50 States... Or Less


Tom Mix Memorial

A sad riderless horse keeps watch where the “King of the Cowboys” met his end.
Tom Mix Monument The sad riderless horse monument at the place that movie cowboy Tom Mix crashed his 1937 Cord.

Tom Mix was more than a celebrity, he was one of the first super-stars. He made over 300 movies, and did a huge amount to define what we think of as the cowboy. He was a pallbearer for Wyatt Earp, he was a marshall in Oklahoma, he rode in Teddy Roosevelt's Inaugural Parade, he was supposedly a friend of Pancho Villa and was an honorary Texas Ranger.

He got his break while working in the ubiquitous wild west shows shows that proliferated in the later decades of the 19th century and start of the 20th. His show lent him out to a studio as a horse handler and from there, in the awesome way that early film studios worked, he started writing and directing movies as well as acting. He was regarded as a great shot and an excellent horseman, riding on his trusty and clever steed Tony the Horse.

Tom Mix... Gunslinger! A studio portrait of Tom Mix, the King of the Cowboys.

I think his greatest contribution to film was his incredibly stylized depiction of the west. Before Tom Mix, most westerns strove for a kind of misplaced realism, but the Mix westerns doubled down on costumes and set pieces and locations. So much of our iconic image of west all started here.

Few were more famous while he was at his peak, but he was an extraordinary spender of money. He supposedly made $6,000,000 (which would be about $400,000,000 today) but between his insanely spendy habits and 5 wives it didn’t last long. Perhaps the greatest testimony to his over the top lifestyle (other than the stable of sports cars, parties and legendary collection of clothes) was that his mansion in Hollywood had a giant neon sign over it that said The Tom Mix Mansion. No wait, actually better then that was that he had custom tires made for his cars with the letters TM in the treads so that he would leave his initials on the road.

As he got older though he became less willing to do his own stunts, and more presently the talkies were here. While he did a handful of talkies, he just wasn’t the draw he once was and left the film industry to rejoin his roots in the circus shows. Turns out he was still a great entertainer and did very well back in the circus game.

GMC at the Tom Mix Monument The GMC parked in front of the place that movie cowboy Tom Mix crashed his 1937 Cord. This photo makes it look like we are very close to outer space, which i assure you we are not.

In 1940, at age 60, after returning from Tucson in his 37 Cord Convertible (an incredibly lovely car I might add) he came across a construction crew while traveling at 80 miles an hour and wasn’t able to stop in time. He crashed into a gully but was killed instantly when an aluminum suitcase full of money, jewels and travelers checks (there’s that lifestyle again) flew off the luggage rack and cracked him in the head.

Today, the site of the crash is a small memorial made of stone with a sad riderless horse (presumably Tony the Horse) and a plaque that reads:

TOM MIX January 6, 1880 - October 12, 1940 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.

It is adjacent to the now named Tom Mix Wash and there are several picnic tables which makes it a nice stop if you are taking the much prettier 2 lane of hwy 79 between Tucson and Phoenix.

There is a lot of great western history out in these parts, but this guy needs some thanks for his part in defining the image that we all now know. Do yourself a favor and stop by for a visit.