By Donna Klein
The Real Lone Ranger
Let’s take a look at what makes him a legend and most likely the inspiration for the “Lone Ranger.” Bass Reeves was an expert marksman, he rode a white or gray stallion, was “pressed and dressed” with a large hat that accentuated his 6’2” frame unless he was working in disguise. He also carried and handed out silver coins. These coins were used to ingratiate himself to the communities in which he worked collecting bounties. A visit from the real ‘Lone Ranger’ meant good fortune for the town as he was there to rid it of criminals. He also had a trusted Native American posse man and tracker as a companion. Lastly, many of the outlaws he apprehended ended up at a federal prison in Detroit, which is where the Lone Ranger radio originated in 1933 on WXYZ.
One of his more legendary captures revolves around two brothers. Bass and the men with him set up camp and studied the terrain of the area where the men were supposedly staying with their mother. Reeves came up with a plan that saw him disguised as a tramp. He hid his handcuffs, pistol and badge under his clothes. He arrived at her door dirty, a bit disheveled, and wearing a floppy hat with three bullet holes in it.
He told a story about being chased by a posse (who put the bullets in his hat). His shoes were old and worn, and he complained of aching feet and hunger. The mother invited him in and allowed him to stay when he said he was weary. He gained her trust after talking with her for a while, and she gave her boys an all clear signal.
They three men bunked in the same room. After the brothers fell asleep, Reeves handcuffed the pair and waited for morning. He kicked them to wake them, then proceeded to march them out the front door with their mother following him for three miles, cursing him all the way. He marched them 28 miles back to his camp where the posse awaited. The outlaw brothers were delivered within days to the authorities, and Reeves collected a $5,000 reward.
Notorious outlaw, Bob Dozier, was no match for Bass Reeves. Reeves tracked him for several months and did what other lawmen couldn’t do; he pinned him down in the Cherokee Hills. Unfortunately, Dozier refused to surrender on that fateful day, December 20, 1878, and was killed by Reeves in the ensuing gunfight.
Reeves also arrested the legendary Belle Starr, the ‘Bandit Queen of Dallas.’ No other lawman was able to apprehend her, but she didn’t stand a chance against Bass Reeves. He put an end to her horse-thieving, stage-coach robbing gang when he caught her.
Perhaps the most difficult warrant he had to execute was for his own son, Bennie, who was wanted for the murder of his wife in 1902. Although disturbed and shaken by the incident, he accepted the responsibility of bringing him in. Bennie was tried and convicted and served his time at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Upon his release, Bennie spent the rest of his life as a model citizen.
There is so much more to know about this man and his legendary deeds. He brought in about 3000 outlaws and killed 14 in self-defense during his 32 year career with the U.S. Marshals. I am glad the he’s gained exposure on Gunslingers, Drunk History, and will soon be coming to HBO. Find out more about him for yourself!
Information and Photo Credits
Information and photos were gleaned from the following resources: