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The Lone Ranger

April 28, 2013

             A Silvertone cathedral-style console radio occupied a corner of my grandparents’ living room when I was a boy. The radio was actually taller than I was. Every evening after supper, Pappy sat in his chair with his vintage standing ashtray close at hand. As he enjoyed his last cigar of the day he listened to the radio. I remember Fibber McGee and Molly, Amos ‘n’ Andy, Death Valley Days, The Shadow, and my favorite, The Lone Ranger.

            The legend of the Lone Ranger is pure fiction. Several versions of the tale have circulated through the years, but the basics are consistent. Six Texas Rangers led by Captain Daniel Reid were on patrol when a band of outlaws, Butch Cavendish and his Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, ambushed and killed five of the men. The lone survivor was Dan Reid’s younger brother, John.

An Apache Indian stumbled upon the scene and recognized the wounded ranger as the man who had saved his life several years earlier. This Native American, named Tonto, stayed with Reid, nursing him back to health. Together two men dug six graves – five for Reid’s fallen comrades plus a sixth – so that Cavendish would think no Ranger had survived the attack.

Tonto fashioned a black mask, using material from Captain Daniel Reid’s vest, to conceal John Reid’s facial scars and identity. Even after the Cavendish gang was brought to justice, Reid continued to fight for law and order, against evil and crime, under the guise of the Lone Ranger.

As the story goes, at first the Lone Ranger rode a horse named Dusty. While patrolling the range he came upon a stunning white stallion trapped in a dry gulch. A bull buffalo was pawing the ground, preparing to charge the stallion. The masked man diverted the buffalo. The ranger and the white horse became steadfast companions. Eventually, Silver replaced Dusty as the Lone Ranger’s steed.

The Lone Ranger radio program was first broadcast in 1933 by WXYZ in Detroit.  Station owner George W. Trendle and the show’s writer, Fran Striker, developed one of the early radio blockbuster hits. Brace Beemer played the title character on radio. The equally popular television show ran from 1949 to 1957. Comic books and movies soon followed.

I was nine years old when Pappy bought his first television set. He invited Dad to bring me to his house to see The Lone Ranger. The only channel available was WBTV broadcasting from Charlotte, North Carolina. I was not yet five years old when WBTV signed on for the first time on July 15, 1949. It was only the thirteenth television station in the United States, and the first in the Carolinas. It holds the title of being the oldest station between Richmond and Atlanta.

Pappy’s television looked a lot like his radio, only with a small screen. The picture was fuzzy and difficult to adjust. We watched a test pattern consisting of a black-and-white circle for nearly half an hour.  The center resembled a dartboard. Four smaller circles appeared in each corner.  At the top of the screen was an Indian chief in full headdress. I kept waiting for him to spring into action.

When I thought I could not endure the wait one moment longer, the program appeared on the screen. I had heard the program on the radio so many times I knew what to expect after the background music, “The William Tell Overture.”

I had memorized the opening storyline, and I could repeat it along with the narrator:

A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust, and a hearty ‘Hi-Yo, Silver! Hi-Yo, Silver, away!’ With his faithful Indian companion, Tonto, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains led the fight for law and order in the early western United States! Nowhere in the pages of history can one find a greater champion of justice! Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear! From out of the past come the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again!”

Then on the small screen I watched the white stallion rear up on his hind legs and heard the shout, “Hi-Yo, Silver! Away!”

I must say that listening to the program on the radio was, at least for me, more pleasurable entertainment.  Closing my eyes and envisioning the action in my mind was more enjoyable and more fulfilling than watching on television.

Fran Striker was insistent that every episode of The Lone Ranger uphold the highest moral principles.

  • The Lone Ranger used perfect grammar, speaking no slang or colloquial phrases. He shot a gun only to disarm, never to kill. He never drank or smoked. He never played action scenes in a saloon.
  • The Lone Ranger and Tonto were loyal to each other in every episode.  Tonto usually referred to the Lone Ranger as Ke-mo sah-bee, meaning trusted friend.
  • Why silver bullets? The Lone Ranger wanted to remind himself that life is precious and, like his silver bullets, never to be wasted or discarded.

Clayton Moore as the Lone Ranger and Jay Silverheels as Tonto took their positions as role models seriously.  They both adopted this creed:

I believe…

  • That to have a friend, you must be a friend.
  • That all people are created equal.
  • In being prepared physically, mentally, and morally to fight when necessary for the right.
  • That this government of the people, by the people, and for the people’ shall live always.
  • That all things change but truth, and that truth alone, lives on forever.
  • That I must do all I can to make the world better for all people.
  • In my Creator, my country, my fellow man.

The appeal of The Lone Ranger, starring Moore and Silverheels, remains, as evident in the show still being rebroadcast sixty-four years after it first aired. A new film having the same title is scheduled for release on July 15, 2013. Directed by Gore Verbinski and distributed by Walt Disney Pictures, the film stars Armie Hammer in the title role and Johnny Depp as both narrator and Tonto. The thrilling adventure movie is sure to spark renewed interest for the old-timers who remember the radio and television series.  It will also generate curiosity in the legend among younger viewers.  

The masked man, his white stallion, the trusted Tonto, the evil villains, and the Wild West all flash through my mind when I hear the “William Tell Overture.” So, too, does a red clay gully my friends and I called Dead Horse Canyon. There my buddy Gordon, as the Lone Ranger, and I, as Tonto, battled the dreaded Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, the boys from across the creek on Washington Road. We fought our battles with dirt clods, however, not revolvers. We trudged home from those skirmishes in blue jeans caked with mud, not blood.

I remember every episode of the television series ending the same way.  Just as the Lone Ranger mounted Silver and galloped toward the faraway horizon, Gordon and I pretended to mount our make-believe steeds and ride back home.

“Who was that masked man?” I asked.

Gordon always responded, “Why, he’s the Lone Ranger!”


Kirk H. Neely
© April 2013

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