Western film fans especially appreciate the film aesthetic of the wide-open spaces. Tom Mix, a true pioneer of the Western as well as the motion picture industry, was one of the most interesting Western stars of his, or any other era. Sadly, because of his place in the earliest years of movies, he is rapidly becoming forgotten among Western movie fans today. The 1988 film Sunset depicted the friendship Tom Mix shared with Wyatt Earp at the tail-end of the legendary lawman’s life, and starred Bruce Willis (in an early role) as Mix, and James Garner as Earp. The film was mostly an imaginary adventure and the only thing it captured about the true-to-life Tom Mix was his swashbuckling skill and his love for extravagance. Indeed, a film about the real Tom Mix would be action-packed.
Tom Mix began his life as a cowhand, although he was born in Mix Run, Pennsylvania. Having somehow survived a childhood of extremely rough “cowboy” play involving real guns and knives, he grew to adulthood with one bullet lodged in his leg. (His family could not afford a surgeon so his mother left the bullet in him.) Later, when he was rich and famous, the bullet began to cause trouble and was at long last removed.
Tom’s real love was performing in front of a live audience. To him, someone who really knew practical work with steers, horses and ropes was a “cowhand,” but the Hollywood or dime store dude was a “cowboy.” Much has been written about Tom Mix’s life prior to his working the 101 Wild West Show and in the movies. Rather, they are exploits that include his heroism during the Spanish-American War at the Battle of Cristabel Hill while yet in his youth, and later, his appointment as a Texas Ranger. His descendant, Paul E. Mix in his 1995 work Tom Mix: A Heavily Illustrated Biography with a Filmography, set the record straight, stating that such claims were the products of Hollywood studios’ publicity departments. Tom actually left Pennsylvania as a teenager to join the Army in 1898, was stationed at Fort Delaware, Fort Monroe and Fort Hancock, was promoted to first sergeant, and deserted the Army in 1902 shortly after marrying his first wife Grace Allin of Norfolk, Virginia. After that, he found employment as a bartender for a while. Later he trained horses for the famed 101 Ranch where he became good friends with trick roper Will Rogers. During this time, he also served as a peace officer for labor camps building concrete plants in Kansas.
Selig Polyscope, an early film production company, got together with Mix in the then-brand new state of Oklahoma when he was working as a night marshal hired by the mayor of the town of Dewey. Tom had thought up a good plan to bring law and order to the gamblers and bootleggers in Dewey—he declared their “professions” as legal trades and had them run only by honest men. The fines collected for cheating were placed in a general fund for the benefit of the citizens. The film company president, Colonel William N. Selig, was as impressed by this as much as he was amazed at Tom’s skill in stunt riding, shooting, and training horses. Selig immediately hired the rugged individualist to act in and write scripts for short films. Around this time, Tom took his second wife, Kitty Perrine…………………………………