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Collectible cowboy: Pistol Pete now a work of art

Aggie history is made in many places and by many people: by faculty and students, Aggie athletes, and talented alumni across the globe.

A rare and special piece of Aggie history, however, has emerged from a Las Cruces ceramics workshop at the home of the late Ruth Walker, a local artist who turned Pistol Pete into a form of collectible memorabilia.

It all started one morning in 1988. Then-NMSU Alumni Director Dan Jack popped in to visit Leon Wagley ’47 ’53, then the head of the Agriculture and Extension Education Department, and spotted a unique ceramic decanter in the shape of a cowboy, painted in Aggie colors. Wagley proudly told Jack it was made by his wife, Anna ’51, who was a regular in Walker’s home workshop.

Jack quickly consulted with Walker and Anna Wagley to explore whether they could create a ceramic Pistol Pete statue on behalf of the Alumni Association. A gifted artist and co-owner of J. F. Walker and Sons Ceramics, Walker knew exactly what to do. Patterns were drawn, molds were made, and an agreement was reached for Walker and Anna Wagley to begin production.

Walker prepared the materials and poured and fired the molds, and Anna Wagley handled all the painting. Each hand-crafted statue stood 13 inches tall and sat on a nine-inch wooden base. Walker designed an artist mark, “RWA,” which was placed on the back of each statue’s right leg, representing the initials of their first names and the shared initial of their last names. Each statue also was numbered on the back of the left leg.

In 1989, the first statues were sold through the NMSU Alumni Association for $25 each, eventually increasing to $40.

However, if you didn’t purchase yours between 1989 and 2012, you are out of luck, as production of the statues ended in 2012. Only 350 were made and are now considered desirable collector’s items. For a glimpse at the in-demand collectible Pistol Pete, you can find one on display at the NMSU Alumni Center, located at 775 College Drive in Las Cruces. 

*Thank you to Mary (Sweetser) Hayes '74 for her research contributions.