Was Steve McQueen channeling Tom Mix when he filmed Junior Bonner in Prescott in 1971? We’ll never know, but we do know this: Tom Mix was the real “Junior Bonner.” Not yet a leading man, Mix had competed in the Prescott’s Frontier Days Rodeo in 1909, and would use his riding, roping and rodeo skills throughout his film career.
In his first Prescott Western for Selig Polyscope in 1913, Mix was the villain “Apache Frank” in The Sheriff of Yavapai County. Soon, he was ready for the spotlight and they sent him to California to get more experience. In 1915, the actor returned to his beloved Prescott, where he made another 30-plus Westerns for Selig Polyscope. His home was the Bar Circle A Ranch (today’s Yavapai Hills) and in 1913 he won bull-riding and bull-dogging buckles in the Frontier Days Rodeo.
After Prescott, Mix went on to be a big star for 20th Century Fox, but he never forgot his “hometown” and its famed Fourth of July Frontier Days, coming back in 1920 to film the rodeo for scenes in his film The Texan—51 years before Sam Peckinpah directed Steve McQueen in Junior Bonner in the rodeo at the Prescott Fairgrounds.