Who Was That Masked Man?

Posted by Toni V.S. | 3:08 AM | 4 comments »


Is there anyone who doesn’t recognize these lines:

A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty Hi-Yo Silver! The Lone Ranger! ... 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!*

Many of us are familiar with the TV series, and a few of us may even remember the radio show. More of us have probably seen the movies, especially the most recent Johnny Depp debacle.  I admit to all three but after alternately enjoying the serious parts and viewing the slapstick ones disapprovingly, I decided to learn exactly about the real Lone Ranger, the model on which all other episodes, movies, etc., were based.

So I went to the source.  How many of us have read The Lone Ranger Rides?  I can truthfully say I have.  I downloaded it online from Project Gutenberg (www.gutenberg.org) where a good many classics have been restored and are available.  Here’s what I found…

The first novel was written in 1936 by Gaylord Dubois, wth Fran Striker developing, writing. and editing the rest.  The novel I downloaded bears Fran Striker’s name. The radio series anticipated the novel by three years.

Mythbuster #1: the title character is never named. He’s simply called the Ranger.  In the series, he’s given the name “John Reid.”  His brother Dan Reid is supposedly also a Ranger (this justifies the introduction of nephew Dan Reid in the radio series who later transfers to another series to become the father of The Green Hornet.) Dan Reid is one of the six men killed by the Cavendish gang.  This also isn’t in the novel.  At the end of the story, the Ranger returns to the six graves (one of them his own) to tell his dead comrades he’s fulfilled his oath of revenge. He names them:

The Lone Ranger stood before the first of these and removed his hat and then his mask. The soft, warm light of the sunset brought a glow into the Texan's upraised face and wiped away the lines of pain and fatigue.
His lips moved slowly, though the Texan's voice was silent. Then he dropped his eyes and whispered, "Bert." He moved to the next grave and paused there, whispering, "For you too, Jim." At the third small cross the Texan whispered, "Dave," and at the next he called to, "Grant," then "Don."

At the last grave, his own, he buries his badge, as depicted in the latest movie.

Mythbuster #2: “Hi-yo, Silver” didn’t start out that way. Originally, it was “Hi there you, Silver horse. Away.” This is then shortened to “Hi you. Silver, away!”  and later, to approximate a Texas accent no doubt, it’s further shortened:

The shout was one that later rang throughout the West--the clarion call—the tocsin of a mystery rider who wore a mask. "Hi-Yo Silver, Away-y-y-y."
Mythbuster #3: The leader of the Cavendish gang isn’t Butch. There isn’t a “Butch” in sight. The man believed to be the leader until near the end of the story is Bryant Cavendish.

Mythbuster #4: the silver bullets.  The Lone Ranger’s family owned a silver mine which he never put into operation because he didn’t want to profit from other men’s labor.  Tonto takes silver from the mine and makes silver bullets for his friend.

"Those bullet," Tonto said, "are silver." It was true. The bullets in the cartridges were hard, solid silver. The Texan looked puzzled. "That makes pretty high-priced shooting," he said.

The silver bullets will also serve to determine to whom the Ranger will show mercy as when he offers one to Penny:

"Take this," he said offering the bullet, "and if there is any man in the world whose life means a great deal to you, tell him to carry it at all times."

Now, on to the story.

Bryant Cavendish owns a ranch in west Texas in a Basin called Bryant’s Gap. He’s the patriarch of the ranch, bitter, inhospitable, but giving a home to his orphaned niece and four nephews.  Later when his nephew Mort kills his wife, he seeks someone to help Penny raise the half-orphaned children. Bryant is getting old and losing his eyesight and he’s unable to see that his nephews are slowly replacing his faithful ranch hands with men wanted by the Law, men needing a place to hide while they plot their crimes.

The descriptions of the nephews depict each man’s character:

Vince Cavendish was the runt of the family. About one hundred pounds of concentrated ill will; a small package of frustrated manhood…a nature that'd poison a rattler fool enough to bite him.

Jeb was looked upon by everyone as not worth the powder to blow him to hell.

Mort was the sort of man who would have liked to bear the weight of the world on shoulders unsuited to support the burden of a household.

Wallie was a wastrel, spending his money on fancy clothes,  his days gambling and his nights tom-catting.**

Before the story opens, six Rangers, called to the ranch by the cook, Gimlet, are ambushed in Bryant’s Gap. They are buried by a lone Indian who discovers one still barely alive.  The Indian is Tonto and this survivor is the unnamed man becoming the Lone Ranger. They’ve been friends since childhood, the Ranger meeting Tonto shortly after everyone in his village was killed in an Indian war.  When the white boy becomes a Ranger, he and Tonto drift apart. They met again as adults when Tonto comes upon this single survivor of the ambush. Tonto’s tribe is never mentioned.

(At this point, Tonto’s paint horse isn’t named but the Ranger is already riding Silver.  Silver’s history is also given, of Wild Horse Valley and his parents Sylvan and Moussa and how the white horse came to be tamed by the man who rode him. Silver is hyper-intelligent and the Ranger speaks to him as if he were a person.)

The Ranger is wounded in the left shoulder and the right foot (a rather ignominious wound for a hero). For a little while, he’s ambivalent about what he must do. He swears to avenge his fellow rangers but he also remembers his mother teaching him the Ten Commandments, especially “Thou shalt not kill.” For a good portion of the book he spends his time in a cave convalescing while Tonto tries to find someone to bring them food. He finds her in Penelope Cavendish, niece of Bryant. Penny, of course, is the heroine of the piece…feisty, outspoken, virginal and brave enough to become friends with a lone Indian she comes across on one of her rides.  She’s loved from afar by Yuma, a young, bumbling blond cowhand hired by her cousins. Yuma’s not necessarily one of the gang committing the crimes but he’s so in love with Penny, he’s willing to confess to being their leader to keep her from harm.

Tonto returns the Ranger’s guns to him, loaded with silver bullets from his silver mine and Tonto also give him his mask, explaining if he wears it, outlaws will more easily accept him and he can get closer to them. He also returns the Ranger’s badge to him.

The Texas Ranger's badge. The white man took it, looked at it, then closed his fist about it tightly. "The Texas Rangers," he said softly, "are dead. All six of them have gone. In
their place there's just one man. The lone Ranger."**

Thus he becomes the lone Ranger not because he works alone but because he’s the last surviving Ranger.

The outlaws force Bryant’s heirs to sign away the ranch so they can take it over as their hideout. Several are killed in rather vicious fashion and there are threats of torture. The identity of the true villain of the story is kept well hidden until almost the end.  True to the code set up for him, the Lone Ranger gives everyone a chance to confess but that doesn’t happen. Though the Ranger does a lot of talking, there’s nevertheless a shoot-out but he does keep the promise to his mother while also keeping the oath sworn to his dead comrades.

The villains is foiled, the outlaws arrested, Yuma and Penny go into a chaste clinch and Old Bryant asks the Ranger to stay and run his ranch.  That isn’t going to happen, of course.

He swung his leg across the saddle, and his voice rang out with a crystal clearness that carried through Bryant's Gap, echoing and re-echoing from wall to wall. "Hi-Yo Silver, Away-y-y!"
Silver leaped ahead, his master in the saddle. Tonto rode behind and grinned in happiness, following the tall masked man whom he called "friend."**
The Lone Ranger Rides contains 30 chapters.  Some of the dialogue is stilted when compared to today’s “realistic” way of writing though there are a surprising number of “damns” present as well as a couple of “hells”.  Since it’s set in Texas, there’s plenty of phoenetic spellings to approximate Texas accents. Westernisms, such as galoot, chow, loco,  savvy abound. I cringed at Tonto’s broken English, but recovered because I made myself read it in the light of the time it was written and not today’s equal opportunity atmosphere.

All in all, The Lone Ranger Rides stands the test of time.  That’s why it’s a classic, its appeal so overwhelming. Since that first radio episode on January 31, 1933 at Detroit’s station WXYZ in fact, it went on to become a series of novels, with other writers taking over in later years. There were 2,956 episodes before the show went off the air, with a comic strip, comics (with a separate comic series for Silver), serials, an animated series, a TV series, made for TV movies, video games, and movies, the latest of which premiered last month. 

If the latest movie had been portrayed with a little more realism and a little less slapstick, it might’ve been a hit.  A good Western revenge story is better than a comedic homage any day. Johnny Depp might’ve been remembered for his Tonto rather than becoming merely portraying Captain Jack Sparrow with warpaint.  Here’s hoping the next attempt to portray The Lone Ranger remembers that.

Ranger Facts:

The theme music was taken from the March of the Swiss Soldiers finale of the William Tell Overture by Gioachino Rossini.

16 actors have portrayed the Ranger, with the most well-known being Clayton Moore. 8 actors have played Tonto. With the exception of Johnny Depp as the most recognizable, Jay Silverheels is considered he quintessential Tonto.

The Lone Ranger’s Code:

I believe...

  • That to have a friend, a man must be one.
  • That all men are created equal and that everyone has within himself the power to make this a better world.
  • That God put the firewood there, but that every man must gather and light it himself.
  • In being prepared physically, mentally, and morally to fight when necessary for what is right.
  • That a man should make the most of what equipment he has.
  • That 'this government of the people, by the people, and for the people' shall live always.
  • That men should live by the rule of what is best for the greatest number.
  • That sooner or later...somewhere...somehow...we must settle with the world and make payment for what we have taken.
  • That all things change but truth, and that truth alone, lives on forever.
  • In my Creator, my country, my fellow man.*

Guidelines for development of the Ranger character:

  • The Lone Ranger is never seen without his mask or a disguise.
  • With emphasis on logic, The Lone Ranger is never captured or held for any length of time by lawmen
  • The Lone Ranger always uses perfect grammar and precise
  • The Lone Ranger never shoots to kill
  • The Lone Ranger never wins against hopeless odds
  • The Lone Ranger  adversaries are usually groups whose power is such that large areas are at stake.
  • Adversaries are never other than American to avoid criticism from minority groups
  • Names of unsympathetic characters are carefully chosen to avoid even further vicarious association
  • The Lone Ranger never drinks or smokes and saloon scenes are usually interpreted as cafes
  • Criminals are never shown as successful or glamorous.

The silver bullets used are to remind the Ranger that that life is precious and, like his silver bullets, not to be wasted or thrown away.*

*quotes courtesy of Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lone_Ranger
**excerpts taken from Project Gutenberg download, www.gutenberg.org


  1. Mary Ricksen // August 28, 2013 at 12:06 PM  

    WOW! I didn't know any of this. But the story stands the winds of time as a classic! Terrific post Toni...

  2. Barbara Monajem // September 4, 2013 at 4:43 PM  

    This is great stuff, Toni. Thanks for digging it up and posting it here.

  3. Mary Marvella // September 4, 2013 at 9:35 PM  

    Excellent job, Toni!

  4. Beth Trissel // September 8, 2013 at 11:17 AM  

    Fascinating post, Toni. I used to watch The Lone Ranger as a kid. What a lot more there is to the story.