Claremore Daily Progress

April 13, 2011

Who is Red Ryder?

Larry Larkin

CLAREMORE — “Kids” of all ages will come together this weekend for the second J.M. Davis Gun Museum Daisy Red Ryder BB Gun shooting contest.

Just who is this Red Ryder character, however?

Before loading up for the shootout, let us step back into Old Western factious lore and answer that question.

At one time Red Ryder was more famous than John Wayne. He was battling outlaws well before Gene Autry and Roy Rogers appeared with guitars in one hand and six-shooters in the other.

Maybe only The Lone Ranger matched popularity with Red Ryder. Even then the Fighting Redhead’s image appeared first. The tall rangy cowboy in white hat and red shirt with overflowing sandy red hair appeared in the homes of 14 million fans.

The two famed champions of right over wrong rode different paths in their ongoing battles for justice.

Radio brought The Lone Ranger to life. Novels, two movie serials, a long run of comic books, and then a successful television series followed. For Red the trail begin with the comic strip with novels, almost 30 B-Western movies, a brief time on radio, and the comic books following. A TV pilot was filmed, but for whatever reason a series didn’t happen.

The Masked Man and his Indian sidekick Tonto and the call of “Hi Ho Silver” were heard for the first time in 1933. Red Ryder rode into the picture on Sunday, November 6, 1938. Also having an Indian pal, 10-year-old Little Beaver, Red made his first appearance in a popular long-running Western comic strip by artist Fred Harman.

A cowboy himself, Harman based his stories on his own Colorado background. His detailed panels made the readers feel like they were stepping right into the story.

The comic strip was syndicated by Newspaper Enterprise Association. It was expanded over the following decade to 750 newspapers and translated into ten languages before coming to an end in 1964.

What followed was a successful campaign of merchandising and licensing with the near endless parade of novels, movies including a 12-chapter serial, radio programs, rodeos, powwows, and comic books.

The Daisy Red Ryder BB Gun production continues today. It remains the longest continuous license in history.

Behind the rifle, the Red Ryder comic books were the most popular item collected today. Dell Comics launched their first Red Ryder in August 1941. It covered 151 issues and didn’t end until 1957. Unlike most other comics, the Ryders usually featured one continuous story. In most issues Little Beaver and girlfriend Ko-Po also had an individual adventure. The covers were always action packed

Red Ryder always rode a powerful and beautiful back stallion named Thunder. Little Beaver was always close by on his painted pony Papoose. Usually it was Red getting his small pal out of trouble, but Little Beaver also helped his friend at times when he was in a jam.

The radio stories followed the same line as the newspaper strips. The movies did not. The serial and the first 24 features pretty much used the character names only. One worthy addition came at the start of some of the William “Wild Bill” Elliot “Ryders.” During the opening credit the actor actually stepped out from a huge full page of the comic strip.

Although he was billed as “America’s famous fighting cowboy,” Red Ryder seldom inflicted serious harm to his enemies. His ability to disarm the bad guys by aiming only for their shooting hand was known wide and far.

While The Lone Ranger comic strip did appear in The Claremore Progress as late as the mid-1960s, Red Ryder never did. The strip was in the Sunday edition of The Tulsa World comics for a period in the 1950s, however.

Due to Harman’s death and the passing of Western movies and comic strips and books, the fame of Red Ryder has faded. Even so the Daisy Company has remained faithful to their special cowboy hero. They continue to stress gun safety for all ages.

The BB shooting contest at the Davis Museum is for adults 18 and over on Friday night 6 to 8 p.m. Contestants will be charged a fee of $10. The fee also covers refreshments.

There is no charge for contestants under age 18 all day Saturday.

The name of Red Ryder will ring out again during these two days.