Features and Columns

Hi-yo, Silver! A Brief History of ‘The Lone Ranger’ and His Loyal Steed

By  · Published on July 2nd, 2013


Just in time for the Fourth of July holiday, a great American hero, born from the sands of the very Wild West he helped settle, hits the big screen at a clip so fast that it can only be declared a gallop. Tall, brave, fierce, fast, and funny, Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger seems poised to reintroduce this legend of stage and screen to a whole new pack of fans, while also delighting an adoring public that’s tracked his every step since the 1930’s.

We are talking, of course, about Silver. (Who did you think we were talking about? Oh. Oh, that’s awkward.)

The Lone Ranger’s long and winding trail to the big screen has been, well, long and winding, with all sorts of budgetary concerns threatening to derail the Armie Hammer– and Johnny Depp-starring take on the American epic before and even during its production. While the film was originally meant to have some heavy supernatural elements (werewolves, anyone?), Verbinski’s final product only retains enough weirdo stuff (carnivorous rabbits, talk of “visions,” and even some cannibalistic tendencies) to keep the film’s sense of “nature being out of balance” going, even as the rest of the production’s awkward issues crumble around it. But Silver, the Lone Ranger’s trusty steed, is chief among the film’s mystical undertones – mainly because he’s deemed a “spirit horse” from the moment he arrives, his faith in Hammer’s John Reid brings him back from the dead, and he has a panache for showing up places where most horses simply can’t (not even won’t, stubborn beasts they may be) show up. He’s basically just a huge star and the most generally appealing character in the entire film.

But has Silver always been this cool? (In a word, yes, but let’s at least spend a bit more time getting to know the noblest of all noble beasts.)

Original radio series Silver (1933–1954)

Sadly enough, Silver’s beginnings weren’t nearly as auspicious in the original Lone Ranger radio series. At least, they weren’t at first. When the radio series kicked off, Silver was already John Reid’s horse and had been for some time. Boring. Five years into the show, it finally occurred to someone that maybe Silver’s fans wanted to know where he came from, thus leading to the September 30, 1938 episode of the show, “The Legend of Silver.” The episode taught us that the Lone Ranger’s first horse was named Dusty, and she was a proud chestnut mare who died in the middle of a pursuit (for justice). The Lone Ranger and Tonto subsequently end up in Wild Horse Canyon, where they are looking for a new mount for the justice-hunter, only to find an “enraged buffalo” going after young Silver. Of course, the Lone Ranger saves Silver, nurses him back to health, and the horse chooses to express his gratitude by staying on as his steed. Adorable, right? In a slightly complicated twist, the Lone Ranger does eventually release Silver back into the wild (in an episode that actually aired four weeks before the origin story episode aired), but Silver not only comes back, but he brings another horse (Scout!) with him, who then becomes Tonto’s horse.

Silver also eventually sires a foal (you go, Silver!) named Victor who becomes Dan Reid, Jr.’s own horse.

Shoehorned-in origin story aside, Silver played a huge role in the identifying elements of the radio show – the show’s introduction first kicked off with a bit about “the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse Silver!” that eventually became the now-iconic line, “From out of the west with the speed of light and a hearty hi-yo Silver” which then turned into a long-form combo that included a combo that told us, “A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty Hi-Yo Silver! The Lone Ranger!” and then ended with a big ol’ “Come on, Silver! Let’s go, big fellow! Hi-yo Silver! Away!”

Silver. What a cool cat. (Horse.)

Silver Serial

The Lone Ranger serials Silver (1938 and 1939)

Played by Silver King and then Silver Chief in the hard-to-find serials, this is a traditionally-seeming Silver that doesn’t get much of a backstory. Still a great sidekick. (Sidehorse.) Amusingly enough, while we know the name of the horse who played Silver in the first serial (just The Lone Ranger), we don’t even know the name of the actual guy who played the goddamn Lone Ranger in the serial. Robert Livingston played him in the second serial (The Lone Ranger Rides Again), but who cares? Silver’s cool points are already sky high.

The Lone Ranger television series Silver (1949–1957)

The Clayton Moore– and Jay Silverheels-starring classic television show followed the accepted radio show tradition. That Silver, still beholden to an enraged buffalo.

CM Silver

The Lone Ranger movie Silver (1956 and 1958)

A continuation of the television show, Silver is still the same old sidekick, still the Lone Ranger’s main pony thanks to an enraged buffalo, still just a great horse.

The Legend of the Lone Ranger movie Silver (1981)

Finally! The notorious movie disaster may have been a complete bust, but at least the Klinton Spilsbury-starring flop featured a new twist on Silver’s origin. This time around, the Lone Ranger doesn’t save the proud steed from an enraged buffalo (this description just never gets old), but from a trap! Again, Silver can’t catch a break.

CMM Silver

The Lone Ranger WB television series Silver (2003)

A modern take on The Lone Ranger mythos, this massively tone-deaf and generally insane attempt by The WB to make the character seem “sexy” and “cool” involved putting Chad Michael Murray on a horse and pretending that he was suddenly cool, sexy, and the Lone Ranger. Wow. There was apparently also a Zorro-bent to things, which makes this already confusing production even more confusing and bizarre and weird and why did anyone think this was a good idea?

God knows where this poor pony came from, as the TV movie meant to serve as a series-starter was shelved, keeping Silver far away from the shame of toting around a former One Tree Hill star. Look how sad that horse looks. Look how brave.

The Lone Ranger movie Silver (2013)

Silver GV

A “spirit horse” that pops up while John Reid, Dan Reid (James Badge Dale), and a posse of Texas Rangers are searching for the evil outlaw Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), Silver is the one who seemingly singles out John Reid to rise again (sort of? it’s unclear if he was ever really dead) and become the Lone Ranger. A trusty steed of the highest order, Silver frequently saves the day, even if that includes climbing to the top of roofs or galloping along moving trains. He’s the most consistently watchable character in the entire film, even if Tonto is convinced that he might just be stupid.

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The Lone Ranger rides into theaters tomorrow, Wednesday, July 3rd. Get excited to meet Silver?

Thanks to both Wikipedia and the Lone Ranger Wikia for teaching us all about Silver.

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