the world wide web, people used to say, “I read it in the newspaper,
it must be true.” Now, the internet usually gets the credit for being
an all-knowing source of reliable information.
Google “Tom Mix Texas Ranger,” for instance, and you’ll find that
the famous cowboy movie star served as a Texas Ranger before he took
up acting in horse operas. As one columnist reported as recently as
1992, “While a member of the Texas Rangers, Mix was shot and carried
three slugs in his body for the rest of his life.”
That’s absolutely not true, but why ruin a good story?
addition to his purported state time, the rest of Mix’s Hollywood
biography goes like this:
He was born in a log cabin in El
Paso. (Guess they must have hauled the wood 700 miles from East
Texas.) His grandfather had been a Cherokee, and his father had
ridden for the famed 7th Cavalry, the outfit George Armstrong Custer
made forever famous. Mix became a star football player at the Virginia
Military Institute, but when the Spanish-American
War broke out in 1898, he volunteered to fight in Cuba.
On that island, he took a bullet in the mouth from a Spanish sniper,
but while he may not have spit the lead out, he survived – apparently
without a single scar. He stayed in the Army, also doing combat tours
in the Philippines and during the Boxer Rebellion in China. Wounded
again, he got orders back to the U.S. Quickly recovering, Mix went
to Denver and broke horses to be purchased by the British cavalry
for use in the Boer War in South Africa. Accompanying a shipment of
mounts to the Dark Continent, he arrived in time to get in a little
Back in the U.S., this time apparently unwounded, he worked as a guide
for Theodore Roosevelt on some of his Western hunting trips. Well
familiar by now with both ends of a firearm, Mix turned to law enforcement
and worked as a sheriff’s deputy, U.S. marshal and eventually, the
Rangers. While wearing the Cinco Peso, Mix single-handedly captured
the outlaw Shonts Brothers, surviving yet another gunshot wound. (An
Indian woman plugged him in the back, but it was nothing serious.)
Still not adverse to the smell of cordite, Mix left the Rangers to
help Francisco Madero during the early part of the Mexican Revolution.
South of the Rio Grande, he survived a Mexican firing squad – all
of them must have missed – but he did get nicked in the leg by a rifle
bullet during the Battle of Jaurez, across from his home town.
His soldier of fortune days behind him, Mix saddled up Old Blue and
rode to Hollywood to become a Western star. He ended up performing
in some 175 Westerns in a 24-year career that ended with his retirement
And that’s the only thing true about Mix’s Hollywood biography, a
phony history dreamed up by Tensile Town publicity agents.
real biography is not as exciting. He was born in Mix Run, PA, a couple
of thousand miles northeast of El
Paso. His father was a lumber miller, not a dashing Cavalry officer.
And the closest the young Mix ever got to a horse was watching a performance
of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. He was athletic, but never a football
He did join the Army when the Spanish-American
War began, but he didn't make it any farther from home than the
Delaware River. From 1905 to 1908, he did work as an armed security
guard at various labor camps in Tennessee, Kansas and Colorado. In
1909, he pinned on a deputy’s badge in Dewey, OK.
Later that year, Mix got his big break when he went to work as a horse
wrangler for a movie company filming on location in Oklahoma. They
liked what they saw, and soon he was busting caps on blanks in black-and-while
Though Mix never wore a Ranger badge for real, in 1923 he did pin
on a prop department Cinco Peso replica to play the lead role in the
movie based on Zane Grey’s classic Western novel, “The Lone Star Ranger.”
Five years earlier, the “reel” Ranger met a real Ranger when Frank
Hamer and his wife Gladys traveled to California in 1918. The couple
took the westward trip after Hamer had recovered from two gunshot
wounds he sustained in a shootout in downtown Sweetwater
on Oct. 1, 1917. Mix supposedly urged Hamer to stay in Hollywood and
join him as a celluloid cowboy, but Mrs. Hamer said no even though
her husband probably wouldn’t have done it anyway.
The two men did become friends, and Mix later posed with Hamer outside
when he came to Texas. The captain even
got Mix named as an honorary Ranger. When Hamer and other officers
ended the career of the outlaw couple Bonnie
and Clyde in 1934, Mix sent Hamer a congratulatory letter.
Mix got to enjoy his paper Ranger status for only a few years. On
Oct. 12, 1940, he died with his boots on, one of them pressed down
firmly on the accelerator of his fancy 1937 Cord Roadster when it
veered off the highway near Florence, AZ.
© Mike Cox
- March 19, 2014 column
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