The Legendary "Pistol Pete" Eaton
Frank “Pistol Pete” Eaton
You might not have heard of Frank “Pistol Pete” Eaton, one of the most feared gunfighters of his time and quite likely the youngest Deputy U.S. Marshal in history. Surprisingly, many haven’t. His colorful exploits have made other famous lawmen and outlaws pale by comparison.
He was born Francis Boardman Eaton on October 26, 1860, in Hartford, Connecticut. In 1868 his family became part of the homesteading rush where they settled near Carbondale, Kansas in Osage County. It was here 8-year old Frank Eaton’s destiny became sealed. He witnessed his fathers’ murder by a ruthless gang of southerners calling themselves “The Regulators.”
A close friend of his father, Mose Beaman, told the young boy “May an old man’s curse rest upon you, if you do not try to avenge your father.” It was this man who gave Frank his first pistol, an old Navy revolver, and taught him how to shoot. Eaton practiced religiously and soon became extremely proficient in its use. He swore to track down his fathers’ killers.
Too Young To Enlist
At the age of 15, he went to the 6th Calvary at Fort Gibson to enlist. However, he was too young. The fort commander, Colonel Copinger, allowed the lad to stick around and compete in marksmanship contests. His rivals were some of the best the Calvary had to offer. He won hands down every time and earned the nickname of “Pistol Pete.” He was also awarded a Colt .45 pistol.
During his teen years, Eaton was said to be faster on the draw Than Buffalo Bill Cody. He was to become known as “packing the fastest guns in Indian Territory.”
Eaton’s quest for his fathers’ killers now began in earnest. He got wind two of them, Doc Ferber and Shannon Campsey, were in a cabin on the Canadian River southwest of Webber Falls. Eaton rode up to the cabin. Campsey was on the porch and upon spotting Eaton grabbed his rifle and took aim. Eaton’s fast draw left him dead. He found Ferber tending cattle nearby and killed him also.
Campsey and Ferber were both wanted by the law for rustling cattle. The Cattlemen’s Association heard of Eaton’s actions and hired him as a detective. Within 3 months he had accounted for 3 more of his father’s murderers. That left 2 more with which to settle the score. One of these was killed in a crooked card game. The last was a man named Wyley Campsey.
In 1885, Eaton served as a scout for Capt. Emmett Crawford during the Indian wars against Geronimo and the Apache’s. Eaton narrowly escaped being scalped. He then returned to Indian Territory where he became a Deputy U. S. Marshal for the “Hanging Judge,” Isaac Parker at the age of 17. In the line of duty, he was to kill 6 more men.
Soon after, Eaton heard Wyley Campsey was working in a bar in Albuquerque. New Mexico. Along with Pat Garrett, Eaton entered the saloon. Campsey was at the bar with two body guards. Eaton yelled “fill your hand, you son of a bitch!” Campsy went down with 2 bullets through his heart as he reached for a gun under the bar.
However, the two guards wounded Eaton in the leg and left arm. Garrett and a few friends helped Frank to get out of town.
Eaton was said to wear a cross around his neck given to him by a girlfriend, which he wore around his neck. A story tells it saved his life when it deflected a bullet during a gunfight.
Eaton always wore his cowboy hat, vest and other personal western wear. His long mustache and braided hair was his trademark. When someone asked about his long hair, he replied, “If the girls are going to cut theirs off, I’ll let mine grow.”
In 1923, Oklahoma A & M, now Oklahoma State University, students asked him to be the model for their campus mascot. Pistol Pete is still the mascot today. His likeness was also used as the mascot of the University of Wyoming and New Mexico State University.
From 1950 to 1956 Eaton wrote a weekly column for a local newspaper called “Truthful Pete Says” and later changed to “Pistol Pete Says.” He wrote about his recollections of frontier days his philosophy of life and humorous incidents.
With the help of Eva Gillhouse, a close friend, Eaton wrote his autobiography,” Pistol Pete, Veteran of the Old West” in 1952. The Chicago Tribune hailed it as “an exciting genuine bit of Americana.”
In 1955, Eaton accidentally fired his gun in the Student Union Varsity Room at Oklahoma A & M College while demonstrating his fast draw. He was asked why he would be carrying a loaded gun. In reply Eaton answered, “By George. I’d rather have a pocketful of rocks than an unloaded gun.” On occasion, he was known to throw a coin in the air, draw and shoot it before it hit the ground.
Eaton married twice. He had nine children, 31 grandchildren and lived to see three great-great-grandchildren. He died on April 8, 1958 at the age of 97.