Described as looking like a modern-day West Texas sheriff: tall and slim, cordial, and affable with a quick mind —and a black string tie to top it off, his parents had named him James E. Mixon.
That name did not really fit, and he was known by all as Jim Mixon. Jim’s father was a Navy man and Jim moved to 13 different schools getting an education. He was born in New Orleans and returned to Louisiana to obtain a forestry degree from Louisiana State University in 1936.
Mixon worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps for one year and then was hired by the Florida Forest Service as a nurseryman. In 1940, Jim was named forest superintendent for the Louisiana Forestry Commission’s state forest at Woodworth. Forestry in Louisiana at the time was in doldrums: virgin forests had been cut out and reforestation just beginning. With the event of World War II, only four foresters remained in the agency. Jim was discharged from the Army because of a medical problem.
Jim Mixon was named State Forester by Louisiana’s Board of Forestry Commissioners in 1947. This was a positive move since the governor had previously appointed the state forester. At the time, Louisiana had one of the worst forest fire records in the South. Previous State Forester Massey Anderson had little resources, neither personnel nor equipment, to provide fire protection.
Mixon was to remain State Forester for 29 years, outlasting the administrations of seven governors. Under his leadership the fire problem was reduced to manageable levels, Commission nursery seedling production greatly increased, public education efforts to alert Louisiana residents to forestry’s needs and potential were expanded and the Forestry Commission became a model state agency.
Achieving what he accomplished required tremendous determination and dedication. Mixon had strong views on fire causes and they became nationally known in the mid-1950s when he dared to name arsonists as the real cause of the South’s devastating forest fire problem. Law enforcement was all the arsonists would understand, he believed, and that is what he gave them.
The Forestry Commission acquired new equipment that was appropriate for fire protection. To improve the public perception of the agency, Mixon established his annual “100-point inspection.” He was the son of a career Navy man and had a spit-and-polish philosophy about equipment maintenance. Every piece of equipment belonging to the Commission was subjected to an inspection so exacting that one employee reportedly fainted at the scene.
Mixon gained wide-spread respect on how he handled recurring political pressures. The way Mixon worded it, “I promised them whatever they wanted and then did what I wanted.”
He told the story: “Earl Long called me up one time and said, Jim, I’m a little red in the face about something that has happened — you know, one of my relatives on the fire crew in Winn Par