The family of Pistol Pete will have one more tale to tell of their famed ancestor.
The descendants of U.S. Deputy Marshal Frank Boardman Eaton will be able to speak of the night Pistol Pete was inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum with some of the biggest names in Hollywood on hand.
Eaton, who was the inspiration for Oklahoma State University’s mascot, died 64 years ago, but his spirit lived on Saturday in Oklahoma City. His family and 28 former Pistol Pete mascots were on hand to accept the award as Eaton was inducted into the Hall of Great Westerners.
“On behalf of the Eaton family and all of our wonderful Pistol Petes from the university, it’s our great privilege to accept this award for Frank ‘Pistol Pete’ Eaton,” said Dinah Wagner, Eaton’s granddaughter who accepted the award from Cowboy poet Waddie Mitchell and musician Red Steagall. “Our sincerest thanks to everyone who made this possible. We’d also like to congratulate and acknowledge the other inductees for their unique roles and their contributions to Western culture. I would like to thank the Western Heritage Museum for this wonderful honor and for organizing this most lovely evening.”
Wagner was joined by fellow grandchildren Dow Wise and William Wise on stage with all of the former Pistol Petes behind them. Wagner then brought up a quote from Natalie Shirley, president and CEO of the museum who is also a former president of OSU-Oklahoma City.
“Natalie Shirley once said the West is more than a geographical location, it’s the story that we tell,” Wagner said. “If there’s one thing that Pistol Pete was known for, except for his quick draw, it was his quick wit and his masterclass in storytelling. Over his 98 years, his tales included everything from the Land Race to the Space Race.”
Throughout his life, Eaton became a marshal for the ‘Hanging Judge’ Isaac Parker in what was then Indian Territory. He later became a jack-of-all-trades and settled down in Perkins, Oklahoma. While riding in a 1923 Armistice Day parade in Stillwater, Eaton was noticed by a group of Oklahoma A&M College students.
Then known as the Tigers, the OAMC students thought Eaton would be a great mascot. Over the years, OAMC became OSU and the Tigers became the Cowboys. In 1958, the same year Eaton died, Pistol Pete became the official mascot of OSU.
In attendance were several OSU dignitaries, including: former president Burns Hargis and first cowgirl Ann Hargis; Senior Vice President for Executive Affairs Kyle Wray; assistant basketball coach Scott Sutton; and football coaches Kasey Dunn and Jason McEndoo.
“Frank Eaton is a symbol of the Old West and it was an honor to see him inducted into this great hall,” Wray said. “Worldwide, people see Pistol Pete as an icon of Oklahoma State University who exemplified the Cowboy code and we in the Cowboy family are proud to have him as our mascot.”
For the Pistol Petes, it was a once-in-a-lifetime event to honor the man who they portrayed for so many years.
“It was fantastic, you know, having been a representative, he did such a great job of representing Oklahoma State University and I certainly had the honor during my days in school to be Pistol Pete,” said Kent Walstad, who portrayed Pistol Pete in 1989 and 1990. “To see him being honored here today is just a sense of pride that all the former Pistol Petes share. It’s so great to know that you know, he was such a great guy representing our university and we were able to do the same.”
For Steve Costello, who was the mascot in 1966 and 1967, he said hopefully having Eaton inducted will bring some more attention to his life and Eaton’s book, “Pistol Pete: Veteran of the Old West.”
“I think telling his story is one of the most outstanding things we can do to continue to develop Oklahoma culture,” Costello said.
Lance Millis, who preceded Walstad as the mascot in 1987 and 1988, said it meant so much for him to see Eaton’s family get to celebrate. Eaton had initially been given the Director’s Award in 1997, but over the past 25 years, his family had been waiting to hear of his induction into the Hall of Great Westerners.
“I was surprised how emotional it made me,” Millis said. “I got goosebumps as I was standing on the stage honoring Frank Eaton. It’s long overdue but so deserved and so happy for his family.”
Also inducted into the museum at the Western Heritage Awards were entrepreneur Gerald Timmerman; actors Burt Reynolds, Bing Russell and Kurt Russell; folklorist James Hoy; museum board member Linda Mitchell Davis; and philanthropist Foster Friess.
Russell, who was present for his and his late father’s induction, said of the inductees and the museum that the Old West never really went anywhere.
“If there is ever a moment when you feel that your values and your ways are not being listened to, or are in some way forgotten, I promise you that is not true,” Russell said.