20 Jun Noblesville and Hollywood: Otis F. Bart
Noblesville and Hollywood: Otis F. Bart
By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian
About a year ago, I mentioned in passing that a local man, Otis F. Bart, had known the famous silent movie cowboy star, Tom Mix. I’m returning to that to look at exactly where and when they met, and to see if all of the story is true.
It comes from an article that appeared in the Noblesville Ledger on May 28, 1925, titled “A NOBLESVILLE MAN MEETS TWO-GUN MOVIE HERO – Ote Bart and Tom Mix Chat Over Old Days On Pacific Coast”. It describes how Bart put away his supplies for his occupation of billposting (pasting up advertising posters on buildings) and went to Indianapolis to see Mix, who was in town on a promotional tour. When Bart arrived in the city and got close enough to talk to Mix, at first Mix didn’t recognize him. Then Bart said, “Have you heard what Jim Gable is doing?”, at which point Mix remembered him. The article says that the three men had all been part of a Wild West show in Seattle, Washington, in 1910. Mix then sat down with Bart and they chatted for a while. A reporter asked Bart about it later that week and he said,
“I remember very distinctly when I staked Mix for $15 to carry him through payday the next week. I thought about asking him for a return of the favor when I saw him on Wednesday. I suspect that he had the money to make the loan in the event that I had asked him for it.”
The joke in this statement is that in 1925, Tom Mix was one of the highest paid movie stars in Hollywood and was making as much as $7,500 a week. It’s actually rather astonishing that Bart was even able to speak with Mix. According to the Indianapolis News article that covered Mix’s visit, (May 27, 1925) there were thousands of people in attendance as well as Indiana Governor Ed Jackson and Mayor Lew Shank of Indianapolis.
So how did a Noblesville billposter come to work with a top movie star? Otis Bart had led a rather interesting life. He was born on a farm in Boone County on December 25, 1887. At some time, he left Indiana and by 1908 in was in Nebraska as a private in Company H of the Second Regiment of the Nebraska National Guard where he served for three years. He was known for his shooting skills and attained the level of Marksman.
The Wild West show that the two men had worked in had actually been organized in 1909 by Tom Mix himself. (There are a few errors in the Ledger article – whether on the part of the reporter or of Otis Bart isn’t known.) The show was done in conjunction with the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. “Jim Gable” was probably actually William J. Gabriel (AKA “Cheyenne Bill”), a well-known Wild West show promoter who had worked with Buffalo Bill and helped Mix put the show together. Since Mix was running the show, it’s pretty unlikely that Bart would have had to loan him money before payday.
The Ledger article states that Bart was with the Wild West company as an expert shot. This is very likely, not only because of his military service, but also because of the fact that he was well known as a sharpshooter when he returned to Indiana. Bart may be one of the men in a 1909 photograph of some of the performers in the show. Mix himself is second from left and Mix’s wife Olive is second from right.
Bart eventually returned to Indiana, married Golda Altum in 1912, and settled in Noblesville. However, somewhere in his travels, he had lost an eye. This seemed to have no effect on his shooting ability. He was called up for the draft in World War I, but was rejected because of his eye. Still, in 1920, he was part of a twenty-man picked rifle team that represented Indiana at a national target match at Camp Perry, Ohio. In the photograph, he is fourth from left in the back row. There is a photograph in the Roberts Collection in the Indiana Room of the library which may show him giving a demonstration in Noblesville at the old Horse Show grounds at the corner of Monument and 10th Streets.
Bart died in 1930 just five days after his birthday due to complications from surgery. In his obituary, it said he was regarded as the best rifle shot in the county and that one of his hobbies was to travel to northern Michigan and Canada in the fall to hunt big game. It also said that one of his other hobbies was working with local organizations on charitable giving projects. Since he had been born on Christmas, this seemed natural. It was something that he shared with Tom Mix. On his 1925 visit, one of the first places that Mix went was Riley Children’s Hospital.
Like some of the other posts in this series, this is an obscure connection. However, it gives us an interesting look at the unique life of one of the citizens of Noblesville.