Actor Tom Mix was already a major box-office draw when, on May 11, 1920, Judge John F. Powell issued a warrant for him to appear on a criminal charge of driving recklessly through the streets of Newhall.
The court record doesn't give us the sordid details ... Was he drunk? Did he put citizens' lives in peril by exceeding the posted 15mph speed limit, or kick up dust in the still-unpaved streets? We just don't know. But we do know the violation occurred April 28, 1920 — a clear and sunny day with a high of 86 recorded at Mission Hills — and we know that for whatever reason, Deputy Constable W. King Collins waited two weeks before he appeared in Powell's courtroom to swear out the complaint.
Powell's "courtroom," of course, was an office in his house on Railroad Avenue between Market and 8th streets. Newhall didn't have an actual courthouse building then. It's said his office could fit three people.
Collins served the warrant on Mix the same day, May 11, and Mix appeared in court the following day, May 12, with his attorney Richard T. Quinn. (How four people — Powell, Collins, Mix and Quinn — could all squeeze into the office at the same time will simply have to remain a mystery.)
Mix pleaded guilty. Powell fined him $50 — quite a sum at the time. Mix paid it on the spot. The alternative would have been a day in the local hoosegow (still standing on Spruce Street next to today's Old Town Newhall Library) for each unpaid dollar of the fine.
Perhaps it was prophetic. Twenty years later, a 60-year-old Mix would be killed in a car wreck in Arizona after visiting a popular bar and casino. Driving a spiffy 1937 Cord on the open highway, he didn't notice that a bridge had washed away in a flash flood. When he jammed on the brakes, a metal suitcase full of money behind him flew forward and smashed his skull.
Back to 1920. Powell was justice of the peace of the Soledad Judicial District, which was how the court system was divided up — into judicial districts. The Soledad district spanned the entire 1,200 square miles of the north county from L.A. city limits south of Newhall to the Kern County line. That's why Powell sometimes held court in other locations and even outdoors, when a case drew a crowd.
As for Collins, the community was still policed by constables (old-time lawmen), but they were part of the Sheriff's Department after 1913 when L.A. County adopted a charter. Previously, constables had been locally elected. The constabulary was eliminated in July 1936.
Curiously, Mix's driver's license number was 6666, as shown below.
The court proceedings read as follows, with hand-written text appearing in italics:
In the Justice's Court of Soledad Township, In the County of Los Angeles, State of California
The People of the State of California, Plaintiff, vs. Tom Mix, Defendant
Charge Reckless Driving
Personally appeared before this Court, the 11th day of May 1920, W. King Collins, of Newhall in the County of Los Angeles, who first being duly sworn, complains and says:
THAT Tom Mix of Los Angeles, on the 28 day of April 1920, at Newhall in the County of Los Angeles, State of California, committed the crime of operating an automobile upon the public highway in a reckless manner, in violation of Sec. 22, Motor Vehicle Act. Complaint filed. Warrant issued and given to Constable W. King Collins, for service, made May 11th 1920.
Warrant returned this 12th day of May 1920, Defendant in Court and gives his true name as Tom Mix, and defendant by his attorney, Richard T. Quinn, waives time for sentence, and all and singular the law and the premises being by this Court understood and fully considered, and sufficient cause appearing to the Court, why judgment should not be pronounced against said defendant, Tom Mix,
Wherefore, it is by this Court ORDERED and ADJUDGED that for said offense, you the said Tom Mix pay a fine in the sum of Fifty Dollars, and in case said fine be not paid by 6 o'clock P.M., of the 12th day of May 1920 that you, the said defendant, be imprisoned in the County Jail of said Los Angeles County, until the fine be duly satisfied, in the proportion of one day's imprisonment for every dollar of the fine, and on the payment of such portion of said fine as shall not have been satisfied by imprisonment at the rate above prescribed, that you, the said defendant, be discharged from custody. Fine Paid Fifty Dollars.
Done in open Court this 12th day of May 1920
No of License 6666, Residence, Los Angeles Cal.
Fox Moving Picture Studio,
J.F. Powell Justice of the Peace.
About Tom Mix:
Born in Mix Run, Penn., on Jan. 6, 1880, Tom Mix appeared in more than 300 films (counting "shorts")
from 1909 to 1935. He occasionally filmed in Newhall from 1916 to the mid-1920s and set up one of his early "Mixville"
Western movie towns between Spruce Street (now called Main Street) and Newhall Avenue.
A part-time Newhall resident during that period, Mix lived across the street (probably on Walnut Street) from the Thibaudeau home,
which was located at the southwest corner of Market Street and Newhall Avenue. In a televised
interview, lifelong Newhall resident Gladys Thibaudeau Laney (1910-2014) said she observed Tom buying his sidekick "wonder horse" Tony
on her family's property when she was a young girl. The timing works; Tom reportedly purchased Tony for $600 in 1917 from Pat Chrisman (1882-1953), a horse trainer
and actor friend who co-starred in a number of Mix films (Birchard 1993:118).
In the late Teens, Mix established his most famous
"Mixville" on Glendale Boulevard in the Silver Lake section of Los Angeles.
Prior to his movie career, Mix appeared in a series of Wild West shows where he was noticed by pioneering film producer Col. William N. Selig,
who hired him to handle horses. He worked with Selig, writing, directing and acting, until 1917, when
he signed with Fox to star in moving pictures alongside Tony.
Mix reached the height of his popularity during the 1920s, assuming the mantle of King of the Cowboys from William S. Hart,
who retired from filming in 1925. But Mix did not adapt well to "talkies," and his career waned in the 1930s.
His popularity remained intact, however, as he took his show on the road on the Western performance circuit. It was on the
road that he would perish, when his 1937 Cord sent him to an untimely demise on Oct. 12, 1940, south of Florence, Ariz.
Adding insult to injury and death, most of the 85 films he made with Fox were lost in a 1937 fire at the company's East Coast storage facility.
But Mix was remembered fondly through his radio show and comic books, which outlived him by more than a decade.