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We joked about dark mascot backstories on the Fullcast this week during a review of the Big 12, singling out Pistol Pete from Oklahoma State in particular because...well, just look at him.

TCU v Oklahoma State
Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images

How could he not have a dark backstory with that thousand yard stare, those coal-black eyes that have seen the dark rider of death itself galloping over vast flatlands of the prairie? What evil furnace of human experience leaves a man with a gaze that haunted? What infernal, unceasing wind chaps the skin to that shade of red? What series of events carves a scowl on a man’s face so permanent he becomes a statue bearing witness to unseen but real cruelties forever?

Turns out, the answer to all of those questions is: Because he’s based on a real and terrifying person. Frank Eaton was the real Pistol Pete, and this is the fourth sentence of his Wikipedia bio.

In 1868, Mose Beaman, his father's friend, said to Frank, "My boy, may an old man's curse rest upon you, if you do not try to avenge your father"

Frank was eight when he was told this. He was also eight when he learned to handle a gun. Eaton learned to shoot so well with both hands that he could shoot the head off a snake with either hand. Historical note: “Shooting the heads off snakes” seemed to be the entirety of coursework in 19th century marksmanship training.

Frank Eaton got a job working as a marshal in the Indian Territories—like, actual True Grit territory—when he was 17. Did he get a lucky crucifix from a beautiful lady? Of course he did. Did the cross catch a bullet that would have surely killed him? You bet it did. Did Frank return to find the girl had died of pneumonia, because this is a cowboy story and someone needs to die tragically of a possibly treatable disease? Yes.

Eaton eventually found five of the six men who killed his father, killing all five himself. The history bleeds into myth very, very quickly here, but Eaton might have even been the source for Rooster Cogburn’s quote “Fill your hands, you son of a bitch!”, yelled during one part of his epic rampage. After someone else shot the sixth man for dealing cards off the bottom of the deck during a card game, Eaton attended his funeral just to make sure he was dead. Eaton has missed the opportunity to shoot the man himself by just one day.

Eaton wasn’t even 20 when he “escaped the curse of an old man” by avenging his father. At the age of 29, Eaton sort of began settling down by landrushing his way into a farm in Perkins, Oklahoma, just south of Stillwater. In Perkins, he worked as a constable, blacksmith, and also had a side hustle digging wells. Sometimes, while digging wells, Eaton hit layers of rock, and had to blast his way through with dynamite. Did he waste time with fuses, detonators, or timers?

Allow the quasi-historical record to answer that.

Secured at the end of a rope, Frank would descend into the dark abyss, place the dynamite in a strategic location, light the fuse, and then quickly begin his ascent to escape the coming blast.

“My father asked Frank if the dynamite had ever exploded before he made it all the way up,” Luster said. “Frank replied, ‘Ho! Ho! Ho! Ah God, yes!’”

Luster’s father asked, “Really, Frank? What happened then?”

“Ah God!” Eaton said, “I got muh damned backside filled with sand rock!”

So: no, Frank Eaton did not mess with anything like safety equipment, and just Wile E. Coyote’d the shit out of the situation.

Frank Eaton also accidentally rebranded Oklahoma State. Until 1923, the school liked to call itself “The Princeton of the Prairie,” which explains the orange and black colors. It also sort of explains why there was a tiger in Stillwater, though not really “why or how the hell they got a tiger in Stillwater, Oklahoma.”

The tiger died, and when Eaton rode through Stillwater in the 1923 Armistice Day apparently he was so damn cowboy no one thought twice about making him the next symbol of the school. This arrangement worked well: Eaton, by his own admission, was a ham who loved attention, and the student body thought he looked way more in step with the school and the region’s history than a large, non-native cat.

Eaton did accidentally shoot a hole in the ceiling of an Oklahoma State classroom in 1957 when demonstrating his quickdraw. A few notes here in no particular order:

  • Oklahoma State let the mascot carry a loaded gun around as recently as the 1950s
  • Oklahoma State, at least tacitly, considered the quickdraw a legitimate point of instruction
  • Frank Eaton, when asked why the gun was loaded, answered “I’d rather have a pocket full of rocks than an unloaded gun”

Pistol Pete is the mascot that carries not one, but two real guns—Ruger Blackhawk .357 Magnum revolvers, registered and loaded with blank. He is inspired by a man who really did kill five of the six son of a bitches who killed his daddy, and who may have been one of the inspirations for Rooster Cogburn, and who lived to see his great-great-grandchildren at 97 despite playing with guns and dynamite his whole life. We could write a fake bio for Pistol Pete, but we can’t. Reality stays undefeated.