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Harold Holden's real life Pistol Pete starts his last ride to Stillwater

Harold Holden
Phil Shockley
Oklahoma State University
It is about a 17-step process to make a monument and Harold Holden's last sculpture on its final stage.

Before he was Oklahoma State University’s mascot, Pistol Pete was a real person: Frank Eaton, a lawman and writer who lived near Perkins. Eaton captured one Oklahoma artist’s attention over the years. And as a final act, that artist began crafting a statue.

Music plays softly in Harold Holden’s shop.

Known simply as “H,” Holden started work on a 9-foot statue of Frank Eaton on horseback, destined to be in bronze on OSU’s campus. But, unfortunately, he is not here to finish.

“H, he had all the work done,” John Rule said. “The road map was laid, and we just come in and fill in the gaps.”

Holden died in December after a long battle with lung disease.

Anna Pope
In John Rule's experience, artists are hired for their decision making and knowing when to stop tweaking a piece is important.

A fellow artist and lover of the West, Rule was Holden’s friend, and he’s putting the finishing touches on the final project. Every moment or so, he takes a step back to take in the full statue, only to kneel down and scrape another piece of hair into the animal’s red clay body.

Before Rule decided to be a full-time artist, he was a saddle maker who owned a shop in Oklahoma City.

He and H were “kindred spirits.”

“And he was just H every time you saw him,” Rule said. “He was genuine, and he was funny as heck… Some guys sculpt Western art, and you can tell that they just bought the hat. And that doesn't make them know the Western way of life.“

Since H died, Rule and another artist friend, Paul Moore, have been working to complete the monument in the back of Holden’s studio in Kremlin, a town about 13 miles north of Enid.

In the workshop next to small clay sculptures, oil paintings and books, are crock pots keeping clay warm, and pictures of Holden’s grandchildren and of his wife, Edna Mae Holden, riding a horse.

For Edna Mae, it’s a peaceful, comfortable space that serves as a living memorial to her late husband.

“This is where he has all of his stuff,” she said. “We like our stuff, so we've got bits and spurs and saddles. This is where he felt inspired and this is where he did his work.”

Anna Pope
The studio is going to stay the same and Edna Mae might use it as a writing space. "He wanted to leave his studio left as long as it could be like it is," she said. "And I am going to honor that."
Anna Pope
Harold Holden's can be seen in places like the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Gallagher-Iba Arena and Fort Smith, Arkansas.

She said the sculpture of Eaton was about nine years in the making. Work on the monument was delayed because of other commissions vying for H’s time, but this one was a passion project.

It’s a towering portrayal of Eaton on horseback - an image Holden saw as a 5-year-old in Enid’s Cherokee Strip Parade. H told an OSU historian he had vivid memories with the real Pistol Pete. You can hear it in this oral history.

“I got to sit on his (Eaton’s) lap and hold his gun,” he said. “You know, I thought Pistol Pete was like Buffalo Bill, everybody knew about him.”

This experience was H’s first connection with OSU. He got to meet Eaton because of his horseback riding skills.

Anna Pope
H remembered carrying Frank Eaton's gun felt more like a cannon because he was a 5-year-old, Edna Mae said.

“I rode my little horse or pony in the parade,” Holden said. “You know, you’d rear him up in front of the judges. So, they gave me first place, five dollars. Still got the check.”

Frank Eaton
City of Perkins
Frank Eaton or "Pistol Pete" officially became Oklahoma State University's mascot in 1958.

Holden grew up in Enid around cattle and horses. He was a rancher, horseman and celebrated Western artist known for his oil paintings and sculptures.

His 25 monuments portraying everything from a resting buffalo, to a kneeling cowboy and the famous Bass Reeves can be seen across Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas and Kansas.

“He just loved the subject matter of the West,” Edna Mae said. “And so he never wanted to do, you know, flowers or sailboats or landscapes of trees. I mean, he liked the West.”

In 2007, H was diagnosed with a fatal lung disease, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Despite a lung transplant three years later, he continued his work.

Sculptures he crafted in those years include the self-portrait “Thank You Lord,” and the statues of Barry Sanders and Boone Pickens that are now outside OSU’s football stadium in Stillwater.

But the final piece, his tribute to a childhood hero, was never finished. That’s where the friends came in.

For Rule, it was just a natural act.

“I don't know,” Rule said. “It means more than you can really put a word to. I'm sorry we had to.”

“Me too, but I'm grateful that you did,” Edna Mae said.

Outside, it looks like the background of one of Holden’s paintings. Grass is rolling, the barn door is ajar, and a horse rests in a nearby pen.

In the studio, Edna Mae and Rule turn the music back up, waiting for a mold maker to arrive and send the Eaton statue on its final ride.

The clay statue will travel to an Arlington, Texas, foundry to be cast in metal. From there, it will be placed outside Cowgirl Stadium – home of the OSU softball team in Stillwater, a lasting mark of Holden’s admiration for his childhood hero.

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Anna Pope is a reporter covering agriculture and rural issues at KOSU as a corps member with Report for America.
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