By Jeff Z. Klein
That man was Harry J. Smith, but many years later, he became known to the world as Jay Silverheels, the actor who played Tonto in the “The Lone Ranger,” a television series that ran from 1949 to 1957. This summer, there is renewed interest in Silverheels, after Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Tonto in the big-budget film “Lone Ranger.”
How Smith, a lacrosse star of the Six Nations of the Grand River, became Silverheels, an actor who despised his own portrayal of an Indian, is a story that spans a continent and an era. But few realize that what put him on the path to Hollywood was the invention of indoor lacrosse—box lacrosse, as it is called in Canada and western New York.
“He would never have been discovered, never have become Tonto, if he hadn’t been in L.A. to play box lacrosse,” said the historian Larry Power, compiler of the Internet archive Bible of Lacrosse.