The Lone Ranger

Clayton Moore

John Hart

Jay Silverheels

The Lone Ranger: Clayton Moore
(John Hart, 1951-1952)
Tonto: Jay Silverheels
Dan Reid: Chuck Courtney

The Lone Ranger's Horse: Silver
Tonto's Horse: Scout
Dan Reid's Horse: Victor

“A fierey horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty, ‘Hi Yo Silver!…It’s 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 west. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. The Lone Ranger rides again!”  

These words were used to announce the arrival of America’s most best-loved character, the immortal The Lone Ranger and his trusted sidekick, Tonto.  No other fictional creation has ever had the magic and mystique of Fran Striker’s creation…nor the staying power.  The Lone Ranger is as beloved today as he was when he rode into hearts years ago.  

To understand the whole Lone Ranger experience, you have to understand that by the time the Lone Ranger was twenty years old in 1953, he was being broadcast three times each week on 249 radio stations, he achieved the highest rating of any Western program ever, and he had a weekly listening audience of twelve million people.  At that same twentieth anniversary, he was being broadcast on ninety television stations and was the highest rated western on TV, being seen by five million viewers.  He also appeared in 177 daily papers, 119 Sunday papers and was being read by 71 million people in comic strip fashion.  This is in addition to the many novels and series books that had also been written by this time.  He was perhaps the first character that was truly a multi-media entity, having a very broad spectrum of appreciation, not to mention the toys and clothing that were being sold.  

The Lone Ranger was the creation of Fran Striker.  It started as a half-hour drama at radio station WEBR in Buffalo, New York sometime in the late 1920’s, where he wasn’t truly identified as the character American came to love and admire a few years later.  A whole series of shows, perhaps as many as twelve episodes per series, were written and telecast every week in serial fashion.  At one point, Fran Striker received a letter from a man who was sending out scripts to various stations saying, “If you want to broadcast my script, here’s the royalty fee I charge, so go ahead and broadcast and mail me a check.”  This must have clicked because Striker started beating typewriters to death.  He did all his own typing, and he had to produce at least six or seven copies of each page, which takes a heavy hand, and he literally wore typewriters out about every six months.  But, the royalty fees ran from two dollars to six dollars, and that was enough to feed Striker’s family in the Great Depression.   

Somewhere in this mayhem, WXYZ in Detroit, owned by George W. Trendle, heard of the amazing feats of Fran Striker.  Striker wasn’t doing just westerns, he was cranking out science fiction, mystery, drama…anything that paid.  Some of his great creations were to become The Green Hornet and Sgt. Preston of the Yukon, both of which made the successful transition from radio to television.  Trendle was purchasing five scripts per week, but he wanted a western character who could be a continuing character, only each episode had to be a complete story.  “No problem,” said Striker, and “Covered Wagon Days” was born.  The continuing character was a combination of Robin Hood, Zorro, a loner, a man who was hunted by the law but loved by the oppressed, a man who shot silver bullets because they were symbolic and whose horse even had silver horseshoes and was called Silver.  And by the way, this guy was an ex-Ranger who was now alone, so he was the Lone Ranger.   

The first shows were really rough.  The Lone Ranger was a little bit too cavalier, had a little bit too much of an “I don’t give a damn” attitude.  Trendle told Striker to refine the character.  By this time, several other stations were also broadcasting the same scripts, and Trendle wanted full control.  The result was that Trendle convinced Striker to move to Detroit, and in 1933, Striker signed a contract giving Trendle full rights to the Lone Ranger.  The rest is history.  Nothing was ever put out publicly about the Lone Ranger unless Fran Striker had written or at least edited it.  Consequently, Fran Striker wrote all the series books that were ever written about the Lone Ranger (except the first, which was so poorly done that Striker had to totally rewrite it under his own name at the insistence of Trendle), and he wrote the comic strips and many of the TV shows in his later years.  

Fran Striker wrote a little booklet describing the various traits of his masked man, which was the building block of every show ever broadcast.  It defined how the Lone Ranger felt about patriotism, tolerance, sympathy, religion and speech.  For example, tolerance:  The Lone Ranger’s friend is Tonto, a Comanche Indian.  If the Lone Ranger accepts the Indian as his closest companion, it is obvious to the child listener that great men have no racial or religious prejudice.  Concerning religion:  The Lone Ranger is shown not to be a member of any specific church, but he is definitely a respecter of all creeds, and the only man besides Tonto who knows him is a Catholic Padre of a mission.  He always used proper English, was respectful of women and children, and tolerated a great deal.  He never killed anyone, but there was always plenty of action.  

The opening episode of the television version in September 1949, told the tale of how the Lone Ranger got his name and his mission in life to correct the wrong-doings of others.  He had been one of a posse of six Texas Rangers tracking a gang of desperadoes led by outlaw Butch Cavendish and his Hole in the Wall Gang.  The Rangers were ambushed in a canyon, and five of them were killed.  The sixth, young John Reid, was left for dead, but he managed to crawl to safety near a water hole, where he was found and nursed back to health by the friendly Tonto.  John Reid had once helped Tonto, so the Indian vowed to stay with the “lone” Ranger.  Tonto recognized Reid by medallion he wore around his neck, that had been made out of Tonto's ring, which he gave to him in return for his kindness earlier.  Kemo Sabe means "Trusty Scout". Reid buried his past in the graves of his friends, one of whom was his brother Dan, donned a mask, and set out with Tonto to avenge wrongs throughout the Old West.  He had no visible means of support, except for his silver mine that he and his brother Dan had discovered.  Periodically, he returned to the mine, which was run for him by an honest old man, to collect enough silver to stock up on silver bullets.  

Clayton Moore was the first Lone Ranger of television fame.  In 1952, he was replaced by veteran actor John Hart after a salary dispute, but at the end of that year, Clayton Moore returned and is the one most closely associated with the Lone Ranger today.  He was a circus acrobat in real life and in 1982, he was inducted into the Stuntman’s Hall of Fame.  Jay Silverheels was always Tonto.  Chuck Courtney played The Lone Ranger’s nephew Dan Reid (Jr) in many of the episodes.  The Lone Ranger ran on television from 15 September 1949 to 6 June 1957, for a total of 221 episodes.  It began in black and white and switched to color, which truly amazed a lot of viewers who thought the Lone Ranger’s clothing was gray instead of blue.  It took place all over the Old West and seemed to span the years directly after the Civil War up through the 1880’s, although the Lone Ranger, Tonto, and Dan Reid (Jr) never aged.  Dan Jr’s horse was a white beauty every bit the spitting image of Silver, named Victor.  Tonto always rode a brown paint named Scout.  

For the trivia buff:  Jay Silverheels was an Indian in real life - Mohawk.  He also was a horse breeder in real life.  Asked once if he would consider racing Scout, he joked, “Heck, I can beat Scout.”  There was also an unusual link between The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet, the latter series coming about in 1936 because George Trendle wanted to do something about the crooked politicians which were cropping up all over the place.  Fran Striker made John Reid’s nephew Dan Jr the father of Britt Reid, who became the avenger of crime as The Green Hornet.  This series premiered on television in 1966.  

Jay “Tonto” Silverheels died in 1980 from complications of pneumonia.  He was 62 years old.  

Clayton Moore died December 28, 1999, of an apparent heart attack at West Hills Hospital in West Hills, California. He lived in Calabasas, California.  

John Hart is alive and well and in retirement.

The Lone Ranger Creed!   
By: Fran Striker

“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 that which 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.”

(Text and photos by Sandy Sturdivant)

Return to Favorite TV Westerns

Return to Home/Contents