Did you know an Oklahoman was maybe, kind of, sort of, the inspiration for The Lone Ranger?
Did you know that Oklahoman was black?
Did you know that handlebar-mustachioed lawman is going to get his own Morgan Freeman-backed HBO miniseries?
Bass Reeves was born in Texas but later lived and died in Muskogee. He’s one of the most little-known heroes of the 19th century — an escaped slave who became a deputy marshal and arrested more than 3,000 felons, eventually retiring as a Muskogee Police Department officer in 1909.
“He’s an important part of Indian Territory, and the lawlessness that was here,” Sue Tolbert, director of Muskogee’s Three Rivers Museum, said. “He has a great story, and it involves Indian Territory and Muskogee, since he lived here and died here.”
Reeves was illiterate, Tolbert said, and would have arrest warrants read to him before he memorized them and began to track his prey. He spoke several Indian languages, which made him an invaluable part of policing Indian Territory. American Indians took to Reeves, Tolbert said, teaching him tracking tips and ways to disguise his identity.
Even so, very few people know about him, something Tolbert said she hoped the HBO series will fix.
“Even here in Muskogee (the museum hosts Bass Reeves Legacy Day every year and a bridge connecting Muskogee and Fort Gibson is named after the legendary lawman) very few people know about him,” she said. “You could probably walk down the street and only one-out-of-ten people would know who he was.”
As for the Lone Ranger angle, that’s a relatively new development. Art Burton, an author and Bass Reeves historian, discussed that topic with CNN in 2013 following the release of Disney’s “The Lone Ranger” movie.
Like the Lone Ranger, Reeves was a master of disguise, Burton said, a necessity considering he was tracking down and capturing dangerous people in dangerous places.
Reeves rode a grey horse (Hi-Ho, Silver!), used American Indian trackers and used a silver dollar as a calling card (The Lone Ranger left behind silver bullets.)
The Lone Ranger was created in Detroit, Mich., which housed the Department of Corrections where many of the fugitives Reeves captured were eventually housed.
“I haven’t been able to prove conclusively that Reeves was the inspiration for the Lone Ranger,” Burton told CNN. “But he was the closest person in real life who had these characteristics.”