Monthly Archives: March 2016

Tim McCoy: Wyoming Cowboy, Military Officer, Politician and Movie Star

On this day in 1928, the movie “Wyoming” starring Tim McCoy was release. The movie was filmed outside of Lander, Wyoming.

(WSA P2001-11/36)

(WSA P2001-11/36)

Tim McCoy was born in Saginaw, Michigan in 1891, the youngest of seven children.  Both his parents were Irish immigrants.  At age 16 his father enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War but did not participate in the conflict.  He served as chief of police in Saginaw, Michigan during Tim’s youth.  Tim was exposed to the romance of the West in 1898 when Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show came to Saginaw.  Thanks to his father’s position, Tim was able to meet Cody, who left a strong impression on the boy.  A more readily accessible venue also influenced McCoy’s future career.  A local agent imported wild horses to Saginaw where they were broken and sold.  Young McCoy spent time at the corral observing the cowboys at their work.  In 1908, Tim was sent to St. Ignatius, a Chicago Jesuit school, to learn Latin.  That year a wild west show performed in the Windy City.  McCoy attended the performances regularly.  The following spring found McCoy heading west with a handful of belongings and the goal of becoming a cowboy.

Tim McCoy during his days as a cowboy, 1912. (WSA P2001-11/2)

Tim McCoy during his days as a cowboy, 1912.
(WSA P2001-11/2)

En route by train to Omaha, McCoy met a horse dealer from Lander who suggested he seek employment in Wyoming.  His first job was with the Double Diamond Ranch on the Wind River, where he worked in the hay fields.  Passing this initiation, he was included in the fall roundup, achieving his dream of becoming a cowboy.  After several years as a cowboy employed by other people, McCoy took steps toward owning his own ranch.   In 1915, he filed for a 640 acre homestead on Owl Creek, west of Thermopolis.  The ranch, called Eagle’s Nest, would eventually encompass 5,000 acres.  

McCoy's Eagle's Nest Ranch on Owl Creek, west of Thermopolis, Wyoming. (WSA P2001-11/46)

McCoy’s Eagle’s Nest Ranch on Owl Creek, west of Thermopolis, Wyoming.
(WSA P2001-11/46)

Early in 1917, with Europe embroiled in its third year of war, McCoy read a newspaper article about former president Teddy Roosevelt’s recommendation that a division of soldiers be recruited and sent overseas to assist the English and French.  Roosevelt also recommended a cavalry force be sent. Inspired, McCoy wrote a letter to Roosevelt offering to recruit 400 cavalrymen from Wyoming and Montana.  Roosevelt told him to proceed via telegram.  McCoy had the promised number of commitments within two months.  However, Roosevelt was unable to sell the plan to the Wilson administration.  

The United States entered World War I on April 2, 1917.   The expansion of the army required qualified officers to lead, so the War Department opened a number of officer training schools.   This option was more attractive to McCoy than getting drafted so he traveled to Cheyenne with the hope of finding out how he could apply for training.  He arrived early in the day and was able to visit with Governor Frank Houx, whose secretary, Charlie Thompson, said he read that exams were being given at Fort Logan, near Denver.  Armed with a letter of recommendation from Houx, as well as his Roosevelt telegrams, McCoy headed to Denver.  Although the deadline for applications had passed, he was able to wrangle an order to proceed to the officers’ training camp at Fort Snelling in Minnesota.  With a performance that foreshadowed his acting career he bullied his way through the initial application process and joined the U.S. Army.  

McCoy often drew inspiration for his acting from his experiences as a cowboy in Wyoming. This scene may have been on a movie set, but McCoy had undoubtedly lived the scene in real life. (WSA P2001-11/35)

McCoy often drew inspiration for his acting from his experiences as a cowboy in Wyoming. This scene may have been on a movie set, but McCoy had undoubtedly lived the scene in real life.
(WSA P2001-11/35)

McCoy was commissioned as a captain of cavalry, quite an achievement for a young inexperienced soldier.  He was eventually assigned to Fort Riley in Kansas to help train a regiment of recruits.  However, the fading usefulness of cavalry in mechanized warfare was finally recognized and a large number of cavalry regiments were converted to artillery regiments.  Therefore, McCoy was sent to Artillery Officers’ School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.  He was at Fort Sill when the war ended.  McCoy had attained the rank of lieutenant colonel by that time.

McCoy's first wife Agnes and their children Gerald, Margaret and John at the ranch on Owl Creek, 1925. (WSA P2001-11/6)

McCoy’s first wife, Agnes Miller, and their children Gerald, Margaret and John at the ranch on Owl Creek, 1925.
(WSA P2001-11/6)

While at Fort Snelling, McCoy married Agnes Miller, whom he had met at a dude ranch near Jackson Hole.  Agnes was the daughter of a stage actor and actress.  Agnes and Tim would have three children.  After the war, the McCoys settled in at Tim’s ranch on Owl Creek while he pondered whether or not to remain in the Army.  The decision was settled shortly after his return when Governor Robert Carey offered McCoy the position of Adjutant General of Wyoming.  He promptly accepted.  

Tim McCoy and the group of Arapahoes he recruited for Hollywood on the steps of the Wyoming State Capitol Building in 1922. McCoy and Gov. W.B. Ross are standing in the center of the group. (WSA P2001-11/5)

Tim McCoy and the group of Arapahoes he recruited for Hollywood on the steps of the Wyoming State Capitol Building in 1922. McCoy and Gov. W.B. Ross are standing in the center of the group.
(WSA P2001-11/5)

In 1922, an agent for Famous Players – Lasky, a motion picture corporation that would eventually become Paramount Pictures Corporation, visited McCoy in his Capitol Building office to solicit his assistance.  McCoy was recruited to hire 500 Native Americans for the film The Covered Wagon and bring them to Hollywood.  After ensuring the recruits would be well paid and well treated, McCoy agreed to the arrangement and resigned from his position as Adjutant General.  He was also asked to serve as technical advisor for the film.  During the initial showings at Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, McCoy conducted a “prologue” during which he spoke to audiences about the movie and introduced some of the Native Americans.  He also served as technical adviser for The Thundering Herd, and presented a prologue for The Iron Horse.

Tim McCoy on the set of End of the Trail (1932), with Wade Butler, Luana Walters and Chief White Eagle. The movie was filed outside of Lander, Wyoming. (WSA P2001-11/12)

Tim McCoy on the set of End of the Trail (1932), with Wade Butler, Luana Walters and Chief White Eagle. The movie was filmed outside of Lander, Wyoming.
(WSA P2001-11/12)

1926 found McCoy back at his ranch at Owl Creek and settled back in his role as a cattleman.  However, early in the year he received a telegram from a representative of Famous Players – Lasky who asked McCoy to return to Hollywood for a screen test, with the guarantee that he would appear in at least one motion picture. Thus began an entertainment career which would include over 90 movies.  McCoy starred in the first “all talking” movie serial, The Indians are Coming, in 1930.  His entertainment career would also include a couple of television series, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus performances, and Tim McCoy’s Wild West and Rough Riders of the World.  The Wild West venture was launched during the Great Depression and closed after only three weeks of performances.  

McCoy with the cast and crew of Tim McCoy's Real Wild West Show, 1938. (WSA P2001-1/22)

McCoy with the cast and crew of Tim McCoy’s Real Wild West Show, 1938.
(WSA P2001-1/22)

McCoy ran an unsuccessful campaign for a U.S. Senate seat from Wyoming in 1942.  After losing in the primary election, he volunteered for the U.S. Army.  McCoy performed liaison work in Europe during World War II.  Except for a few cameo appearances in later years, McCoy made no more motion pictures after the war.  He returned to Wyoming long enough to sell his ranch, then purchased an estate in Pennsylvania called Dolington Manor.

Tim and Agnes McCoy had divorced in 1931.   Tim met Inga Arvad, a Danish beauty pageant winner and journalist, at a dinner party in Hollywood in 1946.  Arvad drew attention in the mid-1930s when she interviewed Adolf Hitler.  She came to America in 1940 and continued to find employment as a writer, including stints as a Hollywood gossip columnist and as fashion editor for Harper’s Bazaar.  In the early 1940s, while living on the east coast, she had a romantic relationship with future president John F. Kennedy.  

McCoy, his second wife Inga, and their two sons, Ronnie and Terry. (WSA P2001-11/44)

McCoy, his second wife Inga Arvid, and their two sons, Ronnie and Terry.
(WSA P2001-11/44)

McCoy and Arvad married shortly after their meeting.  They would have two children.  After living for a brief time at Dolington Manor, the McCoys moved to California after Tim was recruited for a Los Angeles television program.  The program featured McCoy telling historical stories and Native Americans performing dances.  In 1952, he moved to a Los Angeles CBS affiliate where he won an Emmy award for his presentations about western American history.  The program lost sponsorship shortly after that, requiring McCoy to seek employment elsewhere.   He performed with a couple of circuses for several years.  

In 1962, the McCoys moved to Arizona.  Tim continued to be employed as a performer of cowboy-style acts.  Inga died in 1973 and McCoy retired a few months later.  He published an autobiography in 1977 and died the following year at the age of 87.

McCoy was recognized for his film career with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Additional honors included induction into the Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum and the Cowboy Hall of Fame. In 2010, McCoy was inducted into the Hall of Fame of Hot Springs County, Wyoming, where his ranch had been located.

McCoy was well known for his very large hats and helped to popularize the "10-gallon" Stetson. Max Meyer, owner of a hat shop in Cheyenne, special ordered McCoy's hats and worked with the Stetson company to produce ever larger specimens. This photo was sent to Meyer in thanks. The inscription reads: "Dear Max - Tom Mix called this a 50 gallon hat. When he saw it he almost fell out of his seat. - Tim McCoy"

McCoy was well-known for his very large hats and helped to popularize the “10-gallon” Stetson, characterized by their exaggerated large brims and crowns. Max Meyer, owner of a hat shop in Cheyenne, special ordered McCoy’s hats and worked with the Stetson company to produce ever larger specimens. This photo was sent to Meyer in thanks. The inscription reads: “Dear Max – Tom Mix called this a 50 gallon hat. When he saw it he almost fell out of his seat. – Tim McCoy” (WSA Sub Neg 19576)

The Tim McCoy collection at the Wyoming State Archives contains correspondence, posters, many of McCoy’s movies on videotape, clippings concerning McCoy’s career and western films, books about McCoy and western films, photographs, and some genealogical information.   

— Curtis Greubel, State Imaging Center Supervisor. Much of the information in this article was derived from Tim McCoy’s autobiography Tim McCoy Remembers the West.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under This Day in Wyoming History..., WSA Collection Highlights