TONTO RIDES AGAIN

I grew up with the Lone Ranger and Tonto racing around my bedroom.  No, not live, but I had authentic Lone Ranger wallpaper. Until the wallpaper was installed, I was sure he was the Long Ranger … as in “he rode a lot and covered great distances.” Y’know. Long range.

Other girls had Disney Princesses, flowers, and butterflies. I had “Hi Yo Silver, the Lone Ranger Rides Again!” Although my walls did not play the William Tell Overture, I could hum it well enough. I had many a long chat with Lone, Tonto, Silver and Scout as I lay abed pondering the meaning of life and how I could convince my mother to let me have a horse.

tonto_on_scout_with_gun

It was a hard choice between Lone and Tonto. It was even a difficult choice between their horses. Silver was magnificent, but Scout — a stunning paint — was gorgeous too. Really, I would have settled for any horse, any color, any heritage … but if I was going to ride only in my dreams, I got to choose. I was never was able to decide.

I eventually found Jay Silverheels, the man and actor, more interesting than the Lone Ranger. Silverheels was born Harold J. Smith of the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation in Ontario, Canada. He was one of 11 children, son of a Canadian Mohawk tribal elder and military officer, Major George Smith.

Silverheels raised, bred and raced Standardbred horses in his spare time. Once, when asked about possibly running Tonto’s famous Paint horse Scout in a race, Jay laughed. “Heck, I can outrun Scout!”

He probably could have outrun Scout. He was a natural athlete and played lacrosse. He wrote poetry, though I haven’t been able to find any of it or I would gladly post an example.

He never escaped his Hollywood stereotyping as a Native American who could only speak broken English. His career faded with the years. He died too young, at age 67 in 1980.

Silverheels spoofed his Tonto character on a number of occasions, most famously in a Stan Freberg Jeno’s Pizza Rolls TV commercial opposite Clayton Moore (TV’s Lone Ranger).

Jay_Silverheels_star_HWF

Jay Silverheels was the person who got me interested in Native American culture, got me reading real history. When anyone makes fun of the Lone Ranger, I always defend the show. Yes, it carried forward a lot of stupid stereotypes, the worse of which is the weird broken English spoken by Tonto in the show … but Tonto and the Lone Ranger were far more equal in their interaction than any other Native American – White Hero combination I saw for many long years. Talking funny wasn’t nearly as important as the mutual respect between the two men. It ultimately changed the way I saw the world and American history. That’s quite a bit of influence for a 1950s TV serial.

Eventually, as I rounded the corner into adolescence, the Lone Ranger and his faithful Indian Companion (who had led the fight for law and order in the early west) returned to those thrilling days of yesteryear, whence they had come. They were replaced by plain, off-white paint. I would have preferred Lone and Tonto to live on, but the paper was old and peeling. Nothing and no one lasts forever.

Tonto and the Lone Ranger were the consummate good guys. The always fought the good fight, were always on the side of justice, fairness, and truth. They never asked for anything in return. As role models go … not so bad. Not bad at all.

My Dear Watson – Weekly Writing Challenge



Categories: American history, Myths and Fables, Show Business, Television

Tags: , , , , , , ,

23 replies

  1. I remember them well. I always wondered what the Lone Ranger looked like without the mask. Thanks for the info on Jay Silverheels. The sidekicks were always the ones in the background, but knowing the man behind Tonto is really interesting. An American friend of mine in Switzerland had a cherokee father and she is very proud of it, quite rightly so.

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  2. Makes me want to watch a classic Lone Ranger Western.

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  3. I finally saw the “Depp Debacle” and was very pleased to notice that the “white” horse (another symbol of the good guys), soon to become permanent transportation for Loney , was smarter than both of those clowns. But Jay Silverheels will always hold a special place in my heart.., made me want to be an Ind…, er.., Native American, or, at least own up to what my relatives claimed was part of our genetic make up.

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    • I just never understood why Lone always sent Tonto to town when we all knew he was going to get beaten up by those racists that were apparently the dominant population of every Western town. I felt Lone should sometimes go do his own shopping — or spying.

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      • If you recall he would always.., or mostly, go to a barber shop, the best place to gather information in a small town, even to this day. But did you ever see him get a trim? Invariably just as the barber turned to him with those famous words “you’re next injun” Tonto would book, leaving the barber with a puzzled look on his face. Then again sometimes Loney would don one of his disguises, usually an old man, and go into town himself. Yeah.., I watched them all back then.

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  4. If he wasn’t much of a runner, at least Scout was allowed to get by on his good looks so the rest of us could marvel at his beauty, too. At least, while not busy marveling at Jay Silverheels’s. 🙂

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  5. Guess why I took up the moniker “Lone Grey Squirrel”.

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  6. Loved the back story on Tonto–even as a little girl, I found him to be the most fascinating of the two. He always seemed so wise, so trustworthy, and I wanted to see more of him in the episodes. Like you, I couldn’t decide which horse I wanted most! (I might have been jealous of your wallpaper, back in the day) 🙂

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  7. I lived this. I remember the hours spent with my Dad watching only westerns. It messed up my man meter, I was looking for a real man like those screen men.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Funny, I called him “Long” Ranger for years myself. Do you ever remember the feature length episode telling of how he became the Lone Ranger? It was a classic I only saw that one time.

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    • I think “Long Ranger” was a common mistake among kids who never saw the name, just heard it. Like “Round John Virgin” and “Jose can you see?”

      They do play that “origin” movie once in a while on an oldies channel or the western channel. Not often, though. We saw it last year somewhere, don’t remember where.

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  9. Reblogged this on My Favorite Westerns and commented:
    Ride on Tonto !

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  10. They are not forgotten.
    and I’m far from finished with my tribute to Tonto and the ‘Masked Man’.

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  11. Who this idiot paleface Johnny Depp? Him strange even for white eyes.

    Sent from my iPhone

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