Along the Way: Tom Mix

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Grave of Tom Mix, Forest Lawn Memorial Cemetery, Glendale, California

Armed with the best directions I could obtain, I stepped out of the car into the warm weather of Southern California. I was definitely not missing the snow and arctic winds that were terrorizing those back in Pennsylvania at the moment.

“Are you sure he’s buried here?” Mom asked as she got out of the car.

“The directions I have say to park here and walk along the top of the hill. It’s roughly halfway between the road and where the hill begins to descend.” With the limited information, we began searching for the plaque that marked the grave of a famous Pennsylvanian. We spread out over one of the many hilltops of Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California reading the stones. I paused at one not on my list, but immediately caught my attention, to pay my respects – Theodore Dreiser, who authored Sister Carrie and An American Tragedy.

“Guess who I found!” I heard mom call out a short distance away. The tone of her voice told me she found the grave I sought. I walked over to join her at the grave of the most famous native of Mix Run, Pennsylvania.

Thomas Hezikiah Mix was born January 6, 1880 in the small grouping of houses known as Mix Run, located roughly five miles south of Driftwood in Cameron County. Tom was the third of four children born to Edwin and Elizabeth Mix. It is known that shortly after his birth, the Mix family was living in DuBois where his father worked for John DuBois, the town founder. His father worked in the stables and it was here that Tom learned to love and care for horses. Note: Some recent writings state that Tom was actually born in DuBois though his early childhood was spent in the wilds of Pennsylvania. Tom himself always insisted he was born in Mix Run.

In 1898, at the age of eighteen, Tom joined the army and rose to the rank of Artillery Sergeant, but in 1901 deserted the army, a fact he kept a secret until his death. The reason for his desertion was to marry the first of his five wives, Grace Allen. The marriage only lasted a year before it was annulled. Note: I find it interesting that the army, despite knowing that Tom was active in Hollywood and had his own “Wild West” show, took no action against him for his desertion.

Tom got his start in the movie industry in 1910 when he was hired by Selig Pictures to be a horse handler and that same year appeared in his first picture, Ranch Life in the Great Southwest. The next twenty five years he was writing, producing, and appearing in almost three hundred movies. As an actor, Tom adopted his father’s name, Edwin, for his own middle name. In all of his movies and appearances, he went by the name Tom E. Mix. Despite making close to three hundred movies and being Hollywood’s first western star, Tom’s roles have disappeared into history – the majority of his movies have been lost or destroyed.

In 1929, Tom served as one of the pallbearers at Wyatt Earp’s funeral, a piece of trivia that was popularized with the movie Tombstone.

By 1935, Tom had left the movie industry due to his age and the introduction of “talking pictures.” Tom appeared in a handful of “talkies” but soon returned to his first love – the Wild West shows. He had continued the Wild West show circuit between movies, but he now devoted his full attention to his favorite past time, and would form the short-lived Tom Mix Circus. With his horse, Tony, he showcased his riding and shooting skills.

But for most, it is his strange death for which Tom is remembered. He had spent October 12, 1940 in Tuscan, Arizona visiting friends. He was headed north on Route 79 near Florence, Arizona when he came upon barriers placed by a work crew fixing a bridge that had been washed out. He slammed on the brakes and the car swerved into the gully. In the back seat he had a large suitcase balanced on top of a pile of his belongings and when the car went into the gully, it slid forward and hit him, breaking his neck and killing him instantly.

Despite being the original “King of the Cowboys” on the silver screen, Tom Mix has faded into the past. The two museums once dedicated to Tom and his career have closed. One of those museums was located in Mix Run. Early one morning I set out to find the place I had heard about on a PBS special that had played on our local station.

I passed through the community of Castle Garden and crossed Bennett’s Run. No sooner had I crossed the creek when the pavement ended and I was on a poorly maintained back road. Deeper and deeper into the mountains I drove until close to five miles after crossing the creek, I found the birthplace and museum.

Parking in front of it, the buildings appeared to be abandoned. I figured I’d take a couple of pictures and then I’d come back another day when it was open. I snapped a couple of pictures of the building that proudly boasted to have been “Tom Mix’s Original Outhouse” and a Pennsylvania Historical Marker before heading back to “civilization.”

When I started looking up the museum’s hours, I discovered that it had been sold a couple weeks before I had stopped to visit. I do not recommend visiting the place of his birth – nothing remains at the location to celebrate Tom Mix anymore. Even the historical marker is gone. The historical marker is now located at a pull-off along Route 555.

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