Archive for Monday, January 20, 2014

Red Ryder: More than just a BB gun

January 20, 2014

Recently, I was skimming through a brochure advertising toys and I was surprised to find that a Red Ryder BB gun was listed. I had no idea that the Daisy Company was still manufacturing the Red Ryder brand. I had to wonder how many youngsters that received the BB gun had any idea who or what Red Ryder was. It was certainly a gift idea that has been around for generations.

Let me add that well over seven decades ago, I received a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. Like Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” I really wanted the BB gun, and like Ralphie, I was warned to be careful and not shoot out my eye.

I really don’t remember playing with it that much. I did some target practice, shooting at bottles, etc., but it wasn’t long before I went back to another form of target practice – shooting baskets. I never knew what happened to the BB gun, although I wish I had kept it because it would probably be valuable as an antique. I guess I wanted the BB gun because it was a status symbol for kids. It seemed that everyone I knew had one. I knew a number of kids who got into trouble shooting song birds or breaking windows.

You have to be extremely mature to remember Red Ryder. For the younger generation Red Ryder was one of a long list of western heroes. Red Ryder was featured in a comic strip which was syndicated and published in 750 newspapers. The comic strip was started on Dec. 6, 1938, and was finally discontinued in 1964.

Red Ryder was created and written by Stephen Sleshinger and drawn by Fred Herman. Like most western heroes of the era, the character worked on a ranch which was owned by his aunt, “The Duchess.” The “Painted Valley Ranch” was supposedly located in the Blanco Basin. Red spent most of his time chasing outlaws. Red got his name because he was redheaded and like all cowboys heroes he could shoot straight and always stood up for what was right. I believe he carried a bolt action rifle which led to the Daisy BB gun.

He was accompanied by an Indian youth named “Little Beaver” who rode a pony named “Papoose.” As I remember it, he was a bit of a comical character that certainly would never pass the modern standard of political correctness. He spoke broken English, however in his time he was thought of as a good role model supporting good ideas for children. For example, he extolled the value of eating properly, including spinach.

It is hard to imagine how popular the comic strip was at the time. It wasn’t long before it became a radio series on the Blue Network. It started in 1940 and continued through the “golden era” of radio and ended in 1957. At one point it had higher ratings than the “Lone Ranger.”

Red and Little Beaver chased bad guys in 35 movies and serials. Many different actors played Red Ryder, however the most notable actor was Robert Blake, who played Little Beaver in a few movies.

While largely unknown today, the “Red Ryder” brand was huge at one time. Some J. C. Penney stores had a “Red Ryder corral” that sold Red Ryder brand clothing, including jeans.

Over the years, Red Ryder seemed to fade away as the series ended and only “old cowhands” remember the hero in a red shirt who stood for law and order. It seems fitting that the Daisy Company continues to remember him with a BB gun that carries his name.

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