One day circa 1868, an 8-year-old boy by the name of Frank Eaton saw his father murdered on the family’s Kansas homestead. He took it upon himself to avenge his father’s death. Eaton learned how to shoot and became familiar with guns in his youth. By age 15, he had perfected his marksmanship at Fort Gibson in Oklahoma, where he would become known as “Pistol Pete.”
Eaton lived the life of a cowboy as he is said to have always carried a loaded .45 revolver on him, and spent his career as a deputy sheriff, blacksmith and a volunteer in the Oklahoma Territory land rush before it was granted statehood.
Oklahoma State University students made Pistol Pete their unofficial mascot in 1923 after seeing Eaton himself ride a horse at an Armistice Day parade. Pistol Pete stuck and become recognized by the university in 1958 as its official mascot.
So why is Pistol Pete New Mexico State University’s mascot?
That’s exactly what OSU asked NMSU in the fall of 2014 when the university filed a lawsuit against NMSU over its alleged copyright infringement for using its “Classic Aggie” image, which bore a striking resemblance to OSU’s Pistol Pete. OSU claimed that it requested multiple times that NMSU stop using the Classic Aggie image before filing the lawsuit, but NMSU allegedly ignored the requests. NMSU had paid OSU royalties since NMSU first began using the mascot in the 1960s, but had stopped paying in 2006 after Classic Aggie was completely revamped.
OSU’s attempt to sue never came to fruition, however, as the two universities reached an agreement in December 2014 that saw both universities keep their mascots under certain conditions for NMSU. Every year, NMSU must pay OSU a nominal fee of $10 to be granted the rights to the Classic Aggie mascot, but the university is limited to selling no more than 3,000 items per year bearing the image. Moreover, those items can only be sold through the NMSU bookstore, along with an additional 3,000 Classic Aggie items sold through the alumni relations office.
NMSU’s newer 2006 Pistol Pete is prevalent throughout the university. He is the face of the school with his image being used on tons of merchandise and advertisements. He is also a literal mascot played by a mustachioed, pistol-toting student who dons a cowboy outfit and makes appearances at all the big athletic and university events.
Meanwhile, the older Classic Aggie image is seen as a much more vintage and rarer version of the mascot since the OSU deal was struck. But there is still another version of the NMSU mascot that bares a resemblance to Pistol Pete. His name is Lasso Larry.
In 2005, NMSU officially changed its mascot to Lasso Larry, a cowboy who was equipped with a lasso instead of pistols. Michael Martin, the NMSU president at the time, reportedly said it was time for a makeover and that the current Pistol Pete costume “scares children.” The rebranding was a failure and Lasso Larry was abandoned the next year in favor of the return of Pistol Pete.
Despite the widespread affinity for Pistol Pete from community members and university alumni, he was involved in more controversy in 2019 when proposals were made to install a Pistol Pete statue in the middle of the new roundabout at University and Triviz. Some people, including members of the faculty senate, were firmly against the statue because of Pistol Pete’s pistols.
A proposition submitted to University Affairs on January 29, 2019, characterized the proposed new statue as a “problematic representation of NMSU as a colonial/racist/sexist institution built on a violent history and present. The statue of Pistol Pete itself will be the embodiment of a colonial, hypermasculine, and violent symbol, a representation disconnected from the mission of NMSU and offensive to NMSU community and the people of NM.”
That same day, another proposition was submitted that called for the removal of the one-year-old Pistol Pete bench statue outside the west entrance to the Corbett Center Student Union. Ultimately, the Pistol Pete bench statue outside of Corbett was never removed, and a new “gateway” monument was built this year at the roundabout instead of the Pistol Pete statue.