Copyright 2015 by John T. Reed

I just watched Bill O’Reilly’s latest magnum opus— an episode of Legends and Lies about the Old West—this one about the Lone Ranger.

I have a little more interest in the Lone Ranger than most. The TV series starring Clayton Moore was on from 1949 to 1957, when I was age 3 to 11. When I was 10 or 11, he and the horse he rode in on came to our town where the state fair was held. He rode around on Silver at full speed and did the move at the opening of every show where Silver rises up on his hind legs. Then he talked to us and took questions afterward. He never got out of character.

John and Dan Reid

The Lone Ranger’s “real” last name was Reid. He never had a first name in the original version, which was a 1933 radio program, but a number of versions said his “real” whole name was “John Reid.” His nephew “Dan Reid” appeared in a number of episodes. My oldest son is Dan Reed. I did not name myself except to go by Jack rather than John in Middle School and thereafter.

In his retirement, actor Clayton Moore, the most well known of the Lone Ranger portrayals, said playing that role made him a better person. I have said that my undergraduate alma mater is different and better than even places like Harvard and Cal Tech in that it gives you a great, all-around reputation to live up to. Even the best civilian schools have no such effect on their students and grads—because they have no soaring patriotic purpose or history like the service academies.

The image of Ivy League students is that they are smart and/or well-connected and that the grads are also very polished. Not a lot to live up to. The image of Cal Tech and MIT is that they are really, really smart and highly trained in science and engineering. The image of the West Point cadet when I was 16, nose against the window looking at West Point was smart, athletic, “Eagle Scout,” patriotic, All-American boys who were “the cream of the crop” of American young men. We heard that “cream of the crop” phrase so many times from famous visitors to West Point that I coined the phrase “Cream of the Cropism” for the overconfidence it imbued us with.

I suspect my childhood love of the Lone Ranger, the most squeaky clean of the 1950s cowboys heroes, saw a counterpart in the real life West Point Cadets I first saw at age 16 in 1962. He would have had to lose the mask, but the Lone Ranger would have fit right in at West Point, which was also a TV series in the 1950s. My troubles with the Army after West Point may have been my latent Lone Ranger clashing with the cynical, go-along-to-get-along lifers.

Lone Ranger Code

The Cadet Honor Code of the mid-sixties—“A cadet does not lie, cheat, or steal”—resembles part of the Lone Ranger’s code: “That all things change but truth, and that truth alone, lives on forever.”

The Lone Ranger was fiction, but the West Point Corps of Cadets in the 1960s was what it appeared to be and the Honor Code was as real as “Hanging Judge Parker” in the Legends and Lies episode. My classmates who were teachers at West Point in the mid-1970s said the Honor Code was kaput then. It lives on in the propaganda of the school, but nowadays they let you back in after a year in the Army if you violate it. When I was there, you were gone in an hour after the Honor Committee recommended it. The fictional Lone Ranger would have been right at home with the 4,000 “Eagle Scouts” at West Point in the late 1960s.

The Lone Ranger was black?

The big deal surprise in the episode is that the Lone Ranger was inspired by a real life black man named Bass Reeves. That’s a really big stretch. Two guys named Trendle and Striker created the Lone Ranger in 1933 as a radio drama. Legendary western writer Zane Grey wrote a book in 1915 called The Lone Star Ranger. That book was about real-life Texas Ranger Captain John R. Hughes and dedicated to him. Hughes was alive when the radio series began and said he thought he was the inspiration for it.

What is the truth? Maybe it was inspired by nobody who was real. It’s fiction, created by writers. I’m a writer. Sometimes we are thinking of a real person, sometimes not. What real person inspires science fiction writers writing about the future? But there is little in Reeves’ early life that resembles the legend of the Lone Ranger—supposedly the only survivor of a group of six rangers who got ambushed.

Even one of the historians at the end of O’Reilly’s program felt compelled to say something to the effect that if the Lone Ranger story was not inspired by Reeves, it could have been. Lame. Reeves appears to be an interesting, real historical figure, but methinks claiming an illiterate black man who was never a Texas Ranger was the inspiration for Trendle and Striker in 1933 is almost certainly an affirmative-action, revisionist history. Hollywood may do that in 2015, but they did not do it in 1933.


O’Reilly has lately been courageously condemning the collapse of the black family for the high crime and poverty in black neighborhoods. It appears he is doing a little stretching to praise blacks to live up to Fox’s “fair and balanced” ad slogan.

Plywood in 1875?

I thought I saw some mistakes in the film. The trap door on an 1875 gallows is made of plywood. Plywood was, indeed, in existence in 1860, but I suspect it was too rare and expensive in its early years to be used for such things as a temporary gallows. Also, they say in the show that Reeves could not read or write, but they keep handing him arrest warrants that he proceeds to look at as if he could read them. Maybe they said he later learned to read and I missed it.

“Civil rights’ in 1875?

When they first make him a deputy U.S. Marshal, they tell him his job is to capture fugitives and enforce “civil rights.” You gotta be kidding me! I don’t believe that phrase was used in that way prior to about 1960.

Custer at a red brick West Point

In another recent episode, they depicted George Armstrong Custer, a West Point grad as a cadet, hanging around what were supposedly cadet buildings. They were made of red brick. The only buildings at West Point made of red brick are the quarters of NCOs and officer stationed there.

Custer entered West Point in June 1858 and graduated in June 1862. I arrived 106 years later, but Custer and I lived in the exact same barracks all four years: Central Barracks. They were built in 1850. Each room had a fireplace—not working when I was there. Here is a photo of it: One section of that barracks still exists—the First Division. It is made entirely of gray granite, no red bricks.

O’Reilly could not afford to go 50 miles north of New York City to the actual West Point to film those scenes?

John T. Reed