explains how the story of Reeves was appropriated and transformed into the Lone Ranger.

Reeves was a Ranger/Marshal that traveled along.

Reeves had a Native American companion.  In the Indian territory of the Oklahoma territory he was required to have a Native American companion with him.   Reeves’ companion was a Native American posse man and tracker who he often rode with, when he was out capturing bad guys.

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Bass Reeves compared to the Long Ranger 

  • Reeves was described as a “master of disguises” so was the Long Ranger.  He used these disguises to track down wanted criminals, even adopting similar ways of dressing and mannerisms to meet and fit in with the fugitives, in order to identify them.


  • Reeves kept and gave out silver coins as a personal trademark of sorts, just like the Lone Ranger’s silver bullets.  For Reeves, it had a very different meaning; he would give out the valuable coins to ingratiate himself to the people wherever he found himself working, collecting bounties.
  • In this way, a visit from the real “Lone Ranger” meant only good fortune for the town: a criminal off the street and perhaps a lucky silver coin.

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  • Reeves like the Lone Ranger, was also expert crack shot with a gun.  According to legend, shooting competitions had an informal ban on allowing him to enter because he was too good or because he was black is unknown.  In addition to being a marksman with a rifle and pistol, Reeves, during his long career, developed superior detective skills


  • Reeves like the Lone Ranger, raised and rode a white horse almost throughout almost his entire career, at one point riding a light grey one as well.
  • Like the famed Lone Ranger legend Reeves had his own close friend like Tonto.  .  In all, there were close to 3000 of such criminals they apprehended, making them a legendary duo in many regions.

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  • The final proof that this legend of Bass Reeves directly inspired into the story of the Lone Ranger can be found in the fact that a large number of those criminals were sent to federal prison in Detroit.
  • The Lone Ranger radio show originated and was broadcast to the public in 1933 on WXYZ in Detroit where the legend of Reeves was famous.
  • Of course, WXYZ and the later TV and movie adaptions weren’t about to make the Lone Ranger an African American.

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Eastern District of Oklahoma – The U.S. Marshals Office of the Eastern District of Oklahoma has continually worked to ensure the legacy of Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves. On November 30, 2010, the state of Oklahoma proclaimed that day to be “Oklahoma Law Enforcement Hall of Fame Day” and additionally that Bass Reeves be inducted. On December 5, 2010, Deputy U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves was officially inducted into the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Hall of Fame. U.S. Marshal John Loyd attended the ceremony and accepted a medal commemorating Bass Reeves’ induction on that historic day.


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In November, 2011, the state legislature of Oklahoma passed an act officially declaring the bridge that crosses the Arkansas River between Muskogee and Ft. Gibson, Oklahoma as the “Bass Reeves Memorial Bridge”. On November 09, 2011, federal, state and local officials along with Bass Reeves descendants attended a dedication ceremony to officially name the bridge in Reeves honor. Oklahoma State Senator Kim David presented U.S. Marshal John Loyd a ceremonial replica of the bridge sign to be displayed in the offices of the Eastern District of Oklahoma.



Bass Reeves became the first African American, Deputy U.S. Marshal appointed west of the Mississippi river and one of the greatest peace officers in the history of the Old West.

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So who was he and where did he come from

Bass Reeves was born to slave parents in 1838. During the civil war, Bass escaped to Indian Territory, where he lived among the Seminole and Creek tribes, learning their languages.

After the Emancipation Proclamation, Bass left Indian Territory and settled near Van Buren, Arkansas, where he became a farmer and rancher.

Sometimes, he worked as a guide for the Deputy U.S. Marshals serving in the area.

He married Nellie Jennie and raised ten children, five boys and five girls.

Isaac C. Parker, who became known as the Hanging Judge, was appointed judge for the Western District of Arkansas on May 10, 1875.

Bass Reeves was appointed as a Deputy U.S. Marshal by U.S. Marshal James F. Fagan shortly thereafter.

Bass served as a Deputy U.S. Marshal in Indian Territory for 32 years and was the only one to serve from Parker’s appointment until Oklahoma’s statehood.

He became one of the most successful lawmen in American history, arresting more than 3,000 fugitives.

Bass’ work as a Deputy U.S. Marshal ended in 1907 when Oklahoma was granted statehood.

Bass worked for the Muskogee Police Department for two years until he was diagnosed with Bright’s disease.

He died on January 12, 1910.


The Remarkable Bass Reeves


The Life story of Bass Reeves

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HBO is developing a miniseries based on Reeves’ life. Morgan Freeman is among executive producers.

This is a black man in America’s legendary Western history who has been totally overlooked,” Freeman told Deadline last year. “Any chance I get to revisit historical moments of our country is important to me.”

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While HBO handles Reeves’ old exploits, authors are giving him new ones. “Bass Reeves: Frontier Marshal” is a new anthology book from Airship 27 Productions.

Four writers (including Oklahoman Mel Odom) penned fictional stories starring you-know-who.

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