Friday, July 13, 2007



The radio series identified Tonto as a chief's son in the Potawatomi nation. His name translates as wild one in his own language. For the most part, the Potawatomi did not live in the Southwestern states, and their cultural costume is different from that worn by Tonto. (This could be explained by some bands of Potawatami being forcibly removed from their lands and being forced to settle in what's now present day Kansas and Oklahoma.) The choice to make Tonto a Potawatomi seems to come from station owner George Trendle's youth in Michigan. This is the traditional territory of the Potawatomi, and many local institutions use Potawatomi names. The phrase kemo sabe, however, was coined not by Trendle but by James Jewell, co-creator and director of the radio series; according to Jewell, his father-in-law ran a camp named Ke-Moh-Sah-Bee in Michigan.

Later, the portrayal of Tonto, in radio, television, and film, was seen by some Native Americans as degrading, including noted Native American author and poet Sherman Alexie. [2] Tonto spoke in a pidgin, saying things like, "That right, Kemo Sabe," or "Him say man ride over ridge on horse." Further, in Spanish the word "Tonto" means "fool" or "idiot". Television actor Silverheels was not above making a little fun of the character himself, as in a classic Tonight Show sketch with Johnny Carson. (Silverheels was born Harold J. Smith on the Six Nations Indian Reserve, in Brantford, Ontario, Canada.)

Tonto also surfaced in the various films, comic strips, and comic books based on The Lone Ranger. Later depictions beginning in the 1980s have taken efforts to show Tonto as an articulate and proud warrior whom the Ranger treats as an equal partner.

from Wikipedia

I always dug Tonto as a kid. I didn't know whether I trusted the Lone Ranger or not except that he was a Texan, I thought, and, yes, he was an ex-Texas Ranger who'd lost his family to...well, was it the Indians? Plus, I knew, like Eugene O'Neill's Emperor Jones thought there was magic powers in silver bullets, so, too, the Lone Ranger who used silver bullets in his six-shooters made from silver from his family's (the Reids) silver mine.

I don't think Tonto was allowed to carry a weapon, though probably Tonto may have carried a tomahawk--though I don't think he had a bow and arrow. I do remember Tonto's horse's name was Scout--"Hi-yo, Silver, away!"--that was the Lone Ranger (who as far as I knew was really Brace Beemer--the actor who played the "Lone One" on the early radio shows), always followed by Tonto in his best pidgeon English saying, "Get-'em up, Scout."

Here's a site devoted to the Lone One and his "Indian" companion--it hasn't been worked on in many a moon, but if it still works there's a love and devotion for these two fictional white-created heroes--heroes being very important to little white boys especially those who loved playing "cowboys and Indians," though you could hardly call the Lone Ranger a cowboy and you could hardly call Tonto an Indian. "Hmmm, Chemo-sabe, you like take'em some of this pot of watame I just stir'em up?"

Trendle-Campbell Enterprises. Fran Striker. Names I recall from the old radio shows.

Here's a site devoted to the teevee Lone One and Tonto, this one played by a Mohawk Indian named Smith, Jay Silverheels:

Hey, yahoo, in the link's photos, Jay Silverheels is pulling a six-gun along with Clayton Moore (the teevee Lone Dude), so I guess by the time Tonto got to teevee they trusted him with a gun.
Tonto on the radio was played by a white man.

I noticed a little controversy over whether Tonto's horse was a palamino--nope, Scout was a pinto pony.

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, I had a friend named Tito, but I always called him Tonto, to which he'd say, "It doesn't matter what you call me, Tito or Tonto, I'm still one crazy god-damn Indian."

I sent off for Lone Ranger things they would announce at the end of the show, like once it was a layout of Frontier Town, the city the Lone Ranger and Tonto frequented--and I sent off a Roosevelt dime to Battle Creek, Michigan (the home of Kelloggs cereals) for it and got back a big sheet of tough paper with the city's layout in artist colors and the surrounding territory, like some badlands hills and caves outside of town and then a sheet of cutout buildings and things you could order to add to your paper Frontier Town. Once you had the layout, you could follow the radio episodes using the the radio would be saying, "Luke 'Meany' Rastoff, the notorious gunman, is rumored to be hiding in one of the many box canyons out by the Elders place on the trail to the Rustling Hills out near where a gang of renegade redskins who are really white men are also setting up to rob the Frontier Town Bank. The Lone Ranger and Tonto think they know exactly in which canyon these outlaws are holding up...." And little kids would lay their Frontier Towns out and then follow the story--seeing the box canyons, the caves, and where these dreaded outlaws are really hiding.

On another occasion I sent off for a Lone Ranger Secret Code ring and compass. And that's exactly what I got back, a tin ring with a working compass where the jewel goes usually surrounded by an alphabet and some numbers that you used when the Lone Ranger himself would give you a coded message at the end of the show--OK, my first secret message from that mask man said, "Brush'em teeth." By God, the message was from Tonto.

The last premium item I sent a dime off to Battle Creek for was of all things a pedometer. That's right, folks, a pedometer, just like the Lone Ranger and Tonto wore strapped to their legs--hey, it worked. It was a round silver tin device and you were supposed to strap it around your ankle and then as you walked it would register how far you had walked in yards--going up to a mile. I put mine on my ankle and then got on my bike and rode around like I was on Silver--that pedometer went spinning crazily into thousands and thousands of yards until it just sprung itself silly and busted wide open.

To be honest, a confession, I really liked Red Ryder and Little Beaver better than the Lone Ranger and Tonto--though Little Beaver spoke the same kind of pidgeon English: "You betchum, Red Ryder." Red Ryder had better premiums, too, like a Daisy BB gun modelled after Red's on Winchester shootin' iron--I even had a Red Ryder cap pistol--a hell of a lot better weapon than a Lone Ranger six-shooter. Little Beaver did not carry a weapon unless it was a special-edition Red Ryder Bowie knife, a real knife that could really kill if you happened to be that desperate a kid.

Hi-yo, wolfman, away,

for The Daily Growler

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