"Seven-Toed Pete"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Mon Jan 3 15:27:34 UTC 2005

The painter and lithographer John Sloan (1871-1951) was a prominent member of the New York "Ashcan School."  His portrait of "Pete" may have been done before 1914, but its relationship to a dime-novel Pete remains problematical.


"Mullins, Bill" <Bill.Mullins at US.ARMY.MIL> wrote:
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Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: "Mullins, Bill"
Subject: Re: "Seven-Toed Pete"

Ben's 7T Pete may be this person:


in a print of a piece of art by John Sloan.

> No need to invoke polydactylic felines, I don't think.
> There's at least one citation suggesting that a character
> named "Seven-Toed Pete" was known from Western dime novels:
> Los Angeles Times, Apr 21, 1895, p. 14
> [Referring to a man found not guilty of holding up an Oregon bank
> by reason of insanity:] "He is a man of 49 years of age, with the
> impulses and judgment of a boy of 13 to 15 years, who, with his
> head stuffed full of the garish fiction of dime novels, emulates
> the conduct of heroic Seven-toed Pete, and sallies forth armed
> with a sharpened caseknife to lift the scalps of imaginary
> redskins in the persons of inoffensive small children."
> I don't see any other references to a "Seven-Toed Pete", but
> there are several late-19th-century cites referring to men
> nicknamed "Six-Toed Pete", usually in Western frontier towns.
> (Some websites mention a "Six-Toed Pete" in stories about
> Wild Bill Hickock.) The most interesting character is a man
> whose real name was Pedro Badillo (or Badillos). He is
> described in a Reno Evening Gazette article of May 30, 1876
> as someone who had stood for office in Los Angeles but then
> had to flee the country after being discovered as a horse
> thief. He turns up in a Los Angeles Times article of Feb.
> 25, 1894 as a "smuggler and land pirate" in Mexico who had
> used the customhouse at Tiajuana as a fort and "defied the
> gendarmes of the learned but vacillating Governor, Don Manuel
> Clemente Rojo." Another LA Times article, on Aug. 16, 1896,
> says he had "engaged in an unsuccessful revolt against the
> Mexican government, after proclaiming himself Governor of
> Sonora." By that time Six-Toed Pete had settled in the
> border town of Nogales (Arizona/Sonora): "Although Pete's
> hair is now as white as snow, he yet turns the cards with
> nimble fingers, and will bet 500 'dobles' (Mexican dollars)
> on a rooster fight, as he did in early times."
> --Ben Zimmer

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