Pegleg Smith’s gold

On January 24, 1848, James Marshall, a Mormon immigrant from New Jersey and foreman for John Sutter’s saw mill in Coloma, Ca. (50 miles northeast of Sacramento), waded into a stream to see if the current was strong enough to turn a mill wheel and saw a shiny small yellow rock.  A few days later Sutter’s headquarters verified that it was gold and newspaper articles a few months later triggered what became known as the California Gold Rush (1848-1855).  Argonauts poured into the San Francisco area from around the world, including Chinese gold seekers dreaming of wealth on “Gold Mountain“.  Gold fever also spread to the desert and legends arose.


Pegleg Smith is one such legend.  Thomas L. “Pegleg” Smith (1801-1866) was a mountain man who was also known as a fur trapper, prospector and horse thief.  During a trapping expedition, he was shot in the leg by a local Indian resulting in an amputation and a wooden leg.  There are many legends about Pegleg Smith and his “lost gold mine”.  Some say that he found black pebbles while crossing the desert and held on to them until he reached Los Angeles, thinking they were copper.  When he was told they were gold, he boasted about his gold stories for drinks in the saloons and sold maps to his mine.  He became a celebrated liar and Hollywood set designer Harry Oliver started the Pegleg Smith Club, erected a monument in 1947, and held the first official Pegleg Smith Liars’ Contest in 1949.


The sign beckons, “Let those who seek Pegleg’s gold add ten rocks to this pile.”  Many have come here over the years and the rock pile has grown substantially. Bert Gildart photographed this pile last February while camping here.  Rich L & family, Rich C, and Bill & Larry also boondocked here in March, 2007.  Pegleg Smith Monument is at the junction of Pegleg Road and Henderson Canyon Road at Highway S-22, 6.7 miles northeast of Christmas Circle in Borrego Springs, Ca.  Nearby is the field that was covered with Desert Sunflowers seen in my recent article, “Desert Blooms 2009“.  Earlier this month on our way to the flower fields we stopped at the Pegleg site just in time to see “gold” glittering on Pegleg’s rock pile…


in the form of the Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa).

dsc_0178-peglegs-insect-trap-sign.jpgThe Pegleg Smith Liars’ Contest starts at sundown on the first Saturday of April each year and attracts storytellers from all over the world…

 along with other interested parties and/or creatures…

Watch DesertUSA’s video, “Riding on Gold“, which tells more about the legend of Pegleg Smith.