The Real Lone Ranger: John Reynolds Hughes, the Man Who Inspired the Myth

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Tony Maples Photography


There isn’t a single town in Texas that doesn’t have famous residents, current or past, and Liberty Hill is no exception. John Reynolds Hughes, perhaps the most influential Texas Ranger of all time, once resided on his horse ranch northeast of Liberty Hill. As with most famous figures of the Old West, in the life of John R. Hughes there’s history and there are legends.

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Photo: Facebook/Traces of Texas

My wife and I met a talkative fella in Parker’s Corner Market in Liberty Hill, a man who was a direct descendant of Gordon Jennings, the oldest man to lose his life defending the Alamo. Well, this fella got to talkin’ about his family and the famous folks from thereabouts.

One particular person whose name came up in the conversation was John Reynolds Hughes. He told us the story of this legendary lawman of the Old West. For some reason, the old-timer referred John Reynold Hughes as Reynolds instead of using his last name Hughes.

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Photo: Facebook/The Lone Ranger

The old-timer said “Reynolds” was born in Illinois and raised in Kansas. When he was 14, he lit out for Texas where he worked punching cattle in what was then Indian Territory. Eventually, Reynolds bought a spread out in northeast Liberty Hill and started raising horses. After a time, Reynolds linked up with the original seven Texas Rangers. On patrol, they chanced upon a native war party resulting in a fight to the death. Unfortunately, the Rangers lost their lives, all except for Reynolds, who was left for dead.

An Indian was passing through and discovered Reynolds still alive and nursed him back to health. In the years to come, Reynolds became known as a famous western lawman until he retired to his ranch. After catching his breath, the old-timer went on to say that before long a fancy writer from up in New York learned about Reynolds and started writing short newspaper stories about him being a lawman. Well, over time the writer christened him as the Lone Ranger and the Indian who found Reynolds became Tonto, his side-kick.  Some say the writer wrote about Reynolds in Liberty Hill and later Zane Grey, a famous western author, wrote about John Reynolds Hughes in one of his books titled ‘Lone Star Ranger.’ Or so this piece of local folklore goes. Perhaps only John R. Hughes knew the real story.

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Photo: Facebook/The Lone Ranger-Fans, Enthusiasts, Collectors

Like most folklore, it’s hard to separate spinning-a-yarn from what is factual. In large part, the old-timer’s tale is accurate based on my research. Then again, what others have written about John Reynolds Hughes probably is based on their own research, and sometimes the facts get mighty mixed up.

Ya’ll can visit John Reynolds Hughes down in Austin at the State Cemetary. I’m sure he would like a visitor or two.