Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Lone Ranger Rides Again!

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

Most of us Baby Boomers are quite familiar with that previous paragraph. We listened to it every day on our black and white television sets (usually with "rabbit ears") between 1949 and 1957. But a lot of you may not be aware that The Lone Ranger existed long before those years of our enjoyment. Let's hop into the Wayback machine and take a little journey through time.

The media legend began on January 30, 1933, when the first of 2,956 episodes of The Lone Ranger premiered on WXYZ radio in Detroit, Michigan. Later it was picked up by NBC’s Blue Network (which became ABC), which broadcast the last episode on September 3, 1954.

On the December 7, 1938, radio broadcast we learn how a Texas Ranger named Reid first met his future sidekick, Tonto. In that episode, "Cactus Pete," a friend of Reid’s, tells the story. According to that tale, Tonto had been caught in an explosion when two men dynamited a gold mine they were working. One of the men wanted to kill the wounded Tonto, but Reid arrives on the scene and makes them administer first aid. The man subsequently decides to keep Tonto around, intending to make him the fall guy when he would later murder his partner. Reid foiled both the attempted murder and the attempted framing of Tonto. No reason was given in the episode as to why Tonto chose to travel with the Lone Ranger rather than continue about his business. A reasonable assumption would be that he felt a sense of gratitude to the man.

By happenstance, the pair discover a magnificent white stallion, wounded by a buffalo. They nurse the stallion back to health, which is then adopted by Reid as his mount, Silver. Whenever the Ranger mounts Silver he shouts, "Hi-yo Silver, away!" which besides sounding dramatic, originally served to tell the radio audience that a riding sequence was about to start.

They also find an old mentor of Reid's, who has discovered a lost silver mine some time back. Reid's mentor is the only one other than Tonto who knows the identity of the Lone Ranger, and he is willing to work the mine and supply Reid and Tonto with as much silver as they want. Using material from his brother's Texas Ranger vest, Reid fashions the mask that will mark him as the Lone Ranger.

In addition, the Lone Ranger decides to use only silver bullets. The precious metal serves to remind the masked man that life, too, is extremely precious, and, like his silver bullets, not to be wasted or thrown away. Vowing to fight for justice and never to shoot to kill, together, the Lone Ranger and Tonto wander the Old American West helping people and fighting injustice where they find it. During these adventures, Tonto often referred to the Ranger as "ke-mo sah-bee", a word he said meant "faithful friend" or "trusty scout" in his tribe's language.

The Lone Ranger displayed in the adventures that he was also a master of disguise. At times, he would infiltrate an area using the identity of "Old Prospector", an old-time miner with a full beard, so that he can go places where a young masked man would never fit in, usually to gather intelligence about criminal activities.

According to "The Legend of Silver", a radio episode broadcast September 30, 1938, before acquiring Silver the Lone Ranger rode a chestnut mare called Dusty. After Dusty was killed by a criminal that Reid and Tonto were tracking, Reid saved Silver's life from an enraged buffalo, and in gratitude Silver chose to give up his wild life to carry him. Silver's sire was called Sylvan, and his dam was Musa.

The origin of Tonto's horse, Scout, is less clear. For a long time, Tonto rode a white horse called White Feller. In the episode titled "Four Day Ride," which aired August 5, 1938, Tonto is given a paint horse by his friend, Chief Thundercloud, who then takes and cares for White Feller. Tonto rides this horse, and simply refers to him as "Paint Horse," for several episodes. The horse is finally named Scout in the episode "Border Dope Smuggling," which was broadcast on September 2, 1938. In another episode, the lingering question of Tonto's mode of transport was resolved when the pair found a secluded valley and the Lone Ranger, in an urge of conscience, released Silver back to the wild. The episode ends with Silver returning to the Ranger bringing along a companion who becomes Tonto's horse, Scout.

The Lone Ranger program offered many radio premiums, including the Lone Ranger Six-Shooter Ring and the Lone Ranger Deputy Badge. Some of the premiums used a silver bullet motif. One ring had a miniature of one of his six-guns atop it, with a flint and striking wheel, as used in cigarette lighters, so that "fanning" the miniature pistol would produce a shower of sparks.
During World War II the premiums adapted to the times. For example, in 1942 the program offered the Kix Blackout Kit.

Some premiums were rather anachronistic for a 19th-century hero. In 1947 the program offered the Kix Atomic Bomb Ring, also known to collectors as the Lone Ranger Atom Bomb Ring. This ring was a miniature spinthariscope that actually had a small amount of radioisotope in it to produce the scintillations caused by nuclear reactions. With its tailfin piece removed, the "bomb" body looked like a silver bullet.

1 comment:

Jan Scarbrough said...

I saw the Lone Ranger at a publicity event in Knoxville, Tennessee, when I was a child. We took home fake silver bullets.