Sometimes sidekicks don’t get the recognition they deserve. The hardworking wingmen and women work alongside the hero, fighting for justice as an integral part of the team. The heroes, however, do appreciate their partners by taking care of them, trusting them, and protecting them. Why do they do this? Because, most of them have been saved, a time or two, by their sidekicks.
The relationship between the Lone Ranger and Tonto is one such case. The long running radio and early TV show was created by George W. Trendle and developed by writer Fran Striker early in the 20th century. Inspiration for the character can be pointed to various characters and stories in pop culture. The concept of the western civilization working with Native American society holds similarities to Karl May’s Old Shatterhand, which had previously been influenced by James Fenimore Cooper’s The Leatherstocking Tales. The justice seeking masked man also pays homage to the face-covering Zorro and the poor-helping Robin Hood.
The Lone Ranger premiered on the radio in 1933 on WXYZ in Detroit, Michigan. As Reid, the Lone Ranger started out as a Texas Ranger, along with five others, who chased the Cavendish Gang. The rangers were led into an ambush by the gang and all were killed, except Reid. Fortunately, Tonto, his childhood friend, discovered him, in turn saving his life. Tonto took him to a safe place and nursed the wounded ranger back to health. During the recuperation, Tonto reminded him of a time when they were children and Reid saved Tonto from a group of Native Americans who had attacked his family, leaving him for dead. At the time, Reid gave him a horse and in return, Tonto gave Reid a ring, which was the way Tonto identified his fallen friend after the ambush. Then, while Reid is recovering Tonto, respectfully, buries the dead rangers. Reid vows to avenge his fallen rangers and asks Tonto to create a sixth grave, so that everyone will assume he too is dead. He then becomes the Lone Ranger, with Tonto by his side.
There is, however, another story that explains Tonto’s beginnings. Originally presented in the December 7, 1938 radio broadcast, Reid was already known as the Lone Ranger when he met Tonto. In that story, Tonto had been injured during a gold mine explosion caused when two men he was working with dynamited the area. The Lone Ranger arrived on the scene, saving Tonto before one of the men could kill him, and even made the man resuscitate the wounded Tonto. The man then decided to frame Tonto when he planned to murder his partner and again, the Lone Ranger saved Tonto, then the Native American young man traveled with the cowboy.