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students sit in the bleachers of GIA waiting to try out for the mascot

Boot Camp: OSU students compete to earn their spurs and carry on Pistol Pete’s legacy

Thursday, December 21, 2023

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

In his signature outfit complete with boots, chaps and the eponymous firearms, Pistol Pete is one of America’s most recognizable college mascots.

Because of that, being selected as Pistol Pete is an honor and privilege that carries a lot of weight for two Oklahoma State University students each year — a 36-pound head to be exact.

Pete is not only a symbol of the university, but he is also a figure that carries on the legacy of Frank “Pistol Pete” Eaton, who personified OSU’s brand and played a major role in changing the institution’s image from Tigers to Cowboys when he became OSU’s living mascot 100 years ago.

For 35 years with the university, Eaton symbolized the American Old West and drew OSU back to its cowboy roots while signing autographs, posing for photographs and interacting with the Cowboy family at events until his death in 1958.

Since then, 96 students have channeled their inner bowlegged cowboy and suited up to carry on Eaton’s legacy, starting in 1958 with Pete No. 1 Charles Lester.

Each year, 10 to 15 students study Eaton’s history, perfect their mime skills for different game situations and fan interactions, and consult former Petes with the hopes of carrying on the tradition.

This year was no different.

If the ’Stache Fits

On April 16, OSU students dressed in white long-sleeved button-down shirts, jeans and cowboy boots made their way to Gallagher-Iba Arena to compete to be the next Pete.

A year’s worth of training was about to be tested.

One-by-one, they interviewed for 15 minutes in front of a panel composed of five Pete alumni and Beki Jackson, OSU spirit coordinator and pom coach, who has been part of the judging process for 11 years and has seen 14 students embody Pete.

The past Petes are trusted by the university to select the new Petes. It’s a process they take seriously, creating their own rules to ensure their standards remain high.

First, any Pete alumni must have graduated at least five years prior to tryouts and second, they must have observed tryouts in a previous year to sit on the panel.

“The three reasons why the Pete [alumni] exist: No. 1 on the list is honor the Eaton family. The second is give back to the university, we aren’t talking money, but whatever you can do for the rest of your life. And the third one is never ever, ever lower our standards so that the university doesn’t trust us,” said Mike Martin, Pete No. 20.

The race to find someone who could get started immediately was between those who had fallen short in previous years and others who were trying out for the first time.

No matter their story, they were all competing to be the next Pete.

“In my view, wearing the head and walking with a cowboy walk is the easy part of the whole job. We’re looking for somebody who can hit the ground running fast because 30 events are already scheduled,” Martin said.

For Caden Schaufele, an agribusiness/prelaw major, it was his only shot as he was starting his senior year in the fall. He grew up watching Cowboy football games at Boone Pickens Stadium, so to prepare, he reflected on his earliest memories of Pete.

“I read ‘Veteran of the Old West’ and I’ve been reading websites about Pistol Pete trying to get all the information I can,” Schaufele said. “I’ve also been running through scenarios in my head and trying to think, ‘What can I do in this scenario? What can I do in that scenario?’”

The tryout wasn’t the first rodeo for Bryce Coon, an ag systems and technology major, but as he was also heading into his senior year, it was his last.

trying out to be pistol pete
A student showcases his mime skills to the panel of judges.

“Every day since I walked out of this room last year, there hasn’t been a day that I haven’t thought about Pistol Pete,” Coon said.

In the year leading up to tryouts, Coon pulled out all the stops. He consulted No. 92 Michael Albright and shadowed both Traber Smithson, No. 93, and Cooper Price, No. 94. He even hit the gym to get in better shape.

Like many of the other candidates, Coon accepted or rejected outside opportunities for the next year as if he had gotten the Pete position even before tryouts.

“I gave up my position for Homecoming director for my fraternity,” Coon said. “I gave up my fraternity executive position, so my schedule was set for Pistol Pete essentially.”

Following the last interview, Smithson and Price reminisced on the last year and shared advice with candidates while the committee deliberated. 

Smithson shared the words of advice he was gifted at the beginning of his year.

“It’s the most demanding job you’ll ever love,” Smithson said. “And that’s about the best way to put it into words. I mean, it is like life with the volume turned up to 1,000, but it’s your favorite song.”

No matter the outcome, the tryout ignited a spark in Noah Bratton, a kinesiology and exercise science sophomore and son of Cowboy golf coach Alan Bratton.

“Just being in there with [the alumni] was great,” Bratton said. “They’re a great group of guys. And seeing that family type of brotherhood, I want to be a part of that. I want to be Pete bad. If I don’t get it this year, I’ll be here next year and the year after that until they won’t let me through the door.”

As the panel called all the candidates back for results, suspense hung heavily in the air as each candidate willed their name to be called.

“I hope each candidate leaves with a new appreciation for the process and the ability to earn the title ‘Pistol Pete,’” Jackson said. “We have a very high caliber of participants. They could all potentially serve as our mascot. However, the truth can simply be that it is not their year. That is a valuable lesson in life.”

Coon and Schaufele heard their names read and they will now be known as No. 95 and No. 96, respectively. Together they will drive approximately 20,000 miles and split more than 650 appearances over the next year.

It all goes to show that to the people inside the head, wearing the boots and donning the chaps, are more than just a mascot. They are a community. And one that wouldn’t be possible without Eaton.

“When my tryout started, it became clear to me very quickly that the alumni really cared about what type of person would carry on the tradition of Pete,” Schaufele said. “They were very specific in their questions and listened to every word I said. Throughout this year, I have done numerous appearances where Pete alumni were present, and I could see the pride in their eyes and how much he means to them.

“I can see that the alumni live by the philosophy of ‘Once Pete, always Pete.’”

Photos by: Phil Shockley and Gary Lawson

Story by: Sydney Trainor | STATE Magazine

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