FORT SMITH, Ark. - The Lone Ranger is an American icon in TV and the movies, but not many people know the Lone Ranger character is thought to be based on an African American man named Bass Reeves.
Reeves was born a slave, but escaped out West during the Civil War, living in what was known back then as “Indian Territory.” Reeves became a lawman, and would eventually rise to become a Deputy U.S. Marshal. Riding out of Fort Smith, Arkansas, he was known as a master of disguise, an expert marksman, had a Native American companion, and rode a silver horse--all aspects that would later go on to inspire the Lone Ranger.
Reeves wasn’t the only African American cowboy. In fact, it’s believed that as many as one in every four cowboys in the Old West was black. With fewer rules and segregation, African Americans often had a better chance to excel and make a name for themselves out west than they did in more developed eastern states.