Monday, July 25, 2011
Tom Mix: The King of Cowboys
I always love it when an unexpected story comes my way. On our way home from Tucson last week, we decided to take the back highway Route 79. Sharon was telling me about a monument for a cowboy actor who died along that particular stretch of road. His name was Tom Mix and he was known as “The King of Cowboys”.
Thomas Edwin Mix was born on January 6, 1880 into a poor logging family in Mix Run, Pennsylvania. He spent his youth riding horses and working on a local farm. His days were consumed with thoughts of being in the circus as a knife thrower. He was rumored to use his sister to assist while he practiced throwing knives against a wall. But life would take him in another direction as an American film actor in many early Western movies. Between 1910 and 1935, he chalked up a staggering 336 films, some of which were silent movies. He was respected and revered by many of the famous cowboys to follow such as John Wayne.
Mix enrolled in the Army on April of 1898 during the Spanish-American War. He married Grace I. Allin on July 18, 1902 and during his time off, he did not return back to duty. In November of 1902, he was listed as AWOL but never court-martialed or even discharged from the Army. After a year of marriage to Grace, they got an annulment. He turned around and married a woman named Kitty but this marriage only lasted a year as well. On January 10, 1909, he married again, this time to Olive Stokes.
After several years of different jobs while living in the Oklahoma Territory, he was hired at a 101,000 acre ranch known as the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch. He stood out as a skilled marksman and accomplished rider. In 1909 he won the National Riding and Rodeo Championship. A year later, he did his first movie in a supporting role showing off his cattle roping talents. Mix became an instant star and two years later a father when his wife Olive gave birth to their daughter, Ruth. Over the course of five years he was in over 100 movies, many with an actress named Victoria Forde. He became infatuated with her, fell in love, and divorced Olive.
By the 1920’s, he was in over 160 matinees that many would head to the theatre to escape from reality for a while. By 1929, he finished his last silent picture and at the age of 49 he was ready to hang up his spurs for good. Later that same year he was a pallbearer at the funeral of Wyatt Earp where it was rumored that he wept openly.
There were reports that on the day of October 12, 1940, Mix was driving his 1937 Cord 812 Phaeton on Arizona State Route 79 when his life came to a tragic end. After pausing at the Oracle Junction Inn, a well-liked gambling and drinking place, he called his agent, hopped in his car and headed on his way. They say he was moving at 80 mph when he hit the construction barriers near where a bridge was washed away by a flood. He couldn’t break in time, swerved his car, rolled twice into a gully, and was trapped beneath the car. In the back seat behind him was a large aluminum suitcase with lots of money, traveler’s check and jewels. The suitcase bolted forward hitting him in the head, breaking his neck and crushing his skull. Mix died instantly at the age of 60.
Along State Route 79 and marking the location where Mix died is a small stoned marker. The gully his car landed in is now named, “Tom Mix Wash”. On the stone marker is a plaque which reads, “In memory of Tom Mix whose spirit left his body on this spot and whose characterization and portrayals in life served to better fix memories of the old West in the minds of living men”.