THE LONE RANGER BE AN ENVIRONMENTALIST?
August 1, 2010
treasures is one of the few upsides to cleaning out an attic in the South
during the summer. One such treasure was a set of tape recordings of radio
programs from more than 60 years ago.
Ranger was a symbol of justice, fighting with his trusty sidekick for
the rights of the downtrodden and vulnerable. But in his role as hero
and champion, he was no stranger to buffalo killing, having acquired his
horse, Silver, by shooting a giant buffalo that was trying to kill the
big white stallion. In 1944 a radio show featuring the masked man involved
the killing of a dozen buffalo with absolutely no remorse. Prairie dogs
were the targets in a shooting contest.
show in the famous radio series was called "The Lone Ranger Rides
with Buffalo Bill." The Lone Ranger and Tonto stampeded a buffalo
herd past some "Easterners" who wanted to watch Buffalo Bill
Cody do his stuff. When asked how many buffalo he brought down, the legendary
buffalo hunter replied, "Just twelve. That's all the ammunition I
had. Two six guns."
In the same
show, when little Billy Cody was only eleven years old, he won a shooting
contest at a prairie dog town on the outskirts of the human town. The
men did not really want to let a mere boy in on the contest, but the plot
demanded that he be allowed to participate. The targets were the little
heads that popped up, making the contest a bit more difficult than if
they had used tobacco tins or whiskey bottles.
would be the man who killed the most prairie dogs with three shots. At
the risk of spoiling the story I will tell you that when it came time
for little Billy to shoot (naturally, he was last), no man had shot more
than one of the wily rodents. Using first his rifle and then his pistol
(with lightning speed), Billy gunned down two prairie dogs to win the
Half a century
ago environmental attitudes were different from today. Even though the
buffalo was practically exterminated by that time in the greater part
of its former geographic range, the idea of killing the animals seemed
to bother no one. And this attitude was not confined to the general public
or to buffalos. The scientific community, including some people who are
now among the nation's "ecologists," helped deplete various
through the 1960s and into the 1970s, turtles were captured and killed
for research projects all over America. The scientific literature is full
of studies in which hundreds of turtles were collected, preserved and
dissected. Why? To determine what they ate. Or how many internal parasites
they had. Or how many eggs a female was carrying. Many of the species
treated in this manner are now endangered.
actions sound like environmental desecrations. And indeed, today they
would be. But a few decades ago they were not. People were not meaner
back then; they just didn't know any better. They were not aware that
the species everyone took for granted were disappearing. Plenty of turtles
and prairie dogs were to be found by anyone who cared to look in the right
places. How was anyone to know that some species would soon be threatened?
guard against applying today's standards to yesterday's environmental
attitudes. I doubt that many of the turtle dissectors and prairie dog
shooters who are still around are doing the same thing today. More likely,
they are taking a stand against further depletion of unsustainable natural
If the Lone
Ranger and Tonto were riding today, I'm sure they would still be fighting
for justice and right. And I think they would have a broader definition
of "downtrodden and vulnerable," which would include the natural
environment and the species that inhabit it. Fortunately, I was able to
reach these conclusions listening to the tapes in the air-conditioned
living room and not in the attic.
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