According to his press agent, Tom Mix, the star of 291 full-length westerns was the real thing – a genuine, actual cowboy hero of the American Wild West; born under a sagebrush in Texas, veteran of not one but three wars (Spanish-American War, Boxer Rebellion and Boer War); a sheriff in Kansas, a marshal in Oklahoma, a Teddy Roosevelt Rough Rider and a Texas Ranger, to boot.
Seems, however, he was really born in Driftwood, Pennsylvania, deserted the Army in 1902; marched in a Rough Rider parade, and was not quite a lawman but a so-so drum major in the Oklahoma Territorial Cavalry before heading off to Hollywood in 1909. Nevertheless Mix became one of the top silent-film stars, at one time the highest-paid actor in Hollywood. Unfortunately, like many silent film stars Mix had a difficult transition to talkies. His squeaky voice didn’t match his beefy cowboy image.
On October 12, 1940, having traded in his faithful horse Tony for a bright yellow Cord Phaeton sports car, Mix was speeding north from Tucson at 80 mph when he failed to notice a sign warning that a bridge was out on the road ahead. The Phaeton swung into a dry wash, and Mix was smacked in the back of the head by one of the heavy aluminum suitcases he was carrying in the convertible’s backseat. The impact killed him instantly.
Today, visitors to the site of the accident (now called the Tom Mix Wash) can see a rather diminutive (2-foot–tall) iron statue of a riderless horse with a rather wordy plaque that reads: “In memory of Tom Mix 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.” And if you visit the Tom Mix Museum in Dewey, Oklahoma, you can view the featured attraction – the dented “Suitcase of Death.”