Unmasking The Lone Ranger’s Leading Men

26 June 2013

Armie Hammer descended from a Cherokee chief and Johnny Depp from the first African-American slave to sue for freedom.

Before there was the Lone Ranger and Tonto, there was… Elizabeth Key and Chief Kanagatucko? New research from Ancestry reveals that both Armie Hammer and Johnny Depp — the stars of Walt Disney Pictures’ “The Lone Ranger” — are direct descendants of two real American peacemakers and freedom fighters.

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Origin stories are the new movie magic for Hollywood, with the genesis of leading characters from comic books, fairy tales, and fan fiction serving as the foundation for the latest blockbusters. Disney’s “The Lone Ranger” is no exception, as the movie follows the transformation of betrayed lawman John Reid, played by Hammer, into a masked outlaw who fights for justice with the help of his guide, Tonto, a Native American spirit warrior played by Depp.

To celebrate the release of the film, Ancestry investigated the two stars’ family trees and found that the fight for justice actually runs in their blood. According to the company’s expert family historians, Hammer’s tree includes one of the earliest documented Cherokee leaders and known peace advocate Chief Kanagatucko. Johnny Depp’s eighth great-grandmother was Elizabeth Key, the first African-American woman in the American colonies to sue for her freedom from slavery and win.

Who Was Chief Kanagatucko?

While often known for his family connection to the famous “Arm and Hammer” brand, Armie Hammer can trace his Native American ancestry to his eighth great-grandfather, Cherokee chief Kanagatucko. Known as “Old Hop” or “Stalking Turkey” because of his old age and limp, Chief Kanagatucko was an advocate of peace and friendship during the French and Indian War. He also carried the title of First Beloved Man, which marked him as a spiritual leader or high priest for his tribe. Hammer’s ancestry does put a new spin on Tonto’s moniker for the Lone Ranger, “kemo sabe,” meaning “faithful friend” or “trusted scout.”

Who Was Elizabeth Key?

Unlike Johnny Depp’s vigilante character Tonto, his ancestor Elizabeth Key worked within the law to win her freedom. Born to a British aristocrat father and an African-American mother, Key successfully sued for her freedom and that of her infant son in the mid-1600s. Invoking British colonial law, which stated that civil status was determined by the father, she won her freedom on July 21, 1656, in the colony of Virginia, where some of Depp’s family members have lived since the early 1600s.

Start unmasking your own famous (and not-so-famous) relatives.