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Team traditions: The story behind Oklahoma State's iconic Pistol Pete

Team traditions: The story behind Oklahoma State's iconic Pistol Pete Photo: Brett Deering/Getty Images

Oklahoma State University has existed in name since 1957. The school itself was founded in 1890 but was called Oklahoma Agricultural & Mechanical College (or Oklahoma A&M) for its first 67 years. The football team was known as the Agriculturists, then the Aggies, sometimes the Farmers, and later, officially, the Tigers. Eventually they became the Cowboys.

A team with so many different names is bound to have multiple mascots. The Cowboys have an official horse, Bullet, who sprints around the field with a “spirit rider” before home games at Boone Pickens Stadium. While this equine tradition has existed since 1984, OSU’s bobble-headed mascot Pistol Pete is the true face of the program. He stretches back to the days of Oklahoma A&M.

One of the most recognizable college mascots in the nation, Pistol Pete’s perpetually frozen face has stalked the sidelines at Cowboys games for more than 55 years. But Pistol Pete is actually based on a real person: legendary U.S. marshal and author Frank Eaton, one of the most enduring symbols of the Old West. In the dictionary, the word “cowboy” ought to include Eaton’s mustachioed mug.

According to Oklahoma State’s athletic department, a group of students spotted Eaton at a parade in Stillwater back in 1923. They decided the cartoonish Eaton would be perfect as an actual cartoon, and called for the school to drop the unpopular tiger mascot in favor of a cowboy. It seemed like a no-brainer, but Pistol Pete didn’t officially become the mascot until around the time the school switched from A&M to State.

Pistol Pete and his fellow Oklahoma State denizens also treasure the OSU tradition of performing the Waving Song. Following a Cowboys score, the OSU band will strike up the tune of In Old New York and thousands of orange-clad faithful will wave their hands from side to side. There’s a good reason why a school that sits 1,400 miles from New York City has a fight song that borrows from a Big Apple melody: Someone from Stillwater once heard the song and liked it.

OK, it’s a bit more complicated than that. In Old New York came to Oklahoma State more than 100 years ago. Speech instructor H.G. Seldy Seldombridge heard the tune while on a trip to Manhattan and brought it back with him to Stillwater, where the lyrics were recast to reflect an orange-and-black point of view. Now, every OSU fan puts a hand in the air and waves along to the bouncing tune each time the team scores. The Cowboys averaged 39.1 points per game last year, so fans had plenty of time to practice their wave.

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