Next time you are traveling the solitary stretch of desert highway between Oracle Junction and Florence, Arizona, take note of a 9-foot tall monument. If you are careful not to blink at 70 mph, the stone marker can be seen in the mesquite brush on the west side of Arizona State Route 79.
If your schedule permits, stop at the Tom Mix Monument get acquainted with an Arizona legend.
America’s silent film cowboy hero perished here in a dusty wash in the late afternoon of October 12, 1940. His 1937 Cord 812 Phaeton V8 plowed through highway construction barricades at a high rate of speed. Mix was on his way from Tucson to Phoenix to attend the baptism of his grandson.
According to firsthand accounts of highway crewmen at the scene, the driver of the Cord braked hard but was unable to navigate the road construction detour. The car dove headlong into the 10-foot deep arroyo, or dry creek bed.
In his storied cinema career, Mix made 291 films. Ninety-seven percent were silent films.
Tom Mix was a giant, mythical figure to a generation of up-and-coming Western screen actors like Ronald Reagan in the 1930s. Mix even secured the first studio job at Fox for an injured USC footballer named Marion Morrison. Morrison would later change his name to become John Wayne.
The actual 1937 Cord driven by Mix on that day has been restored and is now owned by Scottsdale resident Bob White. According to a January 9, 2014 article in the Arizona Republic, White paid $240,000 for the car in 2010 and spent at least the same dollar amount on his restoration efforts. It has been showcased in the Concours D’Elegance at the Arizona Biltmore.
My personal thanks are owed to the anonymous individual who keeps the Tom Mix Monument on SR 79 stocked with copies of news articles, photos and a guestbook for passers-by to commemorate the silent film star. It made my research much more comprehensive.
One more thing…If you should see a tall, dark stranger in a white ten-gallon Stetson ambling along the highway shoulder, kindly tip your hat.
My favorite politician was Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater who reminded me of Tom Mix. There wasn’t any way to explain that to anybody. – Bob Dylan, American singer, songwriter, and author