Friday, November 25, 2005

Death to Horse Pigs: Is Pistol Pete a liar and a fraud? Just ask NMSU.

Pistol Pete (left), that ornery looking cowboy like creature, is based upon a person named Frank Eaton (right). Frank Eaton was cowboy from the "old west'. His image is rather popular since the University of Wyoming and New Mexico State both adopted his image as their own.

Recently there has been a movement to replace Pistol Pete. The university has already modified their mascot removing his gun and replacing it with a lasso. Heck they even took out "Pistol" from his name... he's just now known as Pete.

Micheal Swickard, a NMSU fan and Western writer, says Frank Eaton's adventures and accomplishments seem open to be open debate. He says he was very skeptical when Pistol Pete was announced as the NSMU mascot at a NMSU basketball game several years ago. His uncle had never heard of Pistol Pete, so he asked Swickard, "So what about Pistol Pete, what's his story in the old west?"


Even though over the years I’ve written quite a bit about the Old West, I was blank. I answered, "I remember Pistol Pete Maravich, the basketball player, but I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of any Frank Eaton or Pistol Pete Eaton in the old west."

I was troubled. This was like being a historian of presidents when someone tells you that a man named Frank Eaton was the president of the United States at one time.

At home that night, (Don’t ask who won the game, the refs weren’t from Las Cruces either,) I looked for the name Eaton. Since he was supposed to be an Oklahoma gunfighter I started with the, Encyclopedia of Western Gunfighters by O’Neal, University of Oklahoma Press.

But it went from Wyatt Earp to Joe Elliot, no Eaton. I checked for Pistol Pete, but the book went from Charley Pierce to Henry Plummer. During the next four hours I poured through my personal library of several hundred books and didn’t find even one reference to Eaton.

So I had to be content reading the sports information program which had a Pistol Pete history where Pete cleans up the old west and is a friend of Sheriff Pat Garrett:

At the age of seventeen, "Pistol Pete" had killed four of his father’s murderers in fair gunfights. A fifth murderer had been killed for cheating in a poker game. The last remaining gunman who had murdered his father was still at large. In 1881, he learned the sixth man, Wyley Campsey, was in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Upon arriving in Albuquerque, Frank Eaton met Pat Garrett, this was during the Lincoln County Wars, in New Mexico. The two men became friends, and Pat Garrett offered his support and guidance to "Pistol Pete." Frank found Wyley Campsey and shot him in a fair fight, though he was seriously wounded himself. Pistol Pete stayed in Lincoln County for some time while recuperating at the home of one of Pat Garrett’s friends. Later, he returned to his home in Oklahoma with a feeling that his father’s death had now been avenged. Eaton went on to become a cavalry scout, lawman and a writer. He was considered by some to be a folk hero in western lore.

I knew there were many things wrong with the press release version in the basketball program. First of all, the Lincoln County War happened three years earlier and wasn’t going on in the summer of 1881.

Second, with six victories in gunfights, Pistol Pete would be tied with John Selman (who killed John Wesley Hardin) for sixth place in the all time gunfighter statistics. But he is not mentioned in any western books about gunfighters. Finally, the mention of Pat Garrett was pretty fishy. As sheriff of Lincoln County from 1880 to 1882, Garrett spent 1881 until the middle of July busy with Billy the Kid 150 miles from Albuquerque, so it isn't likely he would go hang out in Albuquerque at that time. I had read many books on Garrett without any reference to Eaton.

Next Swickard says:

The next morning I went to the NMSU library. The basketball program had mentioned a book about Eaton. When I found the book the mystery cleared up. The book, Pistol Pete Veteran of the Old West, was written by none other than Frank Eaton himself and published in 1952. It was in the nonfiction section of the library but seemed misplaced.

Next I checked the writings of southwestern historian Ramon Adams who is very persnickety when reviewing the veracity and plausibility of stories in old west books. His knowledge of the old west is well documented and he is a well established authority. In his review of Eaton’s book Adams says, "...A preposterous tale... The book reads like Wild West fiction and is filled with doubtful statements." Adams quotes another reviewer of the Eaton book who stated, "Books like this one are a distinct menace to western history."

So it is reasonable to say the Eaton was a fraud. I was assailed by several questions

1. Why is the NMSU mascot an Oklahoma gunfighter, fraud or not?

2. Although Eaton was picturesque, he appeared to have fabricated all of the stories about himself, does his veracity reflect on NMSU and does anyone care?

Nice guy to pattern your mascot from... a dude who either made up stories or embellished them so much they weren't even plausible.... but what else can we expect from school who think of themselves as "Cowboys", when they are actually just a bunch of Aggies.

Regardless of all of this.... the Horse Pigs must die.

No comments: