Along with the donkey emblem and various live burros, Paydirt Pete has been a longtime UTEP mascot. Although the miner symbol was used by the school for many years, Pete began in 1962 as a doodle by civil engineering student Marshall Meece. He sketched the miner cartoon logo after Eddie Mullens, sports information director at Texas Western College, requested some drawings for football covers. Meece drew the first incarnation of the then-unnamed Pete while sitting in Dr. Wilbert H. Timmons’ history class, and the drawing was unofficially used by the athletics department. Eleven years later, athletics director Jim Bowden asked Meece to modify his original drawing and in 1974 a naming contest was held for the mascot. The mascot contest committee selected “Paydirt Pete,” which was entered by UTEP physics professor Michael Blue. Pete underwent major revisions in 1983 when Bernie Lopez, a 1972 UTEP alum, reworked the cartoon logo. Now known as “Hardrock Miner Paydirt Pete,” Pete transformed into “that quasi-surly, pigeon-chested, black bearded, high-booted, scowling, strutting, hardrock Miner who symbolized UTEP athletics in all its many forms.” Pete’s next major change came in 1999 when Hardrock Pete was replaced with “Prospector” Paydirt Pete, and his hard hat was replaced with a mining “prospector.”
The cartoon logo also inspired a variety of costumed “Pete” mascots. Created in 1980, the first Paydirt Pete costume was made by Roschu of Hollywood and designed by El Paso artists Henry Martinez and Mike Steirnagle. Jimmy Legarreta, Student Activities Coordinator, first wore the Pete costume. Because of the costume’s kindly expression, he was soon nicknamed “Sweet Pete.” In addition to his athletic game duties, “Sweet Pete” also served as a goodwill ambassador – especially after the creation of the meaner-looking Paydirt Pete II costume. “Pete II” debuted in September 1983, and resembled Lopez’s Hardrock Miner Pete cartoon logo and smoked a cigar. Other versions of the Paydirt Pete costume include: Pete III (minus the cigar to be more politically correct) from 1986 – 1997, Pete IV which had a cowboy hat and mustache, Pete V which was nicknamed “Deranged Pete” and probably used from Fall 2000 to December 2004 (see last photo), and Pete VI which is currently in use.
For more information about UTEP mascots and to see original Paydirt Pete costumes, please visit the UTEP Heritage House located at the corner of Kerbey and Randolph near the Union Building.
[Sources: Nancy Hamilton, UTEP: A Pictorial History of the University of Texas at El Paso; NOVA, March 1985; Willie Quinn, Miner Mascots – Exhibit/Display Information Datasheet]
Abbie Weiser is the processing archivist at the C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Department of the UTEP Library. She earned a BA in history from George Washington University, a MSIS from the University of Texas at Austin, and a MA in history from UTEP. She is certified by the Academy of Certified Archivists.