(STILLWATER, Okla., Aug. 10, 2023) — When Frank Eaton joined Stillwater’s Armistice Day parade in 1923, it marked the beginning of a storied tradition that would later see Oklahoma State University redefine itself through Eaton’s image in the form of a mascot that is today as beloved as it is recognizable — Pistol Pete.
This year, OSU commemorates the 100-year anniversary of that milestone with a slate of events dubbed “The Year of the Cowboy.” It’s a celebration of all things Pistol Pete and all the students and alumni who have added to and carried that legacy (and the 36-pound head).
“The spirit of the cowboy is part of the heart and soul of Oklahoma State University,” OSU President Kayse Shrum said. “The students who saw Frank Eaton at the 1923 Armistice Day parade knew it, and it remains true today. The cowboy embodies a culture where people do what’s right even when it’s hard and finish what they start. Pistol Pete has been a symbol for the Cowboy family for the past 100 years. He belongs to all of us — students, faculty, staff, alumni and fans.”
The OSU Alumni Association also has adopted “The Year of the Cowboy” as the theme for America’s Greatest Homecoming 2023. Pistol Pete will be involved in many of the Homecoming events between Oct. 22-28, along with several of Eaton’s descendants, who will take on a special role. Special release merchandise will be available at select retailers this fall, as well.
“We’re excited to announce Frank Eaton’s living grandchildren will serve as the grand marshals of this year’s Sea of Orange Homecoming Parade,” said Dr. Ann Caine, OSU Alumni Association president. “Eaton himself was involved in many of the early Homecoming parades dating back to 1930, and we are honored to have members of his family carry on the tradition for this special occasion.”
The idea to celebrate the anniversary originated with leaders from the Pistol Pete Alumni Club. Scott Petty, known in Pete circles as Pete No. 40, served as Pistol Pete from 1985 to 1987. He said the group met with Senior Vice President for Executive Affairs Kyle Wray and other OSU leaders about 11 months ago and received eager support.
“We held a few substantive meetings with OSU Brand Management about developing an icon or logo to celebrate and bring awareness to Frank Eaton’s legacy. What emerged was this amazing campaign that we’re really looking forward to,” Petty said. “It is important to note how meaningful it is to those of us who have served as a Pistol Pete, but also how meaningful it is for us to educate students, faculty, staff and alumni that he’s been our mascot image for 100 years.”
Pete No. 93 Traber Smithson, who served as Pistol Pete in the fall of 2022 and spring of 2023, said Pistol Pete is synonymous with OSU. He said he’s looking forward to celebrating Eaton’s legacy with the Cowboy family.
“He is the face of OSU, and is able to celebrate some of life’s biggest moments with fans all over the country, which contributes to why he is truly loved by the loyal and true,” Smithson said. “Getting the opportunity to celebrate 100 years of Pistol Pete with the Cowboy family is very exciting. Pete means so much to our alumni, fans and students, and I think that will create a very special atmosphere as we celebrate homecoming this year. I know that all of the Pistol Petes and the Eaton family are very thankful and honored to be a part of the celebration.”
Granddaughter Jewel Himes said she believes people connect so readily with her granddad because he was a real person and a real cowboy. She said it was surreal at times growing up with a beloved relative who was a household name.
“It’s just part of our life,” she said. “It’s something we’re very happy and proud about. And we’re a big family. We’re absolutely thrilled about the celebration, and we’re thrilled about the Pistol Petes themselves continuing our grandfather’s legacy. We’re very happy that we have the kind of relationship we do with the university. We’re especially appreciative of the respect these young men give grandfather in representing him.”
OSU Spirit Coordinator and Pom Coach Beki Jackson has been part of the Pistol Pete selection process — a challenging evening of tests and interviews — for 11 years and has helped select 14 students to take on the coveted role. She said it’s hard to imagine what OSU would be without Pistol Pete.
“He is OSU in every aspect,” she said. “Whether it’s a brand on a T-shirt, or the little kid dressed like him for Halloween. When you see Pistol Pete, you are taken back to your glory days and you feel pride for the university. Pistol Pete is a symbol of true Cowboy Heritage. He represents the grit and spirit we all strive to have as OSU Cowboys.”
For more information about “The Year of The Cowboy” celebration, visit okla.st/yearofthecowboy.
For more information about Pistol Pete alumni, visit okla.st/pistolpetealumni.
For more information about OSU Homecoming, visit okla.st/homecoming.