Year
1940

The Cowboy actor Tom Mix dies in an Arizona car accident

On this day in 1940, the famous cowboy actor Tom Mix is killed in a freak car accident near his ranch in Florence, Arizona. Driving his single-seat roadster along a straight desert road, Mix apparently ignored warnings that a bridge was out on a shallow gully and was fatally crushed by a heavy suitcase that flew off the rear shelf of his car.

Mix had been one of the biggest silent movies stars in Hollywood during the 1920s, appearing in more than 300 westerns and making as much as $10,000 a week. Unlike most of the actors appearing in westerns, Mix (whose full name was Thomas Hezikah Mix) had actually worked as a cowboy, served as a soldier during the Spanish-American War, and been a Texas Ranger, so he brought a wealth of real experience to his fictional cowboy characters.

In 1906, Mix joined a Wild West show, and that led him to begin acting in motion pictures four years later. In his many one- and two-reel western adventure films—most of which have been lost because they were released on highly combustible nitrate film stock—Mix helped define the classic image of the western movie cowboy as a rough riding, quick-shooting defender of right and justice, an image that would be copied by hundreds of other actors who followed him. Mix’s real costar in his movies, “Tony the Wonder Horse,” also became very popular and helped set the pattern for the “Silvers” that followed.

With the coming of talking pictures, Mix’s movie career stalled. In 1933, he organized Tom Mix’s Circus and Wild West Show and helped create The Tom Mix Show on radio. But despite the popularity of the radio show (in which Mix did not personally act), Mix never recaptured the success he had known during the golden era of the silent western movies. When he died in 1940 at the age of 60, he had lost most of his wealth and was largely forgotten by the public that once adored him.

Yet Mix is not entirely forgotten today. A black iron silhouette of a riderless bronco marks the site of Mix’s death on the highway about 17 miles south of Florence, Arizona. The so-called “suitcase of death” is preserved at the Tom Mix Museum in Dewey, Oklahoma, along with a life-size replica of Tony the Wonder Horse.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

USS Cole attacked by terrorists

At 12:15 p.m. local time, a motorized rubber dinghy loaded with explosives blows a 40-by-40-foot hole in the port side of the USS Cole, a U.S. Navy destroyer that was refueling at Aden, Yemen. Seventeen sailors were killed and 38 wounded in the attack, which was carried out by ...read more

The origin of Oktoberfest

Bavarian Crown Prince Louis, later King Louis I of Bavaria, marries Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. The Bavarian royalty invited the citizens of Munich to attend the festivities, held on the fields in front of the city gates. These famous public fields were named ...read more

USSR leads the space race

The Soviet Union launches Voskhod 1 into orbit around Earth, with cosmonauts Vladamir Komarov, Konstantin Feoktistov, and Boris Yegorov aboard. Voskhod 1 was the first spacecraft to carry a multi-person crew, and the two-day mission was also the first flight performed without ...read more

Terrorists kill 202 in Bali

On this day in 2002, three bombings shatter the peace in the town of Kuta on the Indonesian island of Bali. The blasts, the work of militant Islamist terrorists, left 202 people dead and more than 200 others injured, many with severe burns. The attacks shocked residents and those ...read more

Columbus reaches the New World

After sailing across the Atlantic Ocean, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus sights a Bahamian island, believing he has reached East Asia. His expedition went ashore the same day and claimed the land for Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain, who sponsored his attempt to find a ...read more

Gen. Joseph Stilwell dies

On this day in 1946, Gen. Joseph W. Stilwell, the man who commanded the U.S. and Chinese Nationalist resistance to Japanese incursions into China and Burma, dies today at age 63. Born March 19, 1883, in Palatka, Florida, and a graduate of the West Point Military Academy, Stilwell ...read more

Thomas Jefferson composes romantic letter

On this day in 1786, a lovesick Thomas Jefferson composes a romantic and introspective letter to a woman named Maria Cosway. Early in 1786, widower Thomas Jefferson met Maria Cosway in Paris while he was serving as the U.S. minister to France. Cosway was born to English parents ...read more

John Denver dies in an aircraft accident

To those who bought records like “Rocky Mountain High” and “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by the millions in the 1970s, John Denver was much more than just a great songwriter and performer. With his oversized glasses, bowl haircut and down vest, he was an unlikely fashion icon, ...read more

Fire rages in Minnesota

A massive forest fire rages through Minnesota on this day in 1918, killing hundreds of people and leaving thousands homeless. The fire burned at least 1,500 square miles. The fire, known as the Cloquet-Moose Lake fire because that is where the damage was worst, began at rail ...read more

The victim of an anti-gay assault dies

University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard dies after a vicious attack by two anti-gay bigots. After meeting Shepard in a Laramie, Wyoming, gay bar, The Fireside Lounge, Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney lured him to the parking lot, where he was savagely attacked and ...read more