Ke-mo sah-bee (//; often spelled kemo sabe, kemosabe or kimosabe) is the term of endearment used by the fictional Native American sidekick Tonto in the American television and radio programs The Lone Ranger. It has become a common catchphrase.
Fran Striker, writer of the original Lone Ranger radio program, spelled the word "ke-mo sah-bee".
Meaning and origin
There are many theories about the origin and meaning of this word. A common story is that it derives from a Spanish phrase such as "¿Quién 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 in Michigan, established by Charles W. Yeager (Jewell's father-in-law) in 1916. 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".
Kamp Kee-Mo Sah-Bee was in an area inhabited by the Ottawa, who speak a language which is mutually comprehensible with 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").
There have been jokes about the name "kemo sabe". A Far Side cartoon had the then long-retired Lone Ranger discover that the name meant the rear end of a horse. Homer and Jethro's parody of the Stonewall Jackson song "Waterloo" had the following verse: "The Lone Ranger and Tonto rode the trail / catching outlaws and putting them in jail/ But the Ranger shot old Tonto 'cause it seems / he found out what Kemo Sabe means/ (Waterloo refrain follows) The Lone Ranger he did trust / That old Tonto bit the dust."
Use in the television series
In the old Lone Ranger TV series, the Ranger's faithful friend and partner Tonto, played by First Nations actor Jay Silverheels for the entire run of the series, was asked in many scenes what "Kemosabe" meant. His reply was invariably, "It mean Trusty Scout!" The made-for-TV movie Enter the Lone Ranger (1949) combined the plots of the first three episodes of the Lone Ranger TV series: "Enter the Lone Ranger", "The Lone Ranger Fights On", and "The Lone Ranger Triumphs" 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. Reid" barely alive. A medallion around the young man's neck helps identify him as the same boy who'd saved Tonto after a renegade attack had wiped out his own family some years earlier. Tonto declares the young man, played by Clayton Moore, worthy of brotherhood and, after a "traditional" blood-sharing ceremony gives him the name "Kemosabe" or "Trusty Scout".
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- Jay Silverheels biography: TONTO: The Man in Front of the Mask
- Rhodes, Richard (1993). Eastern Ojibwa=Chippewa-Ottawa Dictionary. New York: Mouton DeGruyter. p. Back cover. ISBN 3-11-013749-6.
- Striker, Jr., Fran. "What Does 'Kemo Sabe' Really Mean ?". Old Time Radio. Retrieved November 12, 2008.
- Adams, Cecil. "In the old Lone Ranger series, what did "kemosabe" mean?". The Straight Dope. Retrieved June 1, 2013.
- "The Handbook of Private Schools". 1916.
- Seton, Ernest Thompson (1912). "The Book of Woodcraft and Indian Lore".
- Adams, Cecil (July 18, 1997). "In the old Lone Ranger series, what did "kemosabe" mean?". The Straight Dope. Retrieved 2011-11-28.