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Showdown over Pistol Pete

“Put ’em up cowboy or git outta town!”

That, essentially, is the challenge Oklahoma State University threw down to New Mexico State University this week over the Aggies’ use of the storied Pistol Pete mascot.

OSU filed suit Monday in federal court in Oklahoma, seeking to stop NMSU from infringing on what it sees as its trademarked mascot. The suit also asks the court to require the Aggies to “deliver up” NMSU “products, printed materials, signage and other articles” bearing the mascot and that they be destroyed.

Lastly, in addition to legal fees, OSU is requesting that NMSU be ordered to “account for any and all profits derived” from Pistol Pete.

NMSU issued a brief statement in response, saying it had just learned of the suit. The statement said that NMSU calls the Pistol Pete character “Classic Aggie,” although an NMSU Web page says the mascot is known as Pistol Pete.

“The basic character has served as mascots for both schools – OSU and NMSU – for many decades,” the NMSU statement continues. “We were surprised that OSU took this step, but are in communication with its legal and academic representatives and are confident that good sense will prevail and that this court action will lead to an agreement that will allow both schools to carry on their respective uses of characters that are part of their academic and athletic traditions.”

Justin Bannister, an NMSU spokesman, on Wednesday said the lawsuit seems to focus on a depiction of the mascot that most closely resembles OSU’s Pistol Pete, one the Aggies haven’t used for about 10 years. There is “close to a zero chance” that NMSU will stop using the Classic Aggie or Pistol Pete mascot, he said.

OSU’s lawsuit says it has been continuously using the gun-toting, mustachioed caricature of Pistol Pete since “at least 1930.” The Aggies didn’t start using Pistol Pete until the 1960s.

The suit contends NMSU previously acknowledged OSU’s legal rights to Pistol Pete.

In 2005, NMSU shortened the mascot’s name to “Pete” and replaced his guns with a lasso, which upset many fans. They started calling him “Lasso Larry,” and soon enough Pistol Pete was back, guns at the ready.

NMSU’s website says the Las Cruces-based university “initially paid royalties to Oklahoma State University, which owned the rights to the logo caricature and had the blessings of the Frank Eaton estate. Our rendering of Pistol Pete differed slightly than that of OSU.”

Pistol Pete was a moniker given to Wild West gunslinger Frank Eaton when he was a boy of 15. According to the NMSU website, vowing to “avenge the death of his father,” Eaton became a sharpshooter by training with soldiers at Fort Gibson, Okla., and, by 1881 when he was 21, had “gunned down the last of his father’s murderers in Albuquerque.”

In 1923, Eaton OK’d the use of his photo as a college caricature. It was adopted by the Aggies for “his exemplification of the cowboy spirit and the old west culture of NMSU.”

New Mexico State’s Pistol Pete is a square-jawed, two-gun-totin’ hombre who clearly means business. But his cowboy hat is a lot smaller than the OSU version and he is shown from the waist up, looking a bit more modern and a tad spiffier. His Aggies vest is neatly closed and his neckerchief freshly laundered.

But with both pistols drawn and a scowl that won’t wait, he is surely just as mean and onery as his Stillwater, Oklahoma, cousin.

Stillwater cousin

In Oklahoma, with his overly large chaps, a wrinkled bandanna and his OSU-orange sombrero pushed jauntily to one side, Pistol Pete is a bit more disheveled and cartoonish – but you can bet just as dangerous. His moustache is bigger and wilder and his face may bear a few more scars than NMSU’s Pete. He is also incredibly bow-legged and pigeon-toed.

At least two other schools also use the coveted and contested image. Pistol Pete is the mascot for Cooper City High School in Florida. He is also the mascot for University of Wyoming athletics.

Wyoming tried to register the image in 1989 at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, but lost that battle to OSU. In its lawsuit against NMSU, OSU says it entered into a concurrent use agreement with UW in 1993. However, subject “to the terms and conditions of the UW Agreement, (OSU) has the exclusive rights to use its Pistol Pete Marks in commerce.”

The 1993 agreement required Wyoming to use different colors and clearly display its own school name.

Wyoming still uses the name “Pistol Pete” in some materials, as well as “Cowboy Joe.” Wyoming’s football helmets feature a bucking bronco.

Meanwhile, there are gun shops named after Pistol Pete across the United States.

Last year, at the opening of the football season, a brief dust-up ensued when the Aggies donned new helmets featuring Pistol Pete with his guns drawn, giving the team a more menacing look. The old helmets simply had “NM State” printed on each side and had been criticized as dull and boring.

Nothing dull about the new helmets: packing revolvers in each hand, Pete is pictured above the word “AGGIES.”

NMSU athletic director McKinley Boston told the Journal at the time that he was aware guns are a hot-button issue, but did not consider the helmets to be a political statement or endorsement of firearms. Nonetheless, New Mexico State became the only Division I program sporting guns.

Now it’s up to a judge or jury to decide if those guns will remain in place.

Oklahoma State University’s Pistol Pete has been in use by the school since at least 1930.

New Mexico State’s old Pistol Pete first appeared in the 1960s, but hasn’t been used in more than 10 years.

A revised logo, dubbed “Lasso Larry,” made a brief appearance in 2005 and was disliked by fans.

NMSU’s more modern Pete is a square-jawed hombre whose cowboy hat is a lot smaller than the OSU version.