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Bill Smith and Chuck Lester

Portraying Pistol Pete

Monday, December 1, 2008

Media Contact: Mack Burke | Associate Director or Media Relations | 405-744-5540 |

On Nov. 1, 1958, thousands of OSU alumni, family and friends gathered at Lewis Field for the homecoming game against Army.

It was the first homecoming under the newly named Oklahoma State University and a first for what has become one of the greatest mascot traditions in the United States. 

On that day, OSU sophomore Charlie Lester placed the very first Pistol Pete head on his shoulders and entered the stadium with his cowboy boots and pistol, ready to excite the crowd.

Chuck Lester
Chuck Lester holds a photo of his father, Charlie, the first student to portray the famous mascot.

Lester was the first in a tradition that has spanned half a century, but the tradition is based on one man who represented Oklahoma A&M College from 1923 to 1958. 

Frank Eaton was originally asked by A&M students to be the school’s mascot in 1923 during the Armistice Day parade. With his trademark cowboy hat and handlebar mustache, Eaton would attend sporting events and perform tricks for the crowd. Before his death, only one other student portrayed him on the sidelines — but the Pistol Pete head did not appear until that historic homecoming game in 1958. 

This year’s homecoming logo pays tribute to the mascot Pistol Pete and the attention he has brought to OSU.

But the story of Pistol Pete, the rugged mascot with the big head and cowboy hat, began with Charlie Lester. The story is often recalled by Lester’s son, Chuck, who many Cowboy fans know as the voice of Cowboy Marching Band. 

“Pete was always a part of who Dad was,” said Lester of his dad’s role. “He had so much fun doing it, and it meant so much to him to be able to represent the university in that way.”

Lester said one of his father’s favorite stories about being Pistol Pete was participating in the one-and-only Kentucky Bluegrass Bowl in Louisville in December 1958 when OSU defeated Florida State 15-6. 

“We would hear about that game over and over again,” Lester said. 

Bill Smith, ‘62, who became Pistol Pete after Lester, recalls how the nationally televised Kentucky Bluegrass Bowl was a big boost for the new OSU mascot. 

“When the cameras weren’t on the football team, they would show a lot of things on the sidelines,” Smith said. “Charlie Lester and Pistol Pete were a big hit.” 

Lester performed as Pistol Pete only a few times during the 1958-59 school year, and during the summer of 1959 a committee was formed to select the next Pete. 

“We put an invitation to interview candidates in the O’Colly and no one showed up,” Smith said. “They said, Bill, you’re it! We have to have somebody do this! And that’s how I became the next Pistol Pete.” 

Smith served as Pete during the 1959-60 school year and was the first Pete to be selected by the committee. At the time, he said Pistol Pete only attended football games and a handful of basketball games. One football game in particular stands out in his mind. 

Bill Smith
Bill Smith, '62, portrayed Pistol Pete in 1959. The original Pistol Pete head behind him is on display in Gallagher-Iba's Heritage Hall.

“When I went to Manhattan, Kansas for the Kansas State game, our faculty adviser decided I shouldn’t carry the Pistol Pete guns across state lines. Instead, he would bring them to me,” Smith said. “He told me when he arrived he’d forgotten them, so he bought me two used guns and some bullets that had been in a fire.” 

When Smith attempted to use the bullets, only every third or fourth would fire, creating ominous clicking noises before an eventual discharge. One bullet even discharged in his holster, coating his chaps with black soot and creating quite a stir in the Wildcat crowd. 

As the decades passed, the Pistol Pete tradition grew and the selection committee began choosing two students per school year to portray the mascot. 

During the mid-1980s, Charlie Lester and several other former Petes decided to create a Pistol Pete ring to be worn only by current and former Petes to honor the legacy of the men who keep the Pistol Pete tradition alive.

The ring has an image of Pistol Pete on the top with the OSU brand on the sides and the owner’s name inscribed on the inside. 

Although Chuck Lester himself was never a Pete, he received permission from other former Petes to wear his father’s ring. Lester said he considers it an honor to wear it, both in honor of his late father and as a tribute to the mascot’s origins. 

“Pistol Pete was patterned after a real guy, who was, if nothing else, quite a character,” Lester said. “There’s a lot of significance to the fact they chose a real person who was a lawman in the Old West.”

In addition to the mascot’s history, Lester said the difficulty of wearing the head and outfit also makes Pistol Pete unique when compared to other mascots. 

“Because Pistol Pete has the big head, he can’t talk or show facial expressions,” Lester said. “Pete has to show emotion through his walk and body language. I think that makes him unique because today there are more cartoon-like mascots, but Pete is sort of above all that.”

Smith and 50 other former Petes returned for this year’s Pistol Pete reunion at homecoming. Together, they create a living history of one of America’s greatest mascots, which is a tribute to the tradition that was born from a gun-slinging U.S. deputy in Oklahoma Territory. 

“He’s more than just a mascot today — he’s the university’s representative,” Smith said. “I’m tickled to death it's grown into that instead of just a guy at a football game.”

“I’m sure other schools feel strongly for tigers, bulldogs and bears,” Lester said. “But Pistol Pete really embodies what OSU and being a Cowboy is all about.”

Story by: Chase Carter

Photos by: Phil Shockley

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