Frank "Pistol Pete" Eaton
|Born||Frank Boardman Eaton
October 26, 1860
Hartford, Connecticut, U.S.
|Died||April 8, 1958
Perkins, Oklahoma, U.S.
When Eaton was eight years old, his father, a Vigilante, was shot in cold blood by six former Confederates, who during the war had served with the Quantrill Raiders. The six men, from the Campsey and the Ferber clans, rode with the southerners who after the war called themselves "Regulators." In 1868, Mose Beaman, his father's friend, said to Frank, "My boy, may an old man's curse rest upon you, if you do not try to avenge your father." That same year, Mose taught him to handle a gun, but it would take nineteen years for Frank to avenge his father.
At the age of fifteen, before setting off on his mission to avenge his father's death, he decided to visit Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, a cavalry fort, to learn more about how to handle a gun. Although too young to join the army, he outshot everyone at the fort and competed with the cavalry's best marksmen, beating them every time. After many competitions, the fort's commanding officer, Colonel Copinger, gave Frank a marksmanship badge and a new nickname. From that day forward, Frank would be known as "Pistol Pete."
During his teen years, Eaton was reputed to be faster on the draw than Buffalo Bill. From his first days as a lawman, he was said to "pack the fastest guns in the Indian Territory." By the end of his career, Eaton would allegedly have eleven notches on his gun.
He began serving in Indian Territory as a deputy U.S. Marshal at the age of seventeen, under Judge Isaac C. Parker, who was known as the "hanging judge." Eaton's territory extended from southern Kansas to northern Texas. He would later say that from the start of his career as a lawman he began tracking down his father's killers, claiming that by 1887 he had killed five of them, and that the sixth only escaped his gun by being shot by someone in a dispute over a game of cards.
Eaton was said to have been given a cross by a girlfriend, which he wore around his neck and which saved his life when it deflected a bullet during a gunfight. He would write later that, "I’d rather have the prayers of a good woman in a fight than half a dozen hot guns: she’s talking to Headquarters."
Eaton would serve as either a marshal, a sheriff or a deputy sheriff until late in life. At twenty-nine, he joined the land rush to Oklahoma Territory. He settled southwest of Perkins, Oklahoma where he served as sheriff and later became a blacksmith. He was married twice, had nine children, 31 grandchildren, and lived to see three great-great-grandchildren. He died on April 8, 1958 at the age of 97.
Frank Eaton lived the life of a true cowboy. He usually carried a loaded .45 Colt and often said "I'd rather have a pocket full of rocks than an empty gun." He was also known to throw a coin in the air, draw and shoot it before it hit the ground. The common saying in the mid-western United States, "hotter than Pete's pistol," traces back to Eaton's shooting skills, along with his legendary pursuit of his father's killers.
Frank Eaton wrote two books that exemplify the life of a veteran of the Old West. His first, was an autobiography titled Veteran of the Old West: Pistol Pete, which tells a tale of his life as a Deputy United States Marshal and cowboy. His second book, which was published thirty years after his death, is entitled Campfire Stories: Remembrances of a Cowboy Legend. Campfire Stories is a collection of yarns and recollections that Frank Eaton would tell to the many visitors that came to sit on his front porch in Perkins, Oklahoma.
From Cowboy to mascot
After seeing Eaton ride a horse in the 1923 Armistice Day parade in Stillwater, Oklahoma with Cowgirl "SPO" Phillips and Cowpoke "Real Deal" Rieger, a group of Oklahoma A&M College (now Oklahoma State University) students decided that Eaton's "Pistol Pete" would be a suitable mascot for the school.
Previously the college had been known as the "Princeton of the Prairie" with a tiger mascot and colors of orange and black. Many at the school were unhappy with the "Tigers" mascot and felt "Pistol Pete," symbolic of the American Old West and Oklahoma's land run roots, better represented the college.
However, it was not until 1958 that "Pistol Pete" was adopted as the school's mascot. The familiar caricature of "Pistol Pete" was officially sanctioned in 1984 by the university as a licensed symbol.
On March 15, 1997, the National Cowboy Hall of Fame posthumously honored Frank Eaton with the prestigious Director's Award. Eaton's youngest daughter Elizabeth Wise, together with Oklahoma State University President James Halligan, accepted the award for Eaton.
- Francis Boardman "Pistol Pete" Eaton at Find A Grave
- Frank Eaton Collection OSU Library Special Collections and University Archives
- Frank Eaton Historic Home Oklahoma Territorial Plaza Trust
- Pistol Pete Interview Series Oklahoma Oral History Research Program