When I was a kid, summer meant no school—none, nada, zippo, zilch! Today, kids are sent home with packets of work to be completed over summer break and a reading list that doesn’t include comic books. Now, I’m all for preventing young brains from turning to mush, but I also really loved those summers spent riding horses, swimming in lakes, spitting watermelon seeds, catching lightning bugs in empty mayonnaise jars, and licking the paddle from a freezer of homemade ice cream. So, I’m torn. That’s why I decided to come up with a little Campfire Chronicle summertime homework packet for y’all! It will help to prevent the horrors of mush-brain, but I’ve also included the answers, so you’ll have plenty of time for the joys of summer.
Since I have mixed feelings about homework, I feel the perfect subject for this summer project is none other than cowboy icon and Hollywood movie star Tom Mix! My favorite Tom Mix quote is, “The Old West is not a certain place in a certain time… It’s a state of mind. It’s whatever you want it to be.” If you spend any time investigating the life of Tom Mix, you will find yourself sifting through a heap of fabricated stories. The remarkable thing is that the person responsible for most of those fabrications was none other than Tom Mix himself! He believed his life story was whatever he wanted it to be! Let’s start sifting through those stories, shall we?
Thomas Hezikiah Mix was born on January 6, 1880 in Mix Run, Pennsylvania. He grew up a carefree kid, riding horses and was a natural showman. As an adult, Mix had a steady stream of jobs. One of those jobs led from ranch work to performing in a Wild West show. He found that he loved performing as much as he loved being a cowboy. And like many cowboys of his era, he was able to transition from performing in Wild West shows to the Hollywood silver screen.
Tom Mix appeared in 291 films, 282 of which were silent movies. His horse, Tony, shared the screen with him in thirty-six of those films. Mix became one of the highest paid movie stars of his day, and the highest paid cowboy star of the era. He eventually earned over $17,000 a week. In terms of constant dollars, that is $242,173.65. . .per week!!! He liked to make money and he also liked to spend money!
Mix was killed in a car accident near Florence, Arizona, on October 12, 1940, when he came upon a washed out bridge. Witnesses said that he had been speeding and was unable to stop in time. He was pinned in his car, but it was a suitcase full of cash that did him in. He died when an aluminum suitcase filled with money, traveler’s checks and jewelry flew forward from the backseat and hit him in the head, proving that while you can’t take it with you, it can take you!
There is a Tom Mix memorial near the site of the crash. The larger than life movie star was buried in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California, a few days after the accident.
True and False Questions that Have Nothing to Do with the Required Reading
- Tom Mix grew up on a ranch near El Paso, Texas. —False. His family lived in Pennsylvania throughout his childhood. That didn’t keep him from embellishing in his autobiography with anything he felt would enhance his cowboy image!
- Tom Mix served at a pallbearer at the funeral of legendary lawman, Wyatt Earp. —True. Yep. That really happened. Mix is on the far right in this photo of the pallbearers.
- Tom Mix fought with the Rough Riders in the Battle of San Juan Hill. —False. He did ride in President Theodore Roosevelt’s 1905 inaugural parade, with a group of fifty horsemen. That’s as close as he came to being a Rough Rider.
- Tom Mix was an Army deserter. —True. Surprise! Mix joined the Army in 1898. He served for three years and then reenlisted for another three years. Army records indicate that he deserted before the completion of the second three years. He was listed as AWOL, but was never court-martialed.
- Tom Mix served with the Texas Rangers. —False. He was never actually a Texas Ranger, but, in 1935, Texas Governor, James Allred, made Tom Mix an honorary Ranger.
- A photo of Tom Mix appears on the sleeve of The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album. —True. His image appears on the third row of celebrities, sandwiched between the likes of Marlon Brando and Oscar Wilde. Hint: Mix is the one in the cowboy hat!
- Tom Mix did all of his own stunts. —True. And False. From 1910 until 1933, he did all of his own stunts. In 1935, at the age of 55, Tom Mix finally had a stunt double. George Marshall, who directed Mix in two films in the 20s, said that Mix did, “all his own stunts—the horse falls, crashing through glass windows on horseback, and so on. There was no imitation glass during this period either and they didn’t dig up the ground to spot a fall. Wherever they were shooting that’s where you fell.”
- John Wayne credited Tom Mix with mentoring him. —False. John Wayne frequently told interviewers that Tom Mix had not been kind to him when he was trying to break into the business. However, he didn’t speak about that until after Tom Mix’s death. Mix did help young John Wayne get his first job with Fox studios as a prop man on the film, “Great K & A Train Robbery.”
- Tom Mix starred in the Ralston-Purina Tom Mix radio series. —False. Although he gave his permission for the series, Mix did not appear on the broadcasts, which aired from 1933 through the early 1950s. Ralston-Purina also printed a series of twelve Tom Mix comic books.
Multiple Choice Question with a Rambling Explanation Following the Answer
1. Tom Mix was married to:
- Grace Allin
- Kitty Perrine
- Olive Stokes
- Victoria Forde
- Mabel Hubbell Ward
- All of the above
The answer is: f) All of the above.
The rambling explanation is:
Mix married Grace Allin while on furlough from the Army in 1902. It was at that point that he went AWOL. Mix and Grace moved to Indian Territory. While there, he did everything from tending bar in what is now Guthrie, OK, to working in a cement plant, to performing in the 101 Wild West Show. Grace returned to her parents’ home in 1903. Her father had the marriage annulled.
Kitty Perrine became Mrs. Mix in 1905. She became the former Mrs. Mix in 1906.
In 1909, Mix married Olive Stokes (on the right in this photo.) Olive was part Cherokee. Although she hailed from Oklahoma, Olive and Mix had first met at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. At the time of that first meeting, Olive had been 17-yrs-old. The story goes that Will Rogers first introduced the couple. Is that true? Who knows! Olive, a beautiful cowgirl, seemed like the ideal wife for Tom, the handsome cowboy. The two had one child, Nadine Ruth Jane Mix in 1912. But the match was not to last. They divorced in 1917.
NEXT! Next up on the bridal roster was Victoria Forde. Mix married actress Victoria Forde, in 1918. The two had met when Mix was still married to Olive. The pair made at least fifty-five shorts together. I say, “at least fifty-five” because I got tired of counting after fifty-five! Victoria retired from acting shortly after she became Mrs. Tom Mix. She became mother to Tom’s second daughter, Thomasina “Tommie” Mix, in 1922. Victoria spent her time promoting Tom’s films and enjoying the Hollywood high life. The two divorced in 1931.
Last on the long list of Tom Mix’s wives was Mabel Hubbell Ward. They married in Mexico in February of 1932. Mabel was a famous circus aerialist. Since Tom was a circus owner at that point, it was a match made in Big Top heaven. The two were married until Tom’s death in 1940.
This concludes your Tom Mix homework packet. I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have. But school is out now, and I’m ready for a freezer full of homemade ice cream!
Here’s a wonderful documentary about Tom Mix with early archival footage… I know you’ll enjoy it!