The famous cowboy actor made his last drive near Tucson | Retro Tucson
Jerry Wilkerson Special for the Arizona Daily Star
October 12, 1940 was a sunny fall day in southern Arizona, with afternoon temperatures reaching nearly 85 degrees.
North of Tucson, along Highway 79 toward Florence, the desert terrain was gravelly and parched. A car traveling at 75 miles an hour could be seen from miles away thanks to the whirlwinds of powdery dust it kicked up.
Only a few automobiles could offer that kind of speed back then. This car was a 1937 Super-Charged V8 Cord 812 Phaeton Cabriolet designed and built in Auburn, Indiana. Driven by a bona fide cowboy, the radiant yellow roadster with a red leather interior was a one-of-a-kind American touring car.
Higher up Route 79, near mile marker 115 about 18 miles south of Florence, the bridge was washed away by flash flooding. Warning signs and barriers were in place with work crews on site. Standing on the brakes, the driver attempted to bring his Cord convertible to a coffin-nose stop, swerved twice, then overturned in the wash.
Shortly before the crash, the driver had left a saloon in Oracle Junction, near what is now Lupe’s Restaurant. He reportedly drank whiskey and played a few hands of poker with his good friend Bud White before leaving to meet relatives in Florence. He never succeeded. At around 2:12 p.m. that day, Thomas Hezikiah Mix, 60, was dead.
People also read…
Tradition has it that Mix met Pima County Sheriff Ed Echols for dinner the night before and then went to bed at the old Santa Rita Hotel in Tucson. Mix reportedly played and drank until 3am with hotel musicians. Around 1 p.m. that day, he drove north from Tucson on Oracle Road.
Tom directed 370 Western films and at the time was the highest paid actor in Hollywood, earning up to $18,000 a week, or more than $220,000 in today’s dollars. He was one of the most famous men in the world.
Many films have been shot on his ranch in Prescott. During the stock market crash, he lost his wealth, including his home in Beverly Hills, the Bar Circle Ranch, and movie studios in Prescott. Mix has been married five times and paid dearly for four divorce decrees.
When he died that fateful Saturday afternoon, his remains were taken to a small morgue in Florence. His body was later transported from Tucson to California for a Masonic and Freemason military funeral service. Movie stars and thousands of fans attended the service on October 16, 1940. Among them: Gene Autry, Gary Cooper, Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Mickey Rooney, Buck Jones, Harry Carey, Samuel Goldwyn and Cecil B. DeMille.
Mix was dressed in his favorite white Western costume and buried with his boots in a bronze coffin. He was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. Pima County Sheriff Ed Echols was an honorary porter.
Tom Mix was a magically magnetic, almost mystical celebrity who created a famous historical western legend in his time. He is still considered one of the most influential actors in cinema. In 1967, Mix’s fame continued when his likeness was featured with other 20th century celebrities on the cover of The Beatles’ Lonely Hearts Club Band album.
Two years after the movie star passed away, Mix’s beloved courier Tony “The Wonder Horse” has passed away. The remarkably trained horse, which understood hundreds of word commands, lived to be 40 years old. Tony is memorialized atop the stone monument near the Highway 79 washout, where Mix died.
Next month: An Arizona man has restored Tom Mix’s luxury car.
Jerry Wilkerson is a former press secretary to two US Congressmen and was a correspondent for WBBM Chicago CBS Newsradio and Chicago Daily News. He is a United States Navy veteran and former police commissioner. Email: [email protected]