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Tom Mix memory fades in Cameron County

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Posted: Thursday, September 13, 2007 12:00 am

DRIFTWOOD - Cameron County's connection with one of Hollywood's most famous cowboy movie stars is fading.

Tom Mix Birthplace Park and the Museum are gone. The Mix Run property where the actor and rodeo star was born and spent his early childhood has been sold and turned into a campground.

Ray Flaugh, who owned the site for more than two decades, has packed his memorabilia in boxes. Flaugh, a former U.S. Marine, and his wife Eva tended to the birthplace after purchasing the property in the 1980s.

In its heyday, the park at Mix Run, about five miles south of Driftwood, attracted a steady crowd to see Flaugh's museum collection, with upwards of 2,000 pictures and others exhibits.

Each year, the Flaughs sponsored a "Tom Mix Roundup," with mock shootouts and hangings, western dress-up contests, country music and Mix look-alike competition.

DuBois, where Mix moved when he was a boy, took over for a few years before abandoning its own Tom Mix Roundup.

"It's a shame," Ray Flaugh said of Mix's fading Pennsylvania legacy. "Tom Mix was a good role model."

Tom Hezikiah Mix was born at Mix Run, the former logging settlement named for Tom's great-great-grandfather, on Jan. 6, 1880. In 1888, the family moved to DuBois, where Tom refined his horse-riding skills in his father's livery stable.

After seeing Buffalo Bill's (William F. Cody's) Wild West Show in Clearfield, he was struck by the excitement of show business.

In April 1898, Mix enlisted in the U.S. Army, where he became an artillery sergeant, but eventually went AWOL. By 1903, he had drifted to the Oklahoma Territory, working as a hired hand and eventually entering the motion picture industry.

Mix perfected his own style, adding humor and action to become a combination whimsical cowboy and ladies' man. In 1918, he joined the prestigious William Fox Studios and became America's top box-office attraction. John Wayne, Roy Rogers and Ronald Reagan grew up watching Mix's movies and patterned their own clean-cut acting styles on the Mix persona.

Mix wouldn't let anyone else do his stunts - sharpshooting with live ammunition, knife-throwing or stunt-riding. He also trained his own screen horses.

Two of them, "Old Blue" and "Tony," were nearly as identifiable as their master.

As silent films gave way to "talkies," Mix's image as a leading man was reinforced as audiences first heard his deep and husky voice.

He later operated Tom Mix's Circus and Wild West Show.

On the evening of Oct. 12, 1940, Mix was driving out a desert road near Tucson, Ariz., and failed to notice warnings that a bridge had washed out. His car catapulted about 30 feet and crashed. A metal-hardened suitcase from the rear shelf hurled forward, hitting him on the back of the head and shattering his skull.

Soon after his death, Tom Mix Comics and a popular radio show, the Tom Mix Ralston Straight-Shooters, came out.

His birthplace stood neglected and weed-choked until the Flaughs purchased the property in 1986. All that remained of the Mix home was a heap of rocks that had once been part of the foundation.

The Flaughs assembled a collection of classic photos and artifacts to stock their museum. Money was raised by selling ,10 lifetime memberships, which entitled the bearer to a symbolic one-inch-square plot of the homestead. Ronald Reagan was one of more than 4,000 people who purchased memberships.

With the money, the Flaughs rebuilt the Mix house, an outhouse and a barn.

"It used to be a really big thing," Flaugh said. "People would come over from Germany, Japan and other countries. The weekend roundups were a lot of fun."

Declining attendance prompted the Flaughs to close the museum in 2002. They hoped for a turnaround for a couple of years, but eventually accepted a modest offer for the property and handed over the keys.

"We carried the torch for as long as we can," Ray Flaugh said. "Maybe, some day, someone else will come along to help keep Tom Mix's memory alive."

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