Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Friday, October 16, 2015

ONCE UPON AN ANECDOTE: Hail to the Hero


     John Fitzgerald came to Dublin in his golden years to help out the local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.  Many of those who came out that night to see him  remembered John when they were young and the times they saw his face around town.

It was on the evening of January 14, 1970 when John Fitzgerald came to say goodbye to some old friends and wave hello to some new friends.  Although it wasn’t a full house in the auditorium in the city hall on that cold, clear, winter night, those who did come enjoyed an evening of fond memories and fun.

John Fitzgerald, the son of a soldier of the Union during the Civil War,  was born on April 10, 1891 in the Central Michigan city of Saginaw, where his father was once the Chief of Police.

John attended college at St. Ignatius, now Loyola University.  When he was in college, John attended a Wild West show.  After that day, John became totally infatuated with the old west and the legendary stories and ways of the Native Americans of the Northwest.

John left college and followed the trail to Wyoming, where he bought a ranch and immersed himself in living the life of a cowboy and learning all that he could about the native Americans.  To hone his seemingly natural skills, John joined the rodeos.   During his mid-twenties, John Fitzgerald served in the Armed Forces during World War I.   By the time John reached the age of 28 in 1919, he was one of the youngest brigadier generals in the history of the U.S. Army.  Between the two world wars, John Fitzgerald served as the Adjutant General in the Wyoming National Guard.

A decorated soldier, John rose to the rank of Lt. Colonel in the United States Army. Col. Fitzgerald retired in his early 1930s.  And, one day the colonel decided to accept the offer of a Paramount Studios in Hollywood to act as a military advisor in its production of “The Covered Wagon.”

Then the acting bug struck John.  Over the remainder of the decade when most movies were silent, John appeared in nearly two dozen western films.

In the late 1930s, John left Hollywood to star as a featured wild west performer in the Ringling Brothers Circus.   When that venture and the establishment of his own touring show failed, John returned to what he did best and that was as a cowboy movie star.


After completing his 89th movie in 1942, politics got into John’s blood in 1942.  He decided to run for a seat in the United States Senate from Wyoming.  That campaign saw the first state wide radio broadcast in the history of that state.  John lost.  He decided to join the army.

Still commissioned as an officer in the United States Army Reserve, John worked as a liaison with the Army Air Force units in Europe.  John was awarded many medals and commendations during his career.  After the war, John retired from the army and retired somewhat from his full time movie career.

Following the end of the war, John would only make four more movies, the most well known being a part of one of Hollywood’s largest ensembles of stars in the celebrated 1956 film, “Around the World in 80 Days.”

From 1962 to 1974, John toured the country as a part of the  Tommy Scott Caravan and Wild West Show as a performer and part owner.

"I had the good fortune to meet him in 1970 when he was touring with Tommy Scott as they came through Columbus, GA, where I was in radio at WDAK at the time.  As I was program director there, I invited him  to come to the station for an interview, which he did.  He was quite gentlemanly, still retaining all of his military bearing.  We traversed his whole career, quickly, and talked about touring with Scott.  He toured with Scott in order to be able to visit all the Civil War sites across the South.  Touring with Scott enabled him to visit these sites free.  He was a great Civil War buff.  He drove everywhere  to the battleground sites in the daytime and performed on Scott's show at night,” recalled Western author Boyd Magers.

They say that all good things must come to an end.  For generations of young Americans and those Americans who never grew old, the movie cowboy was the one constant and enduring hero, who always led the triumph of good over evil, walked off with the girl, or triumphantly rode his trusted horse into the set.

And so it was on that night that the last of the great silent movie  cowboys, Timothy John Fitzgerald McCoy, better known as “Tim McCoy,” came to Dublin for one last wild west show.  Others like him; Tom Mix, Lash LaRue, Tex Ritter, Donald “Red Ryder Barry, Smiley Burnette and Bob Steele had come here before over at the Martin Theater across the street or a few blocks away at the fairgrounds  for a show daring feats and great thrills.  It was the night that the old west faded into the Dublin sunset one last time.

McCoy was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in 1973.  McCoy was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Tim McCoy died on January 29, 1978 at the age of 87 at the Raymond W. Bliss Army Medical Center of Ft. Huachuca in Sierra Vista, Arizona.  He is buried beside his wife in the Mount Olivet Cemetery in his hometown of Saginaw, Michigan.

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