History of Pioneer Pete

By Robyn Perry
Cal State East Bay history major

Alameda County State College was established by the California state legislature in 1957 and first opened its doors to students in September of 1959. As the current Hayward Hills location was not yet ready to house the university, classes initiated at Foothill High School downtown. At the same time that the new college was coming into being, the United States was locked in the beginnings of a Cold War-spawned Space Race with the Soviet Union. NASA’s unmanned Pioneer Space Program had begun in 1958, and the feeling of breaking new ground (literally) with the hilltop campus and an association with President Kennedy’s “New Frontier” at the time led to the selection of a “Pioneer” theme to represent the new college – represented by an astronaut mascot - along with a cosmic set of colors for the college: red, black, and white.

Space Pioneers – logoThe first known appearance of “The Pioneer,” what the mascot was originally called, is a drawing from 1961 of an astronaut in a red, black, and white space-suit with a helmet, the only visible physical features of the Pioneer being a nose and an eye, making the figure androgynous and mysterious. The Pioneer is standing next to the Great Seal of the State of California which is surrounded by a red ring that reads “Alameda County State College” with “Pioneers” in black below the encircled state seal. While there are other interpretations of the Pioneer that appear throughout the first half of the 1960s, particularly on student hand books of more cartoonish, “Jetsons-esque” looking drawings, the state seal incarnation of The Pioneer seems to be the most “official” of the time period. In the 1963 Elan yearbook, there is an image of two female students unveiling a large statue of the Pioneer mascot and the last known bit of Space Age theming is the 1965 Elan, with rocket ships on the cover and the first ten pages being a countdown to “blast off!”

The Pioneer (and any evidence of a mascot at all) disappears from the historical record for twelve years. In 1972, the then Pioneer Pete - second versionCalifornia State College at Hayward became California State University, Hayward. In 1977, the student-ran yearbook began once again, now called Horizons instead of Elan. The cover illustration is of a herd of silhouetted horses running through a valley of what can be assumed to be the Hayward/East Bay Hills. Inside, several different sketches of various “Wild West” looking individuals abound, apparently a new mascot for a newly named university. As the excitement of the space race subsided, the Pioneer morphed into a wild, coonskin cap-wearing frontiersman, a Daniel Boone type character. In the 1980s, “Pioneer Pete” had officially been adopted, including the revolver he carried in his hand and the small sack of presumably gold that hung from his hip.

Pioneer Pete-current-1By 2005, a new, gun-free Pioneer Pete that would be recognizable to students of recent years appeared, sporting a very long and shaggy, reddishbrown beard-mustache combo and cowboy/western-esque hat. In 2013, the latest interpretation of Pioneer Pete, who sports a brown mustache; black, wide-brimmed hat with a white band; a red “Cal State East Bay” t-shirt; blue jeans; and a Pioneers belt buckle, came into existence. However, the Pioneer and Pioneer Pete’s history does not end here.

On April 23rd, 2018, The Daily Aztec, San Diego State University’s campus newspaper, announced that the California Faculty Association condemned three different mascots from the California State University system: San Diego State University’s Monty Montezuma the Aztec Warrior, California State University, Long Beach’s Prospector Pete, and California State University, East Bay’s very own Pioneer Pete “as being representative of ‘a genocidal history against Indigenous peoples in California.’”

On May 10th, 2018, CSU East Bay’s Faculty Diversity and Equity Committee (FDEC) passed a resolution to retire the current image of Pioneer Pete. Afterward this resolution headed to CSUEB's Academic Senate and on October 6 the senators voted to remove Pioneer Pete as the mascot.