In Enter the Lone Ranger, the Ranger talks of protecting the "new frontier." The episode's opening map suggests the story takes place before Texas became a state in 1845. The landscape certainly seems empty enough to represent the "early days" of the "Old West."
But a note on the DVD says John "Lone Ranger" Reid was born in 1850. That would put the start of his solo career in the 1870s. A chronology confirms that Enter the Lone Ranger is supposed to take place in 1874.
Let's compare The Lone Ranger to Bonanza. Bonanza (1959) debuted a decade after The Lone Ranger (1949). Yet it's supposedly set a decade earlier--in the 1860s rather than the 1870s.
From what I've read, Bonanza seems reasonable compared to most Westerns. A significant number of shows are about land, water, grazing, or mining rights. Bonanza's Nevada is crowded with people who are jealous of the Cartwrights' ranch and want it for themselves.
If the shows aren't about the land, they're often about a US marshal pursuing a gang or escorting a prisoner. Criminals are usually shown on the run and desperate to find a hiding place. Clearly, law and order are already established in Bonanza's West.
The unreal Ranger
Looking at Bonanza, the West was already partly "civilized" by the Lone Ranger's time. How would the Ranger have fit into Bonanza's world?
In that world, which approximates the real world, he would've faced range wars between cattle and sheep men. Conflicts between homesteaders and Indians...or US troops and Indians...or US troops and other dissidents such as Mormons. Confrontations between railroads, ranches, and mines and workers or average citizens.
The Cartwrights were willing to challenge community leaders--judges, businessmen, sheriffs--if morality was on their side. Would the "law and order" Ranger do the same thing? Maybe, but I don't recall him taking on the "powers that be" that often.
For more on the subject, see Myth-Making in Enter the Lone Ranger and The Lone Ranger.
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