There’s one face every New Mexico State student, faculty and staff member knows — the face of Pistol Pete. Since the 1950s, Pete has been pumping up crowds and cheering on Aggies at alumni events, sporting events and even graduation, as students walk the stage and receive their diplomas.
“It is a nice feeling when you do see him even there supporting you for your graduation. Even though you have no idea who this guy is, you don’t need to know who he actually is. It’s just like the school’s spirit standing there with you,” said John Reyes, a 2014 NMSU graduate who now works with Aggie Vision.
Busy college students probably don’t have much time to spend thinking about the history of NMSU, much less the history of the guy with two pistols and a mustache. However, Pete’s history is a colorful and interesting one.
Pete’s look has certainly changed over the years. In the beginning, Pete wasn’t the friendliest face to look at. The mascot wore a big head with a dirty-looking 5 o’clock shadow. In 2005, Pete even lost his signature pistols. There was talk about Pete’s image promoting gun violence and scaring kids. As a result, the university decided to holster Pete’s pistols and arm him with a lasso instead. This new Pete, no “Pistol,” was nicknamed “Lasso Larry.”
The image change didn’t resonate well with many of the alumni, who claimed Pistol Pete was part of the university’s heritage. Reyes offered a different opinion. He thought Lasso Larry “was pretty cool because you could do a little bit more tricks with a lasso than you can with a gun.”
Pistol Pete came back after one year. Lasso Larry just couldn’t win the love of the Aggie community.
“I think it shows what affinity the community has for Pistol Pete,” said DJ Downs, who served as Pistol Pete when he was a student.
The Lasso Larry conflict wasn’t the only time Pete faced adversity.
In 2014, Oklahoma State University filed a lawsuit against NMSU for having a similar mascot, which OSU trademarked in 1989. The lawsuit was in regard to the “Classic Aggie,” based on Pete’s old design, which was nearly identical to OSU’s Pistol Pete logo. The universities settled the dispute and now NMSU pays ten dollars every year to OSU and can sell no more than 3,000 items each year with the “Classic Aggie” image.
Pete continues to be the face of New Mexico State, not only at the school but in the Las Cruces community and beyond, adding a splash of Aggie pride wherever he goes.