Was an African American cop the real Lone Ranger?

Story highlights

  • Disney releases latest Lone Ranger film, but who was the real-life inspiration?
  • Historian believes it could be African American U.S. Deputy Marshal, Bass Reeves
  • The 19th-century Arkansas slave became legendary lawman in what is now Oklahoma
  • They have many similarities, such as a gray horse, silver calling cards and disguises
More than a century before Johnny Depp wore a terrifying crow headpiece in new Disney film "The Lone Ranger," another hero of the Wild West was carefully arranging his own remarkable disguise.
Sometimes he dressed as a preacher, at other times a tramp, and occasionally even a woman.
But beneath the elaborate costumes was always Bass Reeves -- a 19th-century Arkansas slave who became a legendary deputy U.S. marshal, capturing more than 3,000 criminals with his flamboyant detective skills, super strength and supreme horsemanship.
Sound familiar? As one historian argues, Reeves could have been the real-life inspiration behind one of America's most beloved fictional characters -- the Lone Ranger.
"Many of Reeves' personal attributes and techniques in catching desperadoes were similar to the Lone Ranger," says Art Burton, author of "Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves."
"He was bigger than the Lone Ranger -- he was a combination of the Lone Ranger, Sherlock Holmes and Superman," Burton told CNN. "But because he was a black man his story has been buried. He never got the recognition he deserved."
Legendary Lone Ranger
It's a world apart from the fictional Lone Ranger, who remains one of most the iconic Wild West heroes of the 20th century.
First appearing on a Detroit radio station in 1933, the masked man on a white stallion who brought bad guys to justice was hugely successful, with the series running for over two decades. It spawned novels, comic books and an eight-year TV show starring the most iconic Lone Ranger of all -- actor Clayton Moore.
Indeed, Disney's new film -- featuring Armie Hammer as the Lone Ranger and Johnny Depp as his tr