Ke-mo sah-bee

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"Kemosabe" redirects here. For the song by Everything Everything, see Kemosabe (song).

Ke-mo sah-bee (/ˌkmˈsɑːb/; often spelled kemo sabe or kemosabe) is the term of endearment and catchphrase used by the intrepid and ever-faithful fictional Native American sidekick Tonto, in the very successful American radio and television program The Lone Ranger.

Ultimately derived from gimoozaabi, an Ojibwe and Potawatomi word that may mean "he/she looks out in secret",[1] it is sometimes translated as "trusty scout" or "faithful friend".[2][3] Its use has become so widespread that it was entered into Webster's New Millennium Dictionary in 2002.[3]

In the 2013 film The Lone Ranger, Tonto states that it means "wrong brother" in Comanche.


Fran Striker, writer of the original Lone Ranger radio program, spelled the word "ke-mo sah-bee." However, the spelling kemo sabe (or kemosabe) is by far the most common in popular culture, receiving approximately 1,440,000 hits on Google search in June 2014, as opposed to ke-mo sah-bee's 29,700. The word was entered into Webster's New Millennium Dictionary (edited by Barbara Ann Kipfer) in 2002 under the spelling "kemosabe."[3]

Meaning and origin[edit]

There are many theories about the origin and meaning of this word. A common story[4] is that it derives from a Spanish phrase such as "Quien sabe" or "quien no sabe," meaning "who knows?" or "he who does not know". This is implausible because Jim Jewell, director of The Lone Ranger from 1933 to 1939, took the phrase from Kamp Kee-Mo Sah-Bee, a boys' camp on Mullett Lake established by Charles W. Yeager (Jewell's father-in-law) in 1916.[5] Yeager himself probably took the term from Ernest Thompson Seton, one of the founders of the Boy Scouts of America, who had given the meaning "scout runner" to Kee-mo-sah'-bee in his 1912 book "The Book of Woodcraft and Indian Lore".[6]

Kamp Kee-Mo Sah-Bee was in an area inhabited by the Ottawa, who spoke a dialect of Ojibwe. John D. Nichols and Earl Nyholm's A Concise Dictionary of Minnesota Ojibwe defines the Ojibwe word giimoozaabi as "he peeks" (and, in theory, "he who peeks"), making use of the prefix giimoo(j)-, "secretly"; Rob Malouf, now an associate professor of linguistics at San Diego State University, suggested that "giimoozaabi" may indeed have also meant scout (i.e., "one who sneaks").[7]

The etymology provided by Webster's New Millennium Dictionary is, "Has various meanings in Native American languages."[3]

Use in the television series[edit]

In the old Lone Ranger TV series, the Ranger's faithful Indian friend and partner Tonto, played by Native American Jay Silverheels for the entire run of the series was asked in multiple scenes what 'Kemosabe' meant. His reply was invariably, "It mean Trusty Scout!". The made-for-tv color movie 'Enter the Lone Ranger'[1949] combined the plots of the first three (3) episodes of 'The Lone Ranger'TV series [1949 -1953] 'Enter the Lone Ranger', 'The Lone Ranger Fights On' and 'The Lone Ranger Triumphs' [1949] into a complete story related to the origins of the Lone Ranger and his fight for justice for all regardless of sex, race or creed.

In both Tonto finds the forever nameless younger brother of a 'famous' Texas Ranger 'Capt. Reed' barely alive. A medallion around the young man's neck helps Tonto identify him as the same boy who'd saved the Indian after a renegade attack wiped out his own family some years earlier. Tonto had declared the young man, played by Clayton Moore worthy of brotherhood and, after a 'traditional' blood-sharing ceremony gave him the Indian name 'Kemosabe' or 'Trusty Scout'.

Tonto buries the other six dead Rangers and, after consulting with the slowly recovering young Ranger adds a 7th, but empty grave so the whole world will believe the youngest Ranger had died in along with the others. Only Tonto knows of the empty grave and says 'You alone now. Last man. You are Lone Ranger!" The two men pledge to spend the rest of their lives as a team fighting injustice.[8]

Other uses[edit]

  • Khemosabi was the name of a champion Arabian horse. His owners popularized his show career with a series of Lone Ranger themed cartoons.
  • Kemosabe Records, American record label owned by Sony
Song and album titles


Jay Silverheels biography, TONTO: The Man in Front of the Mask, []

  1. ^ Rhodes, Richard (1993). Eastern Ojibwa=Chippewa-Ottawa Dictionary. New York: Mouton DeGruyter. p. Back cover. ISBN 3-11-013749-6. 
  2. ^ Striker, Jr., Fran. "What Does 'Kemo Sabe' Really Mean ?". Old Time Radio. Retrieved November 12, 2008. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Kemosabe". Webster's New Millennium Dictionary of English, Preview Edition. Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. Retrieved November 12, 2008. 
  4. ^ Adams, Cecil. "In the old Lone Ranger series, what did "kemosabe" mean?". The Straight Dope. Retrieved June 1, 2013. 
  5. ^ "The Handbook of Private Schools". 1916. 
  6. ^ Seton, Ernest Thompson (1912). "The Book of Woodcraft and Indian Lore". 
  7. ^ Adams, Cecil (July 18, 1997). "In the old Lone Ranger series, what did "kemosabe" mean?". The Straight Dope. Retrieved 2011-11-28. 
  8. ^ The Lone Ranger, Inc. 2
  9. ^
  10. ^