The Bancroft Survey Project began in February 2008. Funded by grants from the Andrew W. Mellon and the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundations, the survey project is intended to be a simultaneously broad and in-depth survey of all manuscript holdings of the Bancroft Library, which has been collecting for over a century. Four archivists were hired to scour the collections for a three year term, during which they will review the vast myriad of manuscript materials and use a survey instrument designed to gather data on collection scope, subject categories, and physical condition. The survey archivists are Marjorie Bryer, Amy Croft, Dana Miller, and Elia Van Lith, and they are also the authors of this blog.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Frank "Pistol Pete" Eaton

Frank Boardman "Pistol Pete" Eaton (1860-1958) was a cowboy, scout, author, Indian fighter and Deputy U.S. Marshall for Judge Isaac C. Parker (better known by his moniker, the "hanging judge"). When Eaton was a boy in Kansas, his father was gunned down by six former Confederate soldiers. A friend of his father's told him, "My boy, may an old man's curse rest upon you, if you do not try to avenge your father." It took nearly 20 years, but Eaton eventually tracked down and killed five of his father's murderers (the sixth was shot by someone else in a dispute over a card game).
Before embarking on his mission to avenge his father's death, Eaton sought training at Fort Gibson, Oklahoma. The 15-year-old repeatedly competed with -- and beat -- the cavalry's best marksmen in shooting matches. In recognition of his prowess, Colonel Copinger, the fort's commanding officer gave Eaton the nickname that would stick with him throughout his life, "Pistol Pete." Allegedly, during his teen years, Eaton could outdraw Buffalo Bill Cody, and he was reputed to be a quick draw into his nineties.
Eaton began serving as a deputy U.S. Marshal in Indian Territory when he was just 17; his territory extended from Southern Kansas to Northern Texas. Eaton settled near Perkins, Oklahoma when he was 29, served as sheriff and later worked as a blacksmith. He wrote two books about his life in the Old West and spun yarns for the visitors that sat for a spell on his front porch. He was eminently quotable. After a girlfriend gave him a steel crucifix that reputedly deflected a bullet during a gunfight, saving his life. Eaton said, "I’d rather have the prayers of a good woman in a fight than half a dozen hot guns: she’s talking to Headquarters." Eaton usually carried a loaded Colt .45 and often claimed, "I'd rather have a pocket full of rocks than an empty gun."
The photos below come from BANC MSS 71/5, Frank Eaton autobiography and related material. They suggest Eaton was on friendly terms with at least some of his Indian neighbors, but further research is necessary before any such speculation can be confirmed.

The Bancroft's holdings also include copies of Eaton's autobiography, Pistol Pete: Veteran of the Old West as well as materials used to write it. See the Bancroft catalog for more information.

-- M. Bryer
These photographs feature Eaton, his biographer, Eva Gillhouse, Rolla Goodnight, and a 104-year-old Indian chief and his family. The snapshots were taken at the Chief's home in Oklahoma in May 1952.

For more on Eaton's life, see, "Frank 'Pistol Pete' Eaton," Vertical File Biographies, Kansas State Historical Society, and "Frank Eaton," Wikipedia,

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