Home News Vision Historical Anecdotes: Cowboy of plains and films — Tom Mix

Historical Anecdotes: Cowboy of plains and films — Tom Mix

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Historian Janice Dunnahoo

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily Record

Many may remember the movie “Tombstone.” At the end of the film, the comment was made that when Wyatt Earp died, the great Hollywood actor Tom Mix cried at his funeral. That was a true statement.

The following articles are taken from the Albuquerque Journal, dated Dec. 20, 1931, and Dec. 27, 1931, respectively, and were written just two years after the death of Wyatt Earp. This will be a two-part series.

As you will read, Tom Mix was born in this area. He shared similar interests with Wyatt Earp, such as serving time as a sheriff himself, even making arrests in New Mexico. Read on about his fascinating life and how his friendship to Wyatt Earp became even closer.

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“Thrilling story of Tom Mix, cowboy of plains and films, as told to Dorothy Roe

“Born near El Paso, he began riding a horse almost as soon as he could walk; tells how he earned money to buy first saddle

“By Dorothy Roe

“Universal Service

“He has been called the Beau Brummel of the Wild West.

“Sweeping white sombrero, cream colored cowboy suit, the coat lined and corded with scarlet, patent leather boots stitched in red, white and blue, diamond studded platinum belt buckle with the famous brand that marks everything he wears and even on his horses — that’s Tom Mix, the colorful cowboy hero whose escapades in the wild, wild west thrillers have made him the idol of every small boy in America.

“And Tom Mix in real life has always been a small boy at heart.

“Everything about him, from his remarkable clothes to his palatial home in Beverly Hills, with his monogram in electric lights on each gate, demonstrates a small boy love for the spectacular.

“His full-dress suit and his purple tuxedo have become a legend in Hollywood.

“His famous white cowboy hats, which would hold a full gallon of water or wine, are treasured by friends and admirers all over this country and Europe. At Christmas time, he has sent them out instead of Christmas cards, a thousand at a time, each a replica of his own, each with its red satin lining stamped with the Tom Mix brand, a big ‘M’ with the first bar crossed to make a ’T.’

“The life of Tom Mix reads like one of his own thrillers.

“Born Near El Paso

“He was born on his father’s ranch in El Paso County, Texas, on January 6, 1879. It seems impossible that the lithe rough rider is almost 53.

“His first recollection was of his mother using a shotgun in an argument with a mountain lion. Tom was about three years old then, and he often has laughed about his first encounter with a career of danger. For as mother Mix opened the window a crack and began firing buckshot at the approaching beast, little Tom crawled quietly under the bed.

“Tom Mix’s father built with his own hands the log cabin in which little Tom was born. Most of the time, during Tom’s early childhood, his father was off on the range, looking after his stock or riding herd for other ranchers.

“The winters were long and cold, and the Mix family was snowed in a lot of the time. But in the summer young Tom had the run of all the hills and prairies for miles around.

“His mother was part Scotch (old term for Scottish) and part Cherokee Indian. Her grandfather lived on the White Eagle reserve, and was looked up to by everyone on the reserve. He translated the Bible into Osage. Tom Mix was proud of that great-grandfather of his.

“His father was Irish, once a captain in the Seventh U.S. Calvary, a real pioneer of the early days in Texas. Adventure was the salt of life to him, and he drilled it well into his young son.

“Learned To Ride At Five

“Tom Mix learned to ride and rope almost as soon as he could walk. When he was five or six years old he used to make the long ride into town alone, to bring back provisions. A horse was a necessity to him, as important as his legs.

“But Tom’s first real thrill came when he was seven, and the family rode into town to see the circus and Buffalo Bill. He decided then he was going to join the circus when he grew up. And eventually he did. But not until he had put in long and hard riding years as a working cowboy.

“The first money ever earned by the boy, who was later to draw down a million a year, was from trapping rabbits on the Texas range. That was when Tom was about 10 years old. He made his traps, caught his rabbits and sold them at two for a nickel.

“The one goal of his life at that time was to own a real saddle. But rabbits at two for a nickel made the going slow, and so, when an eastern relative sent him a .22 rifle for Christmas, he had a big idea.

“He opened a shooting gallery in the town nearest his father’s ranch. “Always mechanically minded, he fashioned the targets himself, both swinging and fixed, and opened up shop in an unused paint store.

“Every night he counted his earnings, and every day he visited the saddle shop of Joe Glunts.

“Got First Real Saddle

“There was one particular saddle that he wanted. It was a boy’s size, and the most elegant saddle that young Tom had ever envisioned in his wildest dreams.

“One night he counted his riches again. He had just $29.10. The saddle cost $31.50. He needed $2.40 more — and his biggest day’s business at the shooting gallery never had netted that much. But the morrow was Saturday and he lived in hope.

“Fate was kind to Tom Mix, just as it always had been. A couple of business men came in the next day and started a shooting contest. Tom loaded and reloaded the rifle. When they had finished, they paid him $2.55. At that minute the shooting gallery closed up, liquidated, and went out of business.

“An hour later a small boy might have been seen trudging along the dusty road towards home, a rifle over one shoulder, a saddle over the other, and he walked so fast that he might have seemed a fugitive from justice heading for the nearby Mexican border.

“Tom Mix has described the incident himself.

“‘He was just a boy with a saddle,’ said Tom — a saddle no one could use but himself, unless he himself loaned it, and he wasn’t loaning it to anybody in all that big state of Texas. Carefully and tenderly wrapped up each night, it was tucked under his bed. His was the great joy of possession, for he knew the saddle’s value. He knew the effort he had exchanged for the money to buy it. He felt that he had earned it, and that saddle was his. “‘That boy was I.’

“Comes Back to West

“The Mix family moved to Pennsylvania for a short time during Tom’s boyhood. But the West was in the blood of young Mix and at 15 he went back to the Lone Star state, working as a regular cowboy.

“He has described those months as the happiest of his life, when he had the whole Texas range for a riding track with plenty of fine horses, no responsibility, and all the glamour of the real West.

“A cowboy was a romantic figure even then. A gun and a lariat were as important to young Tom as was his shirt. He was the youngest cowboy on the Texas range, slept in his blankets at night, rode miles every day, measured himself man to man against his fellows.

“Then he went back to Pennsylvania, got a job in the foundry, and played football on the foundry team.

“But soon he was to go back to shooting and riding, the things he loved best, for the Spanish American War broke out. And more adventures were in store for him.

“Tom Mix captured famous outlaw brothers of New Mexico during his days as sheriff; won in rodeos

“Tom Mix, the diamond studded cowboy, fought in Cuba, was shot up in China, and captured in Africa before he struck his stride as the bronco-busting hero of the movies.

“He saw his baptism of fire at 19, when he volunteered for service in the Spanish American war.

“He was working as a lumberjack up in the Pennsylvania forests, swinging his axe and wondering where to go next in his search for adventure when somebody yelled: ‘Hey, Tom, America’s declared war on Spain!’

“Tom tried to join the Navy, thinking he’d see more excitement there. He even stowed away on a warship and found himself fighting it out with half a dozen officers, all garnished with Gold braid, before he finally was convinced that no more men were needed in the Navy.

“But Tom Mix had decided that if a fight were going on, he was going to be in it. So he journeyed to Washington to see the adjutant general, and pleaded his cause so well that he was accepted as a full-fledged member of Captain Grimes’ artillery battery.

“He saw some hot fighting with the Rough Riders at Christobal Hill, and then was made a scout and courier to General Chaffee, who had known his father in the old days.

“Under Roosevelt

“And it was at Christobal Hill that he fought under the man who became at once his idol and hero — Colonel Theodore Roosevelt.

“Tom Mix saw two more wars before he settled down to private gun play in the wild and woolly West. Finding private life much too tame after the doings in Cuba, he took part in the Boxer Uprising in China, and was in on the long and famous siege of Peking. It was when he was guarding the men at work on laying the new railroad between Peking and Tient Tsin that he was scalped by a bursting shell, and spent the next few months in a hospital.

“As soon as Tom’s skull was repaired, and his thick black hair had grown back, he looked things over and decided to run down to South Africa and see what was doing in the Boer war.

“Down in Africa he taught the Tommies how to ride, and gave exhibitions on the parade ground every afternoon, demonstrating Texas tactics in the saddle, much to the amazement and awe of the British army.

“In his first skirmish in Africa, the Battle of Spinecob, however, his division was overpowered and Tom Mix was made a prisoner of war. Eventually he was shipped back to the United States with about a hundred other Americans who had taken part in the Boar war, and was probably the most dashing of that adventurous group of young soldiers of fortune.”

The story of Tom Mix will continue next week.

Historian Janice Dunnahoo can be reached at jdunna@hotmail.com.

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