LAS CRUCES, N.M. (Oct. 1, 2012) - Vowing to avenge the death of his father, Frank "Pistol Pete" Eaton became sharpshooter training with the soldiers at Fort Gibson, Okla., where he earned his nickname at the age of 15. By 1881 at age 21, he gunned down the last of his father's murderers in Albuquerque, N.M.
In 1923, Eaton agreed for his photo to be turned into a college caricature, and in the 1950s Pistol Pete became the mascot of New Mexico State University, for his exemplification of the cowboy spirit and the old west culture of NM State.
Picking up Eaton's guns and stepping in to fill the legacy of Pistol Pete at NM State is Conlan Burk and Joaquin Acosta.
"He saw his family get killed, and he just decided to take it out on everyone else- everyone in the WAC," Burk said.
To Acosta, Pistol Pete is more than just a vigilante, old-west cowboy; he is a symbol of New Mexico State University as a loyal fan to his team, to his students and to his alumni.
"The second you put on the chaps, you feel nothing but spirit," Acosta said. "You gotta be Pistol Pete when you're in the chaps."
Not only is Pistol Pete the mascot attending football, volleyball, men's and women's basketball games, he also serves as an ambassador of NMSU, making appearances at the university and community events.
"The best part of being Pistol Pete is seeing the look on people's faces when they see you and you get them to laugh, get them happy, just getting to see the smiles," Burk said.
Jessica Franklin, head cheerleading coach for NMSU, estimates Pete makes 90 appearances a year, which is divided between the two mascots. Toward end of fall semester, the mascots will also prepare a two-minute skit with props and music which they will use to compete at Universal Spirit Association Nationals in the spring.
"It's definitely another job while in school," Acosta said. "But it's definitely a responsibility where I get to be actively involved in campus, and I get to be here all the time making people happy."
Auditions for Pistol Pete took place last spring, where participants were judged on appearance, choreography, execution, showmanship, overall impression and response to interview questions. Franklin said they wanted to find two people who were personable, upbeat and charismatic.
"We looked for someone who fit the character and who will portray Pistol Pete the best," Franklin said.
Acosta said he tried out to be Pistol Pete after promising his predecessor, Ricky Rascon, that one day he would be the mascot.
"I wanted to be Pistol Pete because I really like going to the athletic events," Burk said. "I wanted to get the crowd going. I'd like to see the students more active."
After being chosen to represent Pistol Pete, the pair attended Universal Cheer Association camp in Denton, Texas, where they learned learn how to create skits, use signs and creative props and how to add their own personality to the performance to make the mascot their own.
"Mascot camp was a really good experience," Burk said. "I think me and Joaquin both got our eyes open to what it actually takes to be a mascot."
Acosta said going into camp they were "two guys who signed up for the mascot job," but the five days of 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. camp taught them a lot. Training with schools such as the University of Oklahoma and University of Texas, they said they saw how much effort and energy it takes, and learned how to keep fans in the right state of mind, regardless of the scoreboard, Burk said.
"They learn how to add that creative part and how to add their own personality in how to make the mascot their own," Franklin said.
Mascots receive a tuition scholarship from the Alumni Association and are supplied with warm-ups, shoes and bag from the cheerleading budget.
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