Was Clint Eastwood trying to channel Bass Reeves, and who was the real Lone Ranger? Have you seen Hang ‘Em High or Pale Rider or The Outlaw Josey Wales or High Plains Drifter, just to name a few of the Westerns where Clint Eastwood plays an utterly invincible symbol of justice and revenge?
Black deputy Marshall Bass Reeves was sort of like a Superman. He brought over 3000 fugitives to justice, and killed 14 men in gunfights without suffering a scratch. He stood 6 feet 2 in an age when that made you a giant. He was a marksman and an excellent shot with a pistol and could shoot equally well with either hand. Once, with his hands by his sides, he walked up to three men with pistols drawn and when the confrontation was done, two were dead and the third was in handcuffs. Another time when 10 fugitives riding together heard that Reeves was on their trail, they turned around and gave up. He was a fearsome, towering figure dressed in Black with bullet holes in his hat and his coat. He once even had his horse’s reins shot out of his hand.
Sounds like a Clint Eastwood movie, doesn’t it? Let’s take a look at Hang em High. Recall the film begins with Eastwood falsely accused of stealing cattle, and actually being strung up from a tree, whereupon he is rescued by a Marshall and taken back to town where he is slowly nursed back to health. When the Marshall is killed, the local federal judge deputizes him and he goes out and brings in fugitive after fugitive. This is exactly what Bass Reeves did, in the territory that later became Oklahoma, under the direction of Judge Isaac Parker. Though never, himself, strung from a tree, he did interrupt a lynch mob to rescue a man and bring him to Judge Parker for a fair trial, and he was certainly Parker’s most effective, efficient and relentless Deputy Marshall, by far.
Reeves, who had lived with Native Americans for years, was an excellent tracker and was often accompanied by a Native American whenever he was on an outlaw’s trail. Hence, the derivation of “Tonto,” the Native American partner of the Lone Ranger. Note, the Lone Ranger wore a black mask, whereas Bass Reeves had a Black face and was legendary for wearing disguises. Here is an excerpt from the website, “Legends of America,” which clearly shows how African American Bass Reeves was the prototype for the typical Western cowboy hero.
“An imposing figure, always riding on a large white stallion, Reeves began to earn a reputation for his courage and success at bringing in or killing many desperadoes of the territory. Always wearing a large hat, Reeves was usually a spiffy dresser, with his boots polished to a gleaming shine. He was known for his politeness and courteous manner. However, when the purpose served him, he was a master of disguises and often utilized aliases. Sometimes appearing as a cowboy, farmer, gunslinger, or outlaw, himself, he always wore two Colt pistols, butt forward for a fast draw. Ambidextrous, he rarely missed his mark. Leaving Fort Smith, often with a pocketful of warrants, Reeves would often return months later herding a number of outlaws charged with crimes ranging from bootlegging to murder. Paid in fees and rewards, he would make a handsome profit, before spending a little time with his family and returning to the range once again.”
He and his wife had 10 children. When one of his sons committed murder, Reeves demanded, and completed, the assignment to track him down and bring him to justice. Yes, Bass Reeves certainly was sort of like a Superman. In a remarkable bit of irony, a man named George Reeves played Superman on television, as did Christopher Reeve in the movies, Keanu Reeves played a Superman-like figure in The Matrix and Steve Reeves played Hercules in a number of films. Yes, the truth is stranger than fiction, and African American Bass Reeves outdid all the exploits of Clint Eastwood and the ficitonal Lone Ranger combined and much, much more!