First Appearance: Tim Holt #11 (1948) (See the Note
I: Ghost Rider v1 #1-6, Night Rider #1-6, Incredible Hulk #265, West Coast Avengers v2 #8-9, 31-32, 41.
II: Western Gunfighters #7.
III: West Coast Avengers v2 #31-32, 34-35, 39, 41.
IV: Blaze of Glory #3-4.
Years Active: 1870s-1885.
The Phantom Rider has also been known as the Ghost Rider (his Golden Age name) and the Night Rider (his brief name during the 1970s). The character is currently known as the "Phantom Rider," "Night Rider" having unpleasant racist associations and "Ghost Rider" being taken up by the modern Ghost Rider, and so I'm going to use the "Phantom Rider" name here.
In the 1870s a Comanche shaman, seeing a falling meteor, took this to be a sign from the heavens, and on hearing a voice followed its directions, collecting all the glowing dust he could from the meteor, saving the dust for when a champion would be sent to him, and naming himself "Flaming Star." Later, when Carter Slade, a schoolteacher, was gunned down by a band of men working for a frontier land baron, Slade was brought to Flaming Star, who believed that Slade was the champion that the voice had promised him. Star nursed Slade back to health and gave him the phosphorescent dust, a cloak covered in the dust, and a wild, untamed horse. Slade himself believed that he'd been saved from death by God for a purpose, and decided to use Star's gifts to become a masked gunfighter who would frighten evildoers and appear to be a supernatural being. So Slade tamed the horse, calling him Banshee, and made a costume that made use of the cloak and the glowing dust, so that he appeared to be a literal phantom--hence his name, the "Phantom Rider."
The Phantom Rider had a number of adventures, sometimes teaming up with other costumed gunfighters like Kid Colt. Eventually, however, Carter Slade teamed up with his brother, Marshall Lincoln Slade, to fight against a criminal band; Carter Slade was killed in the final shoot-out, and Lincoln Slade, on discovering who his brother really was, took on the identity of the Phantom Rider and became Phantom Rider (III), pretending to be the same ghostly crimefighter. However, Lincoln Slade eventually went insane, and on encountering Mockingbird of the Avengers, who had traveled in time back to the Old West, used an "Indian potion" on her to make her fall in love with him. When she recovered from the effects of the potion, she confronted and fought with him, and during the fight he fell off a cliff and died.
Useful Phantom Rider Site
The Ghost Rider From Don Markstein's Toonopedia site.
Notes: Phantom Rider (II) was Jaime Jacobs, the sidekick of Carter Slade. When Slade was killed Jacobs put on the Rider's outfit but was immediately killed. Blaze of Glory showed a woman named "Ghost Wind Rider" who was the granddaughter of Flaming Star, the implication being that Phantom/Ghost Rider had a daughter at some point. Blaze of Glory also noted that Phantom/Ghost Rider was called, by the "Indians," "He-Who-Rides-The-Night-Winds." Phantom Rider (IV) was Reno Jones, who briefly took on the cowl to help free the town of Wonderment.
The whole story behind the shift from "The Ghost Rider," published by Magazine Enterprises, to the "Phantom Rider," published by Marvel, is an interesting one, but one that I lack the energy to recount here. Go to the Ghost Rider site mentioned above and read it there.