Meet Frank Eaton, the real-life area resident and inspiration behind the legendary Pistol Pete mascot of Oklahoma State University.

Frank "Pistol Pete" Eaton          Pistol Pete Mascot

Born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1860, Frank Eaton's life took a dramatic turn when his family moved to Kansas after the Civil War. At the tender age of eight, tragedy struck as his father was killed. Determined to avenge his father's death, Frank spent hours practicing with a pistol he was gifted by a family friend. Soon, he became renowned as one of the quickest shots in the west.

By age 15, Frank sought further training at Fort Gibson, where he outshot the cavalry's best marksmen, earning him the honorific of Pistol Pete from the fort’s commanding officer. He says he later became a US Deputy Marshal, tracking down his father's killers and serving under Judge Isaac Parker (AKA “the Hanging Judge”).


   Frank "Pistol Pete" Eaton  


In 1889, Eaton participated in the Oklahoma Land Run, claiming land near present-day Stillwater. Here, he served as sheriff and pursued a career as a blacksmith. A beloved figure in the community, he often entertained locals with tales of his adventures. Every Saturday, children would gather at his home to hear his fascinating tales and watch his impressive shooting demonstrations. His storytelling talent was so admired that in 1950, he began writing a weekly column for the Perkins Journal. Initially titled “Truthful Pete Says,” the column’s humorous and exaggerated tales led to its renaming as “Pistol Pete Says.” Eaton’s stories were filled with colorful characters, wit, and an everyman philosophy reminiscent of Will Rogers.


Pistol Pete: Veteran of the Old West Book Cover     Frank Eaton: Campfire Stories Book Cover


Eaton didn't just write; he often set the type and hand-cranked the presses himself to ensure the paper was published on time. In 1952, he published his autobiography, “Pistol Pete: Veteran of the Old West,” which the Chicago Tribune praised as “an exciting, genuine bit of Americana.” His second book, “Campfire Stories: Remembrances of a Cowboy Legend,” written in 1957, was published posthumously in 1988.


Frank "Pistol Pete" Eaton     


Eaton led the Armistice Day Parade through Stillwater in 1923 and was the hit of the event. Students at the then Oklahoma A&M College had long been searching for a new mascot to replace the tiger mascot that was representing the school at the time. When they saw how everyone reacted to the larger-than-life Eaton as he passed through the Armistice Day crowds, they knew they had found a mascot that was a perfect fit for their beloved school. A group of students approached Eaton in hopes that he might represent the Aggies. After he agreed, the first Pistol Pete pennants, t-shirts and notebooks were sold in 1930.


     Frank "Pistol Pete" Eaton


For more than 30 years the crusty, yet lovable, Pistol Pete roamed the sidelines during athletic events and other school gatherings demonstrating his quick draw skills, posing for photos and keeping the crowds cheering. When Eaton passed away in 1958 at the age of 97, a papier-mache head was made and Charlie Lester became the first student to portray Pistol Pete. The original character head is now on display at the Stillwater History Museum at the Sheerar


     Papier-mache Pistol Pete Head


In 1970, Disney Imagineer Bob Johnson designed and built a new Pistol Pete mascot head out of fiberglass. Two heads were created with one being kept by Disney and used for a handful of events like a parade in Ireland. When Johnson retired from Disney, he came across the second head and donated it to OSU.


     Pistol Pete Fiberglass Head


Over the years a series of college students have played the role of Pistol Pete wearing the giant fiberglass heads that weighed nearly 50 pounds.  And in 2019, the fiberglass heads were retired and new lighter-weight ones were created using modern carbon fiber technology.


Pistol Pete


The mythology around Pistol Pete continued to grow and even in his later years, Frank's legendary marksmanship persisted, as he could still toss a coin into the air, draw, and shoot it before it hit the ground. He lived a long life, passing away in 1958 at age 97, leaving behind a remarkable story of courage and resilience. Generations of Oklahoma State University alumni and sports fans have a special place in their hearts for Pistol Pete.


Pistol Pete Kiss


Pistol Pete’s immortal legacy was cemented through decades of ‘pistols firing’ on the sidelines of college sports events. He was inducted into the Hall of Great Westerners at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Center in 2022 with great fanfare. Pistol Pete was named America’s Top Mascot by ESPN in 2010 and he continues to inspire generations of OSU fans to this day.



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