Frank "Pistol Pete" Eaton


Courtesy: okstate.com
Frank "Pistol Pete" Eaton
 

"My boy, may an old man's curse rest upon you, if you do not try to avenge your father...You must never stop until they are all accounted for!"

These words, according to one of Eaton's many stories were spoken by a family friend following the brutal murder of his father, and guided the formative years of Frank's life. Born in 1860, in Hartford, Connecticut, Frank moved with his family to Kansas shortly after the close of the Civil War. When Frank was eight years old, his father, a former Union soldier, was shot and killed by a group of lawless former Confederates. Frank was a witness to the murder and each of the murderers' faces was imprinted in his memory.

After being challenged to avenge his father's death by Mose Beaman, (the family friend) Frank set out to learn how to handle guns. Mose gave him a gun and holster, and taught him how to handle and shoot guns. Frank quickly learned to "shoot a snake's head off with either hand". During the next few years, Frank's days were spent helping his mother with chores and practicing shooting. With each passing year, he became faster and more accurate with his guns.

When Frank was fifteen, he learned of the location of one of his father's killers. After deciding it was almost time to set out on his mission, Frank wanted to make sure his shooting skills were good enough. He decided to visit Fort Gibson, a cavalry fort, to try to learn more about handling a gun. There he competed with the cavalry's best marksmen, beating them each time. After many competitions, the fort's commanding officer, Colonel Copinger gave Frank a marksmanship badge and a new name. From that day forward, Frank would be known as Pistol Pete!

 
Frank then set out on the trail of his father's killers. First was Shannon Campsey, Frank killed him on his own front porch. Doc Ferber was next, he was shot off of his horse with "two forty-five slugs through his breast". John Ferber would have been next, but the day before Frank caught up with him, he was shot for cheating at cards. Frank went to his funeral just to make sure he was dead. At John Ferber's funeral, Frank met a Deputy United States Marshal who was on the trail of the same men. After talking about the men, Frank was offered, and accepted a commission.

At seventeen, Frank became a Deputy U.S. Marshal under Judge Isaac C. Parker, "the hanging judge." 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. Wyley Campsey was shot in a barroom gunfight along with two of his hired gunmen. Finally, after six long years, Frank Eaton was able to avenge his father's death. Each man drew his gun first, but came out "second best" in the end.

 
Stories such as the above contributed to the fame and notoriety of Frank Eaton. He lived the life of a true cowboy, said to "pack the fastest guns in the Indian Territory", he usually carried a loaded forty-five and often said "I'd rather have a pocket full of rocks than an empty gun". His quick-draw was the source of much interest throughout his later years, and Glenn Shirley of Stillwater, OK remembers taking him to an Indian Territory Gun Collectors Association meeting to show off his skills. He was also known to throw a coin in the air, draw, and shoot it before it hit the ground according to H.F. Donnelley of Stillwater who saw it himself. Donnelley also remembers Eaton picking up burning coals that had fallen out of the fire in his Blacksmith shop, with his toes (his feet were so worn and calloused that he couldn't feel it)!

When he died, 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.

More information on Frank "Pistol Pete" Eaton, including personal correspondence and remembrances, audio interviews, photos, articles, etc. is available from the Oklahoma State University Office of University Archives and Special Collections.

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