The wise fool

by Dennis E. Power


Just who was Tonto anyway? Everyone knows that he was the faithful broken English speaking companion of the Lone Ranger but beyond that what do we know. According to the Writer’s guide to the Lone Ranger series, Tonto is the son of a chieftain of the Potawatomi tribe of Indians. He is about 26 years of age, speaks English brokenly and is usually serious. He speaks most of the Indian Languages and all of the lore of the woods, fields and streams. He carries a knife, which he can throw with deadly accuracy, he uses bows and arrows and a rifle in a boot holster.

We also know that he met the Lone Ranger when they were children and so by saving the Lone Ranger from death we was repaying a similar debt.

If he were fluent in several Indian languages it is hard to believe that he never achieved fluency in English. In the first radio shows however he speaks English much better than he did later, We can assume that his broken English was a ploy, it made him seem like a typical "tame" Indian. This allowed him to do surveillance work by listening to conversations that people who ignored him as ignorant Indian.

Tonto, according to was some sources was a Potawatomi word meaning Wild One it is also Spanish for Fool, as we will see perhaps both are applicable.

First lets examine Tonto as a Potawatomi. The Potawatomi were often found in opposition to the United States, they were on the Side of the French in the French-Indian War and on the side of the British during the Revolutionary War and War of 1812.They were originally a Northern agricultural group, living in Southern Michigan, in 1834 they were ordered removed to Iowa and then to Kansas. The various bands split up some going to Canada, Wisconsin, and Northern Michigan. Only one band was not made to move and this was the acculturated Catholic Potawatomi of St. Joseph.

    Was Tonto the son of Chief of the Potawatomi? Yes, probably but this was not the absolute monarchy that the Whites often believed it to be. Which band was he from? Most people would assume that he was from the Prairie. I speculate that he was from the Pokagon Potawatomi They were Roman Catholic and acculturated and as a group they did not leave their southwest Michigan homes.

It was not until  1870, several Potawatomi from several of the differing bands moved to Oklahoma and became known as the Citizen Potawatomi, Most are descended from the Potawatomi of the Woods. This is probably the band that the early writers of the show had in mind when they wrote the character of Tonto. However at the time of Tonto's birth this group had not been formed and neither had had the Potawatomi bands near Detroit been formed.

However between 1852 and 1854, some of the Potawatomi from a few of the bands, migrated down to Northern Mexico to join the Kickapoo who had already migrated there. It is my contention that this is where John Reid and Tonto met. You may ask why would an acculturated Indian join with a more "native" band. There are two reasons,  Tonto's parents and grandparents felt that they had lost touch with their cultural heritage and yet they also felt that their brethern should accept the teachings of Christ. Their move was partitally getting in touch with their roots while doing missionary work.

What exactly was Tonto’s ancestry? We know that he was the son of a Potawatomi chief and yet in the first few books and radio shows he was referred to as a half-breed.

Yet his information was quickly dropped, and half-breeds became villains. Was this because the information was incorrect or was it because it was too close to the truth?

Tonto was apparently a quarterbreed; his mother was the grand daughter of the men James Fenimore Cooper called Nathaniel Bumppo and Chingachgook. Now readers of Cooper’s books will state that Bumppo never married and that Chingachgook’s son, the Last of the Mohicans died without issue. However, we must remember that Cooper was using the medium of historical fiction to expound his views on American society. Cooper accepted the concept of a firmly class-structured society. He abhorred the French, the Iroquois and Catholics. He rigidly opposed race mixing and adhered to a belief that God had created each race as it was for a purpose that was not to be contravened by man.

    In reality Uncas was not the last of the Mohicans or Mahicans as they are more properly known and he may not have been a Mohican at all. Chingachgook was also known as John Mohegan and he named his son Uncas. The Mohegan are an entirely different group of Indians speaking a different language, they are located in Connecticut where as the Mahicans were located in New York. Uncas was a Sachem of the Mohegan who had befriended the English but had caused a split among his own people. However Uncas worked with in concert with the English to expand their territories, he would conquer smaller tribes and absorb them and the English would claim the land.

The Mohegan were English allies and Scouts. The Mohegan served as English scouts during the King William's War (1688-96), and during the Queen Anne's War (1701-13), they guided two expeditions into the upper Connecticut Valley against the Abenaki. During Grey Lock's War (1723-27)

But disease and constant warfare reduced the Mohegan population and many left Conneticut. I suspect that Chingachgook’s Father was one of these, he joined the Delaware and took a Mahican wife. His son Chingachgook was also named John Mohegan reflecting the Mohegan tradition of also taking an English name. Chingachgook also married into the Mahican tribe and had several sons. Uncas being the eldest.

While Uncas death may have occurred as portrayed in the Last of the Mohicans he was certainly not the last of the Mohicans. In stating that he was Cooper was commenting on the passing of the noble savage, those untainted by the depravity of civilization.

One of Chingachgook’s sons married the daughter of Natty Bumppo.

We are told that Natty Bumppo never married, yet he lived as a member of the Delaware, preferring them to his own people. Now there are many reasons why he may have done this, but since he joined the Delaware at the age of sixteen, one of the more probable reasons was because of a woman. Because of Cooper’s views on race mixing, this important aspect of Bumppo’s life was ignored. Cooper probably did not view Bumppos’s marriage to the Delaware woman as valid and so stated the Bumppo never married.

As stated before, Bumppo’s daughter and Chingachgook’s son married and they had a daughter.

The narrative of the Leatherstocking tales has Bumppo and Chingachgook moving further west as the United States claims their lands. That part of the tale is probably true. Bumppo’s daughter and Chingachgook’s son became very interested in spreading Christianity to Native Americans and to this end, settled down in St. Joseph, Michigan. Spreading Christianity may not have been the only reason for their traveling to Michigan. Their daughter grew up to marry the son of one of Potawtomi chiefs. She brought into the marriage a missionary zeal that influenced her husband.
Tonto's maternal grandparents, his parents and possibly his paternal grandparents joined with the bands of Potawatomi that migrated to Mexico.

Tonto’s Christian name was probably also John but his last name has yet to be disclosed.
    His family's mission to Mexico was to end tragically.

    John Reid and Tonto met  when Tonto's  tribe, his extended family, had been massacred by Butch Cavendish and a young man named Barrett. Cavendish had been working under orders from the Capellean High Council to wipe out any suspected Eridanean agents among the Native Americans. The incident was one of the many such atrocities not recorded by history.  It was along the Rio Grande in Mexico.
    John Reid, his brother, and their cousin Lancelot had been taken by their uncle John Silver on a trip to Mexico city. While in Mexico city, John Silver had gotten a message that this small band of Potawatomi with its two Eridanean agents would be slaughtered. John Silver was worked with the Eridaneans but was not an agent or an adoptee. He however had become through business dealings friendly with Tonto's grandfather.
    Having little time to waste, Silver and his nephews rode hell for leather. Unfortunately by the time Silver and his nephews had gotten there they were almost too late.
    Cavendish and his officers had left the area, leaving a final clean up to some riff-raff.
    They had found one survivor a ten year old boy, whom they given a knife. They were holding him at bay with whips while they gradually wore him down.
John Reid fired a bullet into a man who was using his whip to choke the Indian boy.
 The Indian boy was nicknamed the Wild One and he  insisted on become John Reid's blood brother.
    The remaining men were shot down or fled. Silver arranged for the boy to be sent to his nearest living relatives.
    Tonto more than likely returned to the Michigan Potawatomi and had an extensive formal education but also acquired an extensive training in tracking and woodcraft. He was well versed in several Native American languages. This training would prove to be an invaluable asset for his early and later careers. During the war, Tonto volunteered for the U.S. Army using his connections with the powerful Silver family to become an Intelligence agent, infiltrating Confederate Indian forces and passing along information. His identity was discovered and he barely escaped from the Indian Territory with his life.
    Tonto was next assigned to work with Yancey de la Rougierre Silver, who used the alias of Yancy Derringer.  Derringer was the son of Thomas Silver 1825-1874  a drunkard, gambler and it is rumored a procurer. At the age of fifteen he seduced the daughter of a well established Creole family the wealthy and mysterious de la Rougierres, and made her pregnant, After being thoroughly beaten, he married her and then promptly left town for a few years. Their child was born 1840 Yancy de la Rougierre Silver. Under the code name Derringer, Yancy de la Rougierre Silver was an operative of the mysterious Westerfield Club, and an operative of US. Intelligence working in New Orleans, Derringer reported directly to General Benjamin Butler, Military Governor of Louisiana. Derringer was also an Eridanean adoptee. Tonto adopted the identity of a Pawnee named Pahoo-Ka-Ta Wah for this mission.
    Their adventures were portrayed in the western television series Yancy Derringer. Although the series was set in the late 1870s, the events portrayed actually took place during the United States occupation of New Orleans during the Civil War.

    In 1866, Derringer got news that the Reid brothers were going to be eliminated because of Dan Reid’s possible knowledge of the true nature of President Lincoln’s assassination and possibly other matters. A Capellean by the name of Butch Cavendish had been dispatched to kill them. Knowing of Tonto’s acquaintance ship with the brothers and his hatred for Butch Cavendish, Derringer dispatched him to warn them and prevent the assassination.
    Butch Cavendish was ordered to kill Daniel Reid. Cavendish was apparently a free agent who worked for hire, working variously for Eridaneans, Capelleans and other secret and criminal organizations. Accompanying Cavendish on the ambush at Bryant’s Gap were one or two men who had known Reid and were part of Baker’s organization.
    Tonto arrived just in time to see them cut down in an ambush. After the Cavendish gang had left, Tonto had rushed in and ascertained that all but one of the Rangers was apparently dead. He buried all four bodies rapidly in a mass grave and then carries the wounded Ranger to safety. When he returned for supplies he thought the grave had been either looted or set upon by predators. He covered it up without noticing one of the bodies was missing.

    Recall the scene if you will, In 1866 Captain Dan Reid of the Texas Rangers leads his men into Bryant’s Gap where they are betrayed by another Ranger. And ambushed by the Butch Cavendish gang. All but Reid and his brother are killed out right. Reid falls and then does his brother.

The traitorous Ranger Collins checks on the bodies and then is shot in the back by Cavendish. The Cavendish gang rode off. An Indian who has been watching from a hiding place checks for survivors.

Finding one severely wounded he binds his wounds and quickly buries the bodies.

He then takes the wounded man to safety. When he returns to the gravesite, we can image that the grave has been disturbed. Since the bodies had been buried in haste predators must have been attracted to it, but Striker was too genteel to mention this, or the Cavendish’s might have doubled back to loot the graves.

Nor would Tonto tell his brother that his brother’s body had been disturbed and mutilated.

Tonto took what supplies remained and returned to nurse back to health Ranger John Reid who became the Lone Ranger.

        When the Ranger came to he recognized Tonto as a childhood friend, albeit a brief one. They called you Tonto,

This signaled to Tonto that John Reid had known something of Tonto’s activities because that was also his code name in the Intelligence. He had adopted it because it means Wild One, or someone that does not follow the normal path. It was also a signal to fellow Eridaneans.

    As was shown in THE OTHER LOG OF PHINEAS FOGG, cards were used as signal devices, these included playing cards and the Tarot. According to the Tarot, the Fool is the Zero card, it signifies that a great change is going to come into your life. The fool represents the beginning of a journey. Significantly three of the reinforcing cards for the fool are the Hanged Man, The Star, and Judgement. The Hanged man sacrifices his life for knowledge, symbolically so does the Lone Ranger pretending to be dead to seek out and identify lawlessness. The Star is self-explanatory given his chosen career, as is Judgement.

Remember these significant facts, It was Tonto who gave the Lone Ranger his name, it was Tonto, who made the mask out of Dan Reid’s vest, (or one of the Ranger’s), it was Tonto who named the Ranger’s horse Silver and it was Tonto that did much of the investigative work that was the backbone of most Lone Ranger adventures.

After John Reid retired, Tonto worked with Dan Reid as Tonto for a few years and then with another person groomed to take over the Lone Ranger mantle but who was unfortunately killed early in his career.

After assuming a few roles for the Club, Tonto took on the persona of Tecumseh Fox, a detective living in Westchester New York. Although Fox vehemently denied he was Indian, it may have been to confuse anyone who looked into his past.

   Tonto may have married at least once using the name Hawk. Possible descendants of his are Joaquin Hawks, an espionage agent whose exploits where recorded by Bill S. Ballinger and Lt. John Hawk of the Hawk television series (1966)



© 2000 Dennis Power