Profile is a series of brief biographies on noted Pennsylvanians.

Even before Hollywood producers glamorized the silver screen image of the American cowboy, huge audiences were mesmerized by touring cowboy shows, the most popular of which was William F. (“Buffalo Bill”) Cody (1846-1917) and his Wild West Show, which traveled the country for more than thirty years, from 1883 to 1916. With authentic Native Americans, skilled riders, sharpshooters, melodrama, and a menagerie of buffaloes, longhorn steers, elk, donkeys, and, of course, hors­es, the elevation of this type of traveling extravaganza to motion pictures was inevitable.

The first king of the movie cowboys was a Pennsylvanian who, between 1909 and 1935, appeared in more than three hundred and thirty movies, most of them silent. He produced at least forty-eight films, wrote seventy-one, an directed one hundred and seventeen. Separating fact from fiction to tell the actor’s story is no easy task. Movie production companies routinely embellished celebrity biographies and the Keystone State cowboy himself spun many tall tales, adding to the confusion.

Born January 6, 1880, in Mix Run, just west of Driftwood, in Cameron County, Thomas Hezekial Mix was the son of Edwin Mix (1854-1927) and Elizabeth Hiestand Mix (1858-1937). Mix Run was named for Amos Mix, found on tax lists as early as 1814. Mix was eight years old when his family moved to DuBois and Edwin Mix went to work for the John E. DuBois (1809-1896) family as a stableman and chauffer.

Tom Mix served in the U. S. Army between 1898 and 1902, but did not fight in any battles as claimed. The War Department noted only his “excellent” record, choosing to ignore his absence without leave (AWOL) in 1902. For the mili­tary, a wildly popular cowboy with a clean image was a convenient recruiting image.

Mix moved in 1902 to Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory, where the territorial governor, Thomas B. Ferguson (1857-1921), appointed him drum major of the Territorial Calvary Band for the Louisiana Purchase Centennial Exposi­tion, better known as the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. He also portrayed a flam­boyant drum major in the Zack Mulhall Wild West Show. It was there he met a rodeo performer who became a lifelong friend, humorist William Penn Adair “Will” Rogers (1879-1935).

Following a brief stint as a peace offi­cer at a Kansas labor camp, he returned to Guthrie as a barkeeper. He next worked, in 1905, as a host for visitors to the Miller Brothers’ 101 Real Wild West Ranch Show. Three years later he met his third wife, Olive Stokes (1887-1972), and joined her as a rodeo performer in the Widerman Wild West Show of Amarillo, Texas. In 1909, the Mixes organized their own Wild West show in Seattle, Washing­ton. Mix then returned to the Miller Brothers’ show and became famous for his spectacular rodeo stunts.

In 1909, Mix also acted in his first motion picture, for the Selig Polyscope Company of Flemington, Missouri. Dur­ing his career, he performed his own daredevil stunts and trick horse riding, resulting in numerous broken bones, stab wounds, and other injuries, such as from a premature dynamite explosion during filming.

Mix seemed to stay in character off­screen with his admirable, pleasant “good-guy” example to young boys. “I … believe … I can convince the boy­hood of America that neither smoking, drinking nor gambling are essential,” he said, adding that, “physical fitness always wins out over dissipation. That is why I try to make my characters those of men of high ideals.”

By the time Mix’s voice was heard in his first sound film, Destry Rides Again (1932), he was in his fifties and could not perform the rigorous stunts he had earli­er in his career. After terminating his Film Booking Office (FBO) contract in 1929, he became the star attraction with Sells Floto Circus of Peru, Indiana, earning a record salary of ten thousand dollars weekly. He logged nearly forty-one thousand miles in three seasons, and then made time to complete nine sound movies for Univer­sal Studios, plus a fifteen-part sound seri­al, The Miracle Rider.

Mix next joined the Sam B. Dill Circus. When Dill died suddenly in 1934, Mix took ownership of the three-ring extrava­ganza, refitted it with new equipment, and renamed it the Tom Mix Circus and Wild West. His show toured the country, making forty-three appearances in Pennsylvania in just two years, between 1936 and 1937.

The Great Depression, fad­ing stardom for Mix, and poor weather took its toll by 1938. Mix turned the circus over to his daugh­ter Ruth Mix (1912-1977) and manager Dail Turney, but they couldn’t halt the slump. By Sep­tember, the organiza­tion was forced to auc­tion off its equipment and vehicles.

Despite his troubles in this country, Tom Mix’s popularity appeared undiminished while he toured Europe in 1938 an 1939. Admirers and fans mobbed him in London. In Den­mark, ten thousand people welcomed Mix’s arrival to appear in the Danish Cir­cus Belli for a record salary. However, unlike his previous visit to Germany in 1925, Mix films were banned in Nazi Ger­many. Nevertheless, Adolph Hitler personally telephoned Mix to invite him to tour Germany. “Tell him,” Mix advised Hitler’s interpreter, “I’ll tour Germany again to see my fans-but only over his dead body!”

Tom Mix died in an automobile acci­dent on October 12, 1940, near Florence, Arizona. While en route to Hollywood to meet his daughter and to sign a new motion picture deal, he missed a detour and his yellow 1937 Cord convertible crashed through a construction barrier. In her 1957 memoir, The Fabulous Tom Mix, Olive Stokes Mix wrote that, although he was sixty years old in 1940, her former husband was in excellent physical condi­tion and was looking forward to new career adventures. His honorary pallbear­ers, a veritable star-studded Hollywood “Who’s Who,” laid him to rest in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California.

Mabel Hubbell Mix, his fifth wife, and their daughter, Thomasina Mix Matthews, inherited his estate.

Tom Mix may be long gone, but certainly not forgotten. A state histor­ical marker erected in 1968 and rededi­cated in 1988 by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission at his birthplace commemorates his “renown for his ‘wild west’ roles in hundreds of motion pictures – both silent and sound – between 1910 and 1935.” A Tom Mix Museum is located in Dewey, Okla­homa. The Tom Mix Festival, held each September in DuBois, was begun, in 1980 by Pennsylvanian Richard F. Seiverling, compiler of an extensive collection of photographs, newspaper clippings, posters, and samples of tall tales in Tom Mix: Portrait of a Superstar, published in 1991. (Festival organizers are expecting many visitors for the festival’s twenty­-fifth anniversary – coinciding with the bicentennial of Clearfield County – in 2004.) A small stone memorial marks the Arizona road where Mix died. Oddly enough, the largest collection of surviv­ing Mix films is in Czechoslovakia.

It was a native Pennsylvanian who helped fix the romanticized portrayal of the American cowboy in the twentieth­-century public imagination, which influenced popular culture for generations. Perhaps announcer Don Gordon summa­rized it best during the final radio broad­cast of Tom Mix Ralston Straight Shooters in June 1950. “In the heart and imagina­tion of the world,” Gordon said, “Tom Mix rides on, and lives on, forever.”