Frank Eaton “Pistol Pete”

photograph of Pistol Pete

Recently somebody asked me about the Oklahoma State University Cowboy’s mascot “Pistol Pete.”

The West in the early 1900s had an abundance of bewhiskered old timers who claimed they rode with Jesse or the Daltons and writers took them at their word. Oklahoma train robber Al Jennings claimed he out shot Jesse James in a shooting match. However, on the date Jennings claimed the match took place Jesse had been dead for several years.

It’s good to remember it was the golden age of prevarication and these guys were the masters. How much of Pistol Pete’s story is true you’ll have to decide for yourself. Mark Twain is supposed to have said, “If it didn’t happen this way, it could have happened this way.”

Hollywood director John Ford is alleged to have added, “If it didn’t happen this way, it shoulda happened this way.”

Pistol Pete originated with a real Oklahoma lawman named Frank Eaton, a bigger-than-life gunfighter. In 1868, when he was only eight years old his father was gunned down by a band of “regulators.”

A friend of his father, Moses Beaman, told him, “My boy, may an old man’s curse rest upon you if you do not try to avenge your father.”

Beaman gave him a Navy Colt revolver and proceeded to teach the youngster how to shoot. Frank began to practice until he could draw fast and, with pointing rather than taking aim, could shoot the head off a rattlesnake with either hand.

Too young to join the Army he visited Ft. Gibson at the age of fifteen and won a shooting contest. The post commander presented him a badge and dubbed him “Pistol Pete.”

In 1885 Frank hired out as a scout for Captain Emmett Crawford during the Geronimo Campaign and by 1887 he was working as a U.S. Deputy Marshal for Judge Isaac Parker’s court in Ft. Smith.

The Indian Territory was the most dangerous place in the entire nation for peace officers. Since the U.S. Marshals Service was created in 1789, more than 200 marshals have been killed in the line of duty. One hundred twenty, more than half, were killed in the Indian and Oklahoma territories before statehood in 1907.

At the same time Frank was a deputy marshal, he began looking for his father’s six killers. He tracked them down and killed five of them. The sixth was killed by someone else over a card game after getting caught dealing off the bottom of the deck. Frank did attend the funeral just to make sure the guy was dead.

During his long career as a lawman he also served as a sheriff and deputy sheriff. He is said to have killed eleven men.

Frank later penned a couple of books about his life and recollections of life in the Oklahoma Territory.

After seeing him ride in an Armistice Day parade in Stillwater in 1923 some students at Oklahoma State University (then Oklahoma A&M College) decided “Pistol Pete” Frank Eaton should be the school mascot.

Frank was married twice and had nine children. He lived to see his great-great-grandchildren before he died in 1958 at the age of ninety-seven.

What do you think?

Marshall Trimble

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian, board president of the Arizona Historical Society and vice president of the Wild West History Association. His latest book is Arizona’s Outlaws and Lawmen; History Press, 2015. If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or e-mail him at marshall.trimble@scottsdalecc.edu