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Tom Mix Wedding, Part 1


On this day in 1909 Olive Stokes and Tom Mix were married in an impromptu ceremony in the kitchen of a rambling ranch-house on the outskirts of Medora. Olive and Tom were sojourners, not residents of Medora. Like other well-known visitors to the Badlands, their time there would be brief, yet unforgettable…and life-changing.

Their short courtship, as told by Olive Stokes Mix her 1957 biography, The Fabulous Tom Mix, provides a window on Badlands culture in the early 20th century.

According to Olive, Will Rogers, a Stokes family friend introduced her to Tom at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. She was only 14 at the time, but she must have made quite an impression on 24-year-old Mix. (Nobody knew at the time that Will Rogers and Tom Mix were destined for fame.)

Olive’s father had died that same year. Olive spent the next four years in school and then commenced managing the ranch with her mother.

At 19, Olive traveled by herself to Medora on a holiday shopping trip…for horses. Nels and Katrine Nelson met her at the train station – the Nelsons were family friends who had written to tell Olive and her mother excellent horses could be purchased very reasonably in the Badlands.

Soon after she arrived, Tom Mix arrived in Medora in pursuit of a particular young filly of a different sort – a capable cowgirl named Olive Stokes. Since their St. Louis encounter four years earlier, he had not communicated once, but he had kept track of when she would come of age. He first looked for her at the Stokes’ Oklahoma ranch. There, he learned she was in North Dakota, and the ranch foreman was soon going there to arrange for shipping Olive’s horses back. Tom promptly invited himself along.

In Medora, the two cowboys were invited to the Nelson’s for a special holiday meal of lutefisk, lefse, and fattigmand (FAH-tig-mahnd). Olive remembers Tom “had about three helpings of everything, although he had eyed the food suspiciously when it was first served to him.”

The next morning Olive set out for the Sam Short ranch to look at stock. Tom, an experienced ranch hand, rode along. It turned out to be a harrowing ride when they got caught in a blinding snowstorm. Tom was impressed with how Olive handled herself and her horse, and strengthened his resolve to win her heart.

Olive writes, “During Christmas week Tom scarcely left my side while we participated in the exhausting but exhilarating celebration that lasted from Christmas to New Year's Day, and encompassed almost the entire ranching community before we were finished.”

“The celebration began with a big square dance…guests kept arriving on horseback all day in groups of two to ten. They traveled through an endless snow falling from leaden skies. In the winter people did not travel alone in the badlands. But they did travel, under any conditions, when there was fun to be had or work to be done.”

“…The dance lasted almost twenty-four hours. We danced in relays. After a two- or three-hour sprint on the floor we would lie down and rest while another group wore themselves out on the mountain waltzes and polkas and the stamping of square dances that rocked the ranch house.”

For the rest of the story and if you’re wondering “Who’s Tom Mix?”… tune in for Part 2 tomorrow.


Olive Stokes Mix, with Eric Heath, The Fabulous Tom Mix, (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc.), 1957.