Bass Reeves's talent for rounding up outlaws in America's Old West made him the stuff of legend. But did this former slave-turned-lawman also inspire Johnny Depp's new film? Alex Hannaford goes on the trail of the real Lone Ranger.
...Born in 1838, Bass Reeves was a former slave-turned-lawman who served with the US Marshals Service for 32 years at the turn of the 20th century in part of eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas known as Indian Territory. Though he was illiterate, Reeves became an expert tracker and detective – a man who, in Burton’s words, “walked in the valley of death every day for 35 years and brought in some of the worst outlaws from that period”.
...It reaffirmed what Burton had suspected: that Bass Reeves – perhaps the first black commissioned deputy marshal west of the Mississippi – could well have been one of the greatest lawmen of the Wild West. But most people hadn’t heard of him. Over the next 20 years, Reeves would become an obsession for Burton, culminating in a very interesting hypothesis, which he puts forward in his book Black Gun, Silver Star. Bass Reeves, he argues, was almost certainly the real-life inspiration for The Lone Ranger.
Reeves was born a slave in Arkansas Territory, and grew up in north Texas. According to court records, he murdered his “owner” following a card game and escaped into Indian Territory where he lived among local tribes, even learning their language, and earning money as a bounty hunter. Because of his skills as a polyglot, he was recruited by the Federal Marshals Service – Reeves was the ideal person to capture outlaws in that hostile environment.