Legends among us: The last Lone Ranger

OKEECHOBEE — Sometimes in life, you have surreal moments. There are those unexpected moments that last a lifetime. This is my reflections of one of my moments locked within my heart.

Gordie Peer (right) and David Chaltas met at the Okeechobee County Public Library. Special to the Lake Okeechobee News.

I had dropped by my place in Okeechobee, for two purposes. One was to check on my place and work a little around it. The other was to participate in the Military History Expo in Vero Beach. I was excited about the event, for I had never attended it. The rest of my time was to be mundane and almost second nature. I was badly mistaken!

Left to right in this photo from days gone by are Clayton Moore, Lash LaRue, Gordie Peer. Special to the Lake Okeechobee News.

Gordie Peer displays memorabilia at the Okeechobee County Library.

I don’t have Wi-Fi and enjoy going to the lovely library in town, so I loaded up my computer and went to answer some messages along with writing a few people online.

When I arrived, I noted the chairs were in disarray towards the back. There were two gentlemen working diligently taking down the legendary artifacts and memorabilia that belonged to Gordie Peer. My first thought was that he must have passed away. But when getting closer, I realized that one of the men was indeed Gordie! I was in awe. Here was a man who knew the Lone Ranger, Lash LaRue, the Cisco Kid, and Poncho, been in western movies and had taught western cowboys of the silver screen how to shoot, rope, and ride.

He is noted across this country as one of the last cowboys of old. I was star struck.
For those who don’t know Mr. Gordie V. Peer, allow me to update you on this legend.

Gordie grew up during the Depression and was on his own as a teen; being only twelve years of age. One day he hoboed a train and soon discovered it was a Wild West Show owned by Colonel Jim Eskew. He talked to the workers and the Colonel, who offered him a job taking care of the horses. He was a natural and had found his calling. Before long he was practicing with a rope, twirling his gun and began catching the eyes of several people. His rope tricks, bullwhip feats and shooting exhibitions became famous. He began meeting cowboys from the silver screen.

He credits the Cisco Kid (Duncan Renaldo) and Poncho (Leo Carrillo) with introducing him to Clayton Moore, forever known as the Lone Ranger. The year was 1951 and Clayton Moore had heard of this cowboy who could rope cows, ride bulls, twirl a gun, and crack a bull whip with precision. He went to an event and there he saw Gordie perform. A friendship was formed and in later years, The Lone Ranger, Tonto (Jay Silverheels), and the other sidekick of legend, toured together. The Lone Ranger would narrate while Gordie would demonstrate. One of the climaxes of the show was when the old Lone Ranger shot a gun out of Gordie’s hand!

“I was in my early twenties then and see, I’d worked on ranches, handled cattle. But Clayton was an actor, not a cowboy.” Gordie taught the Lone Ranger how to twirl his gun, work with the whip, and do the back-spin draw from his holster. I am sure he also assisted in teaching the Lone Ranger to ride with such grace as seen in the long running series.

Gordie was in several of the silver screen westerns with several cowboy stars and worked the rodeo circuit. He was also an accomplished trick rider, along with being an expert with his whip and quick draw.

In 1958, Gordie stopped in the sleepy little cow town known as Okeechobee. He only had a few pennies, but the waitress offered an act of random kindness. She fed him with what he offered her. He decided to settle and has a twenty-acre ranch where he still teaches the God-given skills he possesses.

As I sat in the Okeechobee library, I didn’t want to intrude because the two men were working hard taking down a life time of material Mr. Peer had collected over the years.

The library was getting a new floor and Mr. Peer and his friend, Tom Bratton were moving his stuff so that it wouldn’t get damaged, destroyed or stolen. I waited like a cougar for the right moment and it came within the hour. They took a breather and I pounced. Rather I mustered up the courage and went over to where they were sitting. I introduced myself and we began talking.

Both gentlemen were gracious and within a few moments, Mr. Peer was questioning me. His first question was about taps. Did I know how it originated? Did I know where it was written and why? Did I know the name of the person who penned it? To say the least, I was overwhelmed. I muttered through my limited knowledge and then he said he was a descendant of the man who wrote taps! He quoted his genealogy all the way back. I was impressed to say the least!

This is the story Mr. Peer shared with me that was passed down from his ancestors. I never would question such a source as a family legend. He mentioned it was in July of 1862 at a place called Harrison’s Landing in Virginia, during the Seven Days Battle. He described a scene of a Federal soldier (Robert Ellicombe) on the battle field looking at the aftermath of the fight. As he looked upon the dead and dying, he saw a familiar face of a friend.

Noted that some claim Taps was written by a Union soldier who found a dead Confederate soldier (legend also included being the son of the bugler) and played those twenty-four random notes that have touched millions. Others have said it was General Butterfield. Oliver Wilcox Norton claimed that he and General Butterfield worked together to compose Taps.

The following is Oliver’s account: “One day, soon after the seven days’ battles on the Peninsular, when the Army of the Potomac was lying in camp at Harrison’s Landing, General Daniel Butterfield sent for me, and showing me some notes on a staff written in pencil on the back of an envelope, asked me to sound them on my bugle. I did this several times, playing the music as written. He changed it somewhat, lengthening some notes and shortening others, but retaining the melody as he first gave it to me. After getting it to his satisfaction, he directed me to sound that call for “Taps” thereafter in place of the regulation call. The music was beautiful on that still summer night and was heard far beyond the limits of our Brigade. The next day I was visited by several buglers from neighboring brigades, asking for copies of the music which I gladly furnished. I think no general order was issued from army headquarters authorizing the substitution of this for the regulation call, but as each brigade commander exercised his own discretion in such minor matters, the call was gradually taken up through the Army of the Potomac.”

Again, history is clouded in myth and legend. I must admit though, I tend to believe a man that quickly recalls his genealogy without effort, who can quote cowboy poetry at a drop of a hat, name weapons used during the War Between the States with ease (he possesses several), recalls details of days of old, had actually met some Union and Confederate soldiers, knew some of the great American Indians of his day, and was friends with the old Lone Ranger! To me, those are superior credentials!

Mr. Peer went on talking. He asked me about the three most used weapons. I mentioned what I knew, and he rattled off the names of the guns effortlessly. He casually mentioned he had originals and had recently sold one of his guns. He then shared with me that he had shook the hands of actual Confederate and Union soldiers when he was a young man. He said it was one of the perks of being in show business and half-heartedly laughed.

Mr. Peer asked had I ever heard of the time the Lone Ranger was in a restaurant wearing sunglasses and a ball hat. I stated I had not. He went on and told me that they went in and as they ordered their food, ate, the waitress kept staring at Clayton. As they left the restaurant, Clayton said to wait a minute, went back into the restaurant and yelled, “Hi Ho Silver Away”! Then he ran back to our car. The waitress screamed, “I knew it was him!” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry with gratitude.

Tom kept looking at me and all of a sudden, he said that I looked familiar and what was my name again. I told him, and he said he had a book that I had written entitled, R. E. Lee, Reflections! Mr. Peer asked me about my persona and I happened to have a copy of my book in the car. I went out and gave each man a copy. They were very appreciative of the gift and Mr. Peer stated he was going to sell some of his memorabilia. He asked would I be interested, and I was stunned! I knew I couldn’t afford anything, but I said yes. He asked me for a card and stated he would be contacting me soon.

As I shook his hand, I heard in the distance a familiar voice. A voice I had heard so many times in my youth and grew to love. A voice that beckoned me to do my best, treat all with fairness and love. A voice that challenged me to be truthful, just, honorable, and honest. A voice that taught me to love God, Country, and do what was right. The voice was that of the Old Lone Ranger saying, “HI HO SILVER AND AWAY!”

Gordie Peer is the embodiment of the old west, where the good guys always triumphed over bad. He is the last of his breed and encompasses the values, morals, and innocence of a time now gone. The day will come when the last Lone Ranger will fade into the sunset, but he will leave behind a legacy for the rising generation to embrace.

I left realizing that in life, God places people in your lives to help you grow and to learn from them. I feel that those moments with those two fine gentlemen was one of those experiences. I never met Jay Silverheels or Clayton Moore. I do recall crying when I heard of their passing. But now I have met a man who not only rode with them but was friends with the men of legend. I had shaken the hand of the man who was friends with some of the famed cowboys of old such as the Duke! I had spent time with a man who had been in rodeos, the circus, western movies and rode beside silver screen legends when men and women were not afraid to express their love of God and Country.

For me, it helped me recommit myself to serving God. The brief encounter made me realize that I must get back to those days of innocence and serve my fellow man. Those precious moments helped me reaffirm my faith and my beliefs. I thought of the Lone Ranger’s Creed and, as in the days of old, renewed my vows to follow it to the best of my ability.

I Believe…
That to have a friend, a man must be one.
That all men are created equal and that everyone has within himself the power to make this a better world.
That God put the firewood there but that every man must gather and light it himself.
In being prepared physically, mentally, and morally to fight when necessary for that which is right.
That a man should make the most of what equipment he has.
That “This government, of the people, by the people and for the people” shall live always.
That men should live by the rule of what is best for the greatest number.
That sooner or later, somewhere, somehow, we must settle with the world and make payment for what we have taken.
That all things change but truth, and that truth alone, lives on forever.
In my Creator, my country, my fellow man.
The Lone Ranger

The Lake Okeechobee News is published every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday and now includes news from around the lake every Wednesday.

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