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The Unknown “Lone Ranger”

History finally has its eyes on this sheriff

February 3, 2017

With the blockbusting release of the film Hidden Figures, audiences are compelled to ask: “what other historical individuals do we not know about?”

Bass Reeves, the infamous sheriff of Oklahoma, is revealed to be the possible inspiration for the western classic “Lone Ranger.”

Back in Oklahoma, Reeves was the deputy to go to, because he could arrest any man, no matter their race. According to Fort Smith’s National historical site, “Reeves had a reputation throughout the territory for his ability to catch outlaws that other deputies couldn't. He was known to work in disguise in order to get information and affect the arrest of fugitives he wanted to capture.”

He was dedicated to the law. Humanities professor Kristin Brunnemer calls the western trope a “match of opposites. Either a sheriff who obeys the law or a sheriff who took the law into his own hands.” Reeves was the epitome of the former, the kind of man who would turn his own son in. “Bass Reeves was a legend in his own time. He was the epitome of dedication to duty,” said Fort Smith site.

The erasure of a black individual’s accomplishments is a common occurrence in history. Whether from the political environment or the result of changing racial views, the reemergence of these events shine light on forgotten histories.

Shows like the “Lone Ranger” depicted a heroic white cowboy, corralling the criminals with his trusted native sidekick. Almost every western illustrates these tropes, even though they are just an illusion of the west.

“The Spanish term for cowboy is ‘vaquero,’ where many cowboys were out corralling cattle. The original cowboys were Latinos and Indian. People who were already there were patrolling the land, then white people came and said this is ‘mine,’” said professor Brunnemer. “These movies became American classics.”

Reeves was a tough cookie. Competing with both racists and rowdy felons, Bass Reeves had a lot on his plate. “He had to be the best out of everyone,” said History professor John Simpson. “Man had to be as real as it gets.”

Cowboys came in every variety, because of the social dynamics of the west. With the Chinese working on railroads, latinos and natives who were already settled there, and of course white settlers migrating to the west for the gold rush and former enslaved black people escaping slavery.

“It was everybody. White, black, latinos, and the Chinese. It was a very eclectic region for anyone who was seeking freedom,” said Simpson.

There is no definitive answer as to why some figures are more recognized while others are not. Some have achieved greater deeds like Martin Luther King or Harriet Tubman, some are to fit a narrow image.

“Media can craft certain images. Rosa Parks was not the first woman to ride in the front of the bus, but she fit the innocent type. The people who are famous are the ones are usually the ones in front of the camera,” said Brunnemer.

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