Home News Vision Historical Anecdotes: Cowboy of plains and films — Tom Mix, part 2

Historical Anecdotes: Cowboy of plains and films — Tom Mix, part 2

Submitted Photo/Dunnahoo Collection Tom Mix in a staged photo. Date and location unknown.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily Record

Following is the continuation about the life and times of Tom Mix. As stated last week, in the movie “Tombstone,” he is mentioned at the end as having been good friends with Wyatt Earp and that he “wept at his funeral.” Not only was this statement true, but Tom Mix was a pallbearer at Wyatt’s funeral.

In reading about his life, you will understand why these two formed a close friendship. They both lived through the wild and wooly times of the Old West, both serving as sheriffs, both having more than one love and marriage, both taking part in the movie industry and both acquiring great fame in their time, for good or for bad.

The following article is taken from the Albuquerque Journal, dated Dec. 27, 1931, and Jan. 3, 1932, respectively.

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“The last chapter of the romantic life story of Tom Mix, cowboy, soldier of fortune, rough rider and movie hero

“No More Wars

“There weren’t any more wars then, so Tom Mix went back to his first love, the great West, and took up his career as a hard riding cowboy. He joined up with the famous 101 Ranch outfit, owned by the Miller brothers, left them to roam all over Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming and the two Dakotas, and then went back to the 101 Wild West Show.

“During this period Tom Mix went in heavily for the role of sheriff. He flourished two guns in the name of the law as sheriff of Montgomery County, Kansas, of Washington County, Oklahoma, and of Two Buttes, Colorado.

“He was city marshal of Dewey, Oklahoma, and held the same office in various towns of Montana, New Mexico and Arizona, was a special enforcement officer in Oklahoma, and in between times a Texas Ranger.

“It was during his sojourn in Oklahoma that Tom Mix encountered his first serious romance. A picturesque figure with his wide sombrero, his bandanna and his mettlesome horse, he represented all the color and glamour of the Old West. Sitting loosely and gracefully in his saddle, whizzing his lariat or breaking a stubborn bronc, he captured the imagination and the heart of Olive Stokes, the young and pretty daughter of an Oklahoma rancher.

“Real Romance

“It was a real Wild West romance, though Tom discounted it in later years. Their marriage lasted a dozen years, and Tom Mix, whose dashing demeanor didn’t quite fit in with domesticity became the father of a daughter, Ruth.

“The first Mrs. Mix divorced Tom in 1917, the year in which he married Victoria Ford, who played opposite him in his first movies, and who Tom describes as the only great love of his life — but more of that later.

“Tom’s greatest claim to fame during his sheriff days was his single handed capture of the Shonts brothers, notorious desperados and rustlers down in New Mexico, who had a bad habit of shooting ranchers and driving off their herds.

“A reward of $750 was offered for their capture — and in those days $750 was a lot of money for Tom Mix. After their last sensational murder, the rough riding cowboy tracked them to their camp, and hid on a mountain-top overlooking it all night, watching the smoke from their dugout.

“At dawn he slipped down into their corral, hid behind a little shack and waited until one of the dead-shot brothers came in to water the stock. Tom shot it out with the first brother, and won, when the second brother came on the run. Tom’s famous flair for glittering accessories stood him in good stead. He was wearing a polished belt buckle, and as Shonts No. 1 opened the gate Tom’s buckle caught the light and dazzled the outlaw so that he hesitated just long enough for Tom Mix to shoot him in the leg.

“Lived With Prisoners

“It was impossible to move the bandits, so Tom Mix lived in their dugout with them for four days, until his posse arrived.

“Tom’s entrance into the movies was something of a paradox.

“In those days cowboys were beginning to be at a premium, and most of the boys who knew how to ride and rope were going professional.

“But Tom retained his amateur standing.

“He was an honest hard-working cowboy in Arizona when he entered the county fair riding contest at Prescott, Arizona, and carried off all the prizes, including an extra one because he was a non-professional cowboy.

“There was a lot of back-slapping done because here was a cowboy who could outride them all, and still didn’t go high hat on the old game.

“‘Atta boy, Tom!’ rumbled the local merchants — ‘You stick to the game. The Old West hasn’t many like you left.’

“So Tom joined the movies.

“It was in 1909, and he had taken a little run up to Cheyenne, to take part in another contest as part of the Frontier Day celebration. He had won the national championship in contests that year, and he happened to see a telegram to the head of the Frontier Day committee, asking if there were a man who could do real cowboy stunts in the motion pictures. It was signed by the Selig company.

“A rough riding, bronco busting cowboy, Tom Mix stopped off in Chicago on his way back to Oklahoma, to see the motion picture moguls.

“And that’s how the great West lost another amateur cowboy.

“Tom Mix once faced firing squad in Mexico and after he escaped returned to movies

“Albuquerque Journal

“Albuquerque, New Mexico

“Jan. 3, 1932

“Tom Mix, the white sombreroed hero of the Wild West thrillers.

“A million small boys have watched open-mouthed his death defying antics on the screen, have resolved to grow up and rescue fair maidens from the hands of the villain, disappearing in a cloud of dust with all the sang-froid of Tom Mix.

“He has been the matinee idol of young America.

“But Tom Mix served a long and thorough apprenticeship before he discarded his working cowboy clothes to don the white and scarlet trappings of a Hollywood bronco-buster.

“When the Selig company offered Tom Mix $100 a week to play in Western films, he went out and stood on a Chicago Street corner and said to himself: ‘Tom, these men are crazy and no mistake. You better not get yourself mixed up with them anyways at all. Anybody that’d talk about paying a cowboy a hundred dollars a week is plum loco.’

“Later, when he made one million a year, Tom Mix was not half so appalled at his riches.

“Ante raised $150 a week

“When at last the movie magnet overcame his doubts and raised the ante to $150, Tom looked them up in Dun and Bradstreet, and decided to take a chance.

“His first real difficulty came when they told him to put on make up.

“Tom considered that painting his face had no part in the activities of a he-man, and he flatly refused. He kept on refusing for years, until he signed with Fox and became a star, and the first Tom Mix films showed the cowboy in all his Texas ruggedness.

“Tom Mix was a movie actor for six months before the wanderlust struck him and he decided to mix in a few real battles again, down in the first Mexican Revolution. He joined the revolutionistas under Francisco Madera, took part in the capture of Juarez, and finally faced a firing squad. The men were waiting for the command to make a target of Tom Mix when some witness who had testified against him decided to tell the truth, and the military funeral was called off, with a split second to spare.

“The next few years of Tom’s career was spent in making Wild West pictures in which he fought with everything from wolves to alligators, finally forming his own company and heading for Hollywood.

“Falls in Love

“And then he met Victoria Ford, a young actress on the Universal lot. We’ll let Tom describe that event himself:

“‘I did about as thorough a job of falling in love at first sight as I guess any young man has ever done, because seconds after I first saw Victoria Ford she had me roped, tied, and branded for life.

“‘It was in a little motion picture theater over at Glendale. Her mother, a character actress, had been making some pictures with me, and I went to see one. Outside, she introduced me to her daughter, Victoria, who was just a girl in her teens with a lot of golden hair — a little thing she was, too, not much bigger than a minute.

“‘I stood there looking at her and wondering how I had lived all those years without her and how I was ever going to live another day longer if she wouldn’t have me.’

“Tom Mix made Victoria his leading woman, playing in Wild West films produced by his own company, and in 1917 they were married.

“The cowboy film hero worshipped his young wife, and the little daughter, Tomasina, who was born five years after their marriage.

“It was the year after his second marriage that Tom Mix signed as a star with Fox films, and entered the millionaire class.

“It was then that he had his big chance to indulge his little boy love for the spectacular, and began designing the amazing costumes in which he appeared both on and off the movie lot.

“Builds palatial home

“He built a palatial home for Victoria in the movie actor’s paradise, Beverly Hills, and had his famous T.M. brand in electric letters on each gate.

“The hall of the Tom Mix home is full of saddles and lariats, sombreros and cowboy trophies. But upstairs is all French boudoirs and drawing rooms hung with rare tapestries and rich silks.

“The three Mixes were happy in this Hollywood setting for a while, but soon it became evident that a rift was slowly widening between Tom and Victoria.

“Perhaps it is the fate of the movie colony that no marriage can stay put for long.

“But Victoria Ford Mix packed up and left the Beverly Hills home a number of times before she finally presented him with a Christmas gift in the form of a divorce decree, last Christmas eve. (1932)

“Can’t forget her

“During the days of his marital disturbances, Tom’s name was linked with many Hollywood belles. Once he was reported engaged to Lupe Velez, and again to Dorothy Dwan, the widow of Larry Semon. She ended the rumor by marrying a stockbroker.

“Again, a romance was reported brewing between the dashing Tom and Molly O’Day.

“But Tom Mix could not forget his wife, and recently, as he lay stricken, fighting for his life in a Hollywood hospital, in his lucid moments he called for her.

“When Tom Mix retired from pictures he was commanding one of the highest salaries in Hollywood. Then when he toured Barnum and Bailey’s circus, he proved the greatest attraction of all time, and drew down a million dollars a year flat.

“Tom Mix was preparing for a comeback in the talkies when he was stricken. He signed with Universal but refused to play tough character roles. He said the boys and girls of America liked him, and he didn’t want to set a bad example for them.

“Tom Mix loves being the hero of young America. And he wants to give the boys and girls a good show for their money. He loves color and show. He prefers anything to drabness and monotony. Perhaps that’s why he once explained his bizarre costumes thus:

“‘I like a burgundy color for evening clothes. Because they’re going to bury me someday in black.’

“But if there’s anybody in Hollywood who understands that unique figure of the Old West, they’ll bury Tom Mix in his cream and scarlet cowboy suit, with his patent leather boots and his white sombrero, and his diamond-studded platinum belt.

“For Tom Mix would want his last earthly appearance to be in character —the colorful bronco buster of the West.”

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

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