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Frank "Pistol Pete" Eaton

Frank 'Pistol Pete' Eaton

Born in Hartford, Connecticut on October 26, 1860, Frank Boardman moved with his family to Twin Mounds, Osage County, Kansas, about thirty-eight miles southwest of Lawrence, at a place called Rock Springs. His Father, after the Civil War, came home from the army, sold his livery business and went west.

One time cowboy, scout, Indian fighter, trail rider and Deputy United States Marshal, Frank Eaton died at his home in Perkins, Oklahoma, at the age of 98 years, on April 8, 1958. At the time of his death he earned his living as a blacksmith and a deputy sheriff.

His stories were colorful, funny, violent, moving, exciting, full of action and always a good yarn. They may also be the last personal experience account, as Mr. Eaton says, "of the old Cherokee Nation when I lived there and of some of the noblest men that ever lived-good and bad. "

In his last years, Pistol Pete could draw his forty-five Colt as fast as he did in the days of his youth when he earned the eleven notches on his gun-five for the murderers of his father and six in the line of duty as U. S. Marshal for Judge Parker, the "hanging judge." At the time of has death, he still carried his gun loaded because, as he said, "I'd rather have a pocket full of rocks than an empty gun."

Pistol Pete told about the "constant struggle between law and crime and the result of crime which in those times was a rope or bullet ... the incidents do not always end as we wish they would, but the end is told and not a fictitious one," and people "can take it or let it alone, as they please."

Frank 'Pistol Pete' Eaton

When Frank (Pistol Pete) Eaton was eight years old, his father, a Vigilante, was shot in cold blood by the Campseys and the Ferbers - former Confederates who called themselves Regulators. Mose Beaman, his father's friend, said to Frank: "My boy, may an old man's curse rest upon you, if you do not try to avenge your father." That was in 1868. The same year Mose taught him to handle a gun, but it was nineteen years before Frank finished his job.

When Frank was fifteen, he decided he needed to know more about shooting to be sure he could avenge his father's death when the time came. He went down to Fort Gibson in the northeast part of the Indian Territory to see what the Cavalry soldiers could teach him. Although he was still too young to join the Army (if he had wanted to), he outshot everyone at the Fort.

Wanting to learn even more about handling a gun, instead of learning anything more, he began to compete with the some of the cavalry's best marksmen, beating them every time. The commander of the Fort gave him a badge for his fine marksmanship and said: "I am going to give you a new name. From now on you are Pistol Pete!" His reputation as "packing the truest and fastest guns in Indian Territory" was born.

He had earned the nickname of "Pistol Pete," for his superior gun handling skills and deadly shots. It was a remarkable feat, as Eaton had been born with a crossed left eye. However, he had overcome this "disability" by figuring out how to aim the gun without sighting down the barrel. He was so good that a friend said the he could "Shoot the head off a snake with either hand."

At seventeen, Frank became a Deputy U.S. Marshal under Judge Isaac C. Parker, "the hanging judge" of the U.S. distict court of the western district of Arkansas. He was one of the youngest U.S. Deputy Marshals to have ever been commissioned in the Western District at Fort Smith, Arkansas. His territory extended from southern Kansas to northern Texas.

Frank then began to search for the men who had killed his father years before and legend has it before he was done avenging his father's death, he had tracked down and killed five of the six men who had been involved in the murder in 1868. The last man had been killed in a card game and all had lived lives of crime. Frank then caught up with Jim and Jonce Campsey together. They were both shot as they drew on Frank. Finally Frank tracked down the last murderer in New Mexico.

He made his home in Bartlesville, Oklahoma and soon had a girlfriend named Jennie who gave him a crucifix to wear around his neck for protection. The girl must have had a premonition as the crucifix actually saved Eaton's life on one occasion when it deflected a bullet that the lawman he would have taken in his chest. Frank would later write of this, "I'd rather have the prayers of a good woman in a fight than half a dozen hot guns: she's talking to Headquarters." Unfortunately, Frank never got the opportunity to thank Jennie, as she died of pneumonia. He buried the cross at the head of her grave.

Frank 'Pistol Pete' Eaton
Legend tells that Eaton, one of the fastest gunmen of his day, put five of the 11 notches on his .45 Colt tracking down a group of Confederates who murdered his father. The other six notches were accumulated when "Pistol Pete" was riding as a U.S. Deputy marshal for Judge Parker.

During his career, he was involved in a number of gunfights and was known to always carry a pair of loaded Colt .45 pistols on his hips. In his own words he said his best insurance was: "Throwin' a lot a lead fast and straight"

When he was 29, he joined the Oklahoma Land Rush and settled southwest of Perkins, Oklahoma where he served as sheriff and later became a blacksmith. In August, 1893, he married a woman named Orpha Miller of Guthrie, Oklahoma and the couple had two children. Unfortunately, she died of a lung disease seven years into the marriage. He remarried in December, 1902 to a woman named Anna Sillix and the couple would eventually have another eight children. During his lifetime, he was married twice, had ten children, 31 grandchildren, and several great-grandchildren.

Most of the gun battles that Eaton had were with cattle rustlers and robbers and it-.s not certain whether all of his enemies died of their wounds. As an example, Eaton encountered Bud Wells, a notorious desperado at Webber Falls and was fast enough on the draw to shatter Wells' shooting hand. Wells was said to be so grateful that he wasn't killed that he went straight for the rest of his life.

Eaton lived in a world of violence, but one day he fell in love and his girlfriend placed a steel crucifix around his neck. In a gun battle, "Pistol Pete" was shot in the chest, but the bullet hit the cross and he was saved. He later wrote, "I'd rather have the prayers of a good woman in a fight than half a dozen hot guns: she's talking to Headquarters."

Frank would continue to serve as a marshal, a sheriff or a deputy sheriff until late in life. By the time his career as a lawman was completed, he reportedly had some 15 notches on his gun belt. He continued to carry his loaded pistols until his death and was still said to be extremely quick on the draw when he was in his nineties. He died on April 8, 1958 at the age of 97.

He wrote two books, telling the story of the Old West. The first was an autobiography entitled Veteran of the Old West: Pistol Pete, which tells of his life as a U.S. Deputy Marshal and cowboy. His second book, entitled Campfire Stories: Remembrances of a Cowboy Legend wasn't published until 30 years after his death.


The phrase "hotter than Pete's pistol," traces back to Eaton's shooting skills and his legendary pursuit of his father's killers. Frank is honored as the mascot for Oklahoma State University, signifying the Old West and the spirit of Oklahoma. In March, 1997, he posthumously received the prestigious Director's Award at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame.

When he died in 1958, his obituary appeared throughout the country, in the New York Times, Newsweek Magazine, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the San Francisco Chronicle, The Cattleman, The 1959 American People's Encyclopedia Yearbook among others, each listing him as a former Deputy U.S. Marshal. In addition, according to his daughter, Elizabeth Wise of Perkins, OK his family received sympathy letters from as far away as Germany, Canada and Japan and was besieged with visitors at his home for many months following the funeral.

Frank Eaton. Pistol Pete Veteran of the Old West . Little Brown & Co, NY, 1952.

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