Tom Mix Museum: Suitcase of Death
Tom Mix has of one of those golden names that nearly everyone recognizes, yet fewer and fewer people know why. Mix was a cowboy movie star; a big one. He appeared in over 300 Westerns. He lived the life of a bon-vivant; by the early 1920s this former Texas Ranger was earning the princely sum of $10,000 a week.
But when the talkies arrived, Tom's career arc went as flat as a chuckwagon pancake. Though he made a number of sound Westerns and a serial, he ended up working in rodeos and circuses. Tom died in 1940 in a weird automobile accident, the back of his head walloped by a suitcase that flew off the rear shelf of his single-seated roadster in the middle of the desert.
Tom Mix might have been forgotten. Most of his movies -- released on combustible nitrate film stock -- have been lost. But those who remembered Tom Mix built roadside tributes to him, and these have survived.
The Tom Mix Museum in Dewey is an example of a Tom Mix survivor shrine. Its curator, a Roadside America fan, went out of her way to scotch the rumor that Tom Mix cut the tail off of his faithful steed, Tony the Wonder Horse, after Tony had died, and made it into a bedside bell pull for Tom's Hollywood mansion. "That's impossible," she said, "since Tom died two years before Tony." Tom's premature exit also explains why Tony (unlike Roy Rogers' Trigger) was never stuffed when he died, or even given a grave marker. "Tom was dead. When Tony died, who cared?"
The suitcase of death (the one that brained Tom) is still displayed at the Tom Mix Museum. "That," said the curator, "is the important exhibit."