Jay Silverheels Jr.

Jay Silverheels Jr.

Jay Silverheels was a Mohawk Indian who grew up on the Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario. He was an outstanding athlete, excelling in lacrosse, which he played professionally in the 1930s for teams in Toronto and Montreal.

He disliked the way indigenous people were portrayed in films and TV shows, and worked to improve their portrayal. He founded the Indian Actors Workshop.


During his brief movie career, Mohawk actor and athlete Jay Silverheels played Tonto, the Native partner of the iconic TV western series The Lone Ranger. The show ran from 1949 to 1958 and starred Clayton Moore as the Ranger. Silverheels was born Harold Smith and raised on Six Nations reserve in Canada. He began his acting career in 1937 and appeared in a number of low-budget films and westerns. He is also credited with helping establish the Indian Actors Workshop in Echo Park, California.

The character of Tonto first aired on the radio series The Lone Ranger in 1933. Creators George Trendle and Fran Striker added the character to give the solitary Ranger someone to talk with. The name Tonto comes from the Potawatomi word kemosabe, meaning “faithful friend” or from Spanish tonto, which means “fool, idiot.” Depp’s version of the character is comic and strange, but with a hint of sadness underneath his eyeliner.

The Lone Ranger

Silverheels and Clayton Moore created characters that were ingrained in the public psyche. They were the faces and voices of The Lone Ranger and Tonto, bringing the characters to life in a way that no one else could duplicate.

When the TV series came to an end in 1954, the characters continued to live on in a series of movies and TV shows. In 1976, Silverheels suffered a stroke and died in 1980 at the age of 67.

He was also a regular on the comedy sketch show The Tonight Show, where he played Tonto in a parody of a job interview that was featured on the LP Here’s Johnny: Magic Moments From The Tonight Show.

During his career, Silverheels appeared in numerous low-budget westerns and serials. He also acted in more prestigious pictures such as Captain from Castile with Tyrone Power, Key Largo with Humphrey Bogart, and Walk the Proud Land with Maureen O’Hara and Jeff Chandler.

Daniel Boone

In the late 40s, Smith started appearing in Westerns as a stuntman and actor. He used the stage name Jay Silverheels, a play on his athletic prowess and a nod to his Native American heritage.

In 1787 Boone was elected to the House of Delegates, and he served three terms before leaving politics. He also ran a store and attempted other business ventures, including furnishing supplies to the militia. But these enterprises were unsuccessful and he became heavily in debt.

In addition to his acting work, Silverheels is a well-known sportsman. He played lacrosse as a youth and traveled around North America in the 1930s to compete in boxing tournaments. He was typecast as Tonto in the Lone Ranger television series, and he later appeared as a Native chief in an episode of The Brady Bunch and a character named Buddy in the short-lived Dusty’s Trail TV series. In 1969, Silverheels spoofed his Tonto character in a comedy sketch on The Tonight Show.

The Brady Bunch

The Brady Bunch was a sitcom that never achieved high ratings in prime time but grew into a cultural phenomenon after its run ended and it started airing on syndication. The show was popular with the 17-and-under audience and the children who played the characters were frequently featured in teen magazines. The characters received upwards of 6,500 fan letters a week.

Silverheels spoofed his Tonto persona in a comedy sketch on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and he also made a tongue-in-cheek reference to his role as the Lone Ranger in an episode of The Brady Bunch titled “Grand Canyon” and in an appearance on the short-lived series Dusty’s Trail starring Bob Denver of Gilligan’s Island f

In later years Silverheels continued to work as an extra and a stunt man, appearing in low-budget westerns, serials, and TV shows. He appeared in Captain from Castile starring Tyrone Power, Key Largo with Humphrey Bogart, Breaking Arrow with James Stewart, War Arrow, The Black Dakotas, Drums Across the River, Walk the Proud Land, Alias Jesse James and Indian Paint.

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