On the Trail & ‘Round the Campfire

Welcome to my little diversion from the daily grind. Pull up a log or, just sit on yer’ fist and lean back on yer’ thumb (put a smiley face here) and let’s share a moment. I’ll throw another blog in the fire every now and then and, we’ll chew the fat about such mundane things as birds, nature, cowboys and the southwest, USA. I may even wax poetic or philosophical occasionally, but always honoring our creator. If you like something you read, please leave yer’ tracks.

Legend of The Lost Pegleg—

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Probably no other tale of lost gold fires the imagination more than the famous “Lost Pegleg.” It is a tale believed by many a treasure hunter, would-be prospector and desert enthusiast. Much believable detail, and even (so-called) proof of finding his gold nuggets, has been added to the 150-year-old pile of sincere mendacities—enough to make many more believers out of honest agnostics.

My dad was a serious prospector during the 1940s and 50’s. So, growin’ up as a kid, I heard this yarn told by him and other country folks many times. No matter how many times the story of Pegleg was told, it never failed to inspire the imagination of us kids, and those who listened to it.

So it’s only natural that in my soon-to-be-released second edition of CowChip Poetry —Lies & Lingo and Lore,” I have written a narrative poem of this historical character, Pegleg Pete, a.k.a. Pegleg Smith. This is my version of the Pegleg tale, as I remember it being told. If yer’ interested, you’ll find a fascinating, in-depth history of Pegleg at: www.desertusa.com

Legend of The Lost Peg-Leg

An historical narrative

There's all sorts of wild desert tales
Surroundin' Peg-leg Pete,
How he found black gold and lost it
Blazin' a trail in desert heat.

Because my 'Ol Dad was a rock-hound
I heard the story all my life,
And one desert yarn about Peg-leg Pete
Was how he used his knife.

Shot in the leg while fightin' Indians
Around eighteen twenty-one,
He cut off his leg with a huntin' knife
He was one tough son-of-a-gun.

Makin' a special socket for his stirrup
Carved to fit his wooden peg,
He could ride with the best of them
With his famous wooden leg.

Now as it turns out he's the same one
Known as Peg-leg Smith,
But the name I heard while growin'up
Had a little different twist.

He was not a miner or a prospector
But just a drifter on the take,
Seekin' whiskey-fortune or lady luck
A sales pitch he could make.

He sure didn't work a vein of quartz
A'buildin' out a stamp rig,
Or a pick and shovel with dynamite
So as to prove up his dig.

No he found black gold on the ground
Where he stopped to rest,
On some black and barren desert hill
A'facin' toward the west.

On a butte he scanned for signs of water
Seein' black rocks in a shallow,
He kicked one breakin' the outer shell
Revealing a golden yellow.

Not thinkin' of gold he was unimpressed
He thought maybe a copper ore,
So he put a few rocks in his burro pack
Instead of pickin' up a lot more.

Then his faithful burro led him to water
Just as he was dying and cursed,
And she pawed hole in a sandy ravine
That finally quenched his thirst.

Well Peg-leg drifts into town one day
To some saloon we are told,
And a miner wondered where this chap
Came up with all this gold.

The word was out and quickly spread
That these black crusty nuggets,
That Peg-leg Smith brought in to town
Could fill two larder buckets.

Now Peg-leg soon became the object
Of every greedy prospector,
Wantin' to know just where he'd been
By each section mile and hectare.

But bein' desert wise and the cagey sort
He was not easily followed,
Many tried all sorts of crafty ways
But he was never shadowed.

He just vanished when he had a need
Like a ghost he up'd and fled,
Then show'd up with a few more nuggets
He had 'em scratchin' their head.

Just where did Peg-leg have his claim?
That he could keep so secret,
Hobblin' peg-leg over the rugged desert
Just how long could he keep it?

He must have had some nuggets hidden
Because he never found the spot,
Where he first picked up those walnuts
That put his name up at the top.

In fact he was a horse thief and a liar
Another a drunkard on the take
A brown quartz sample veined in gold
He'd flash to con grubstake
But many times he went back searchin'
And he never gave up his tryin'
To find that trail of his lost footsteps
So it's not likely he was lyin'

Was it three buttes in the Santa Rosa's?
Or the Chocolate Mountain range
From Yuma to the Borrego badlands
There is an awful lot of change

Maybe three hills in the Muchacho's
That helps confuse the lore
In the dunes of furnace-killin' heat
A mind-mirage spins folklore

The confusion mounts when one is told
There was another Peg-leg Smith
Two Peg-leg Smiths' and a Peg-leg Pete
Now which one do you go with?

Well old Peg-leg Smith he died a pauper
Not in some wild Indian war
But in a dingy hotel in San Francisco
Right next to an assay store

It's not that his strike was never found
One old miner brought in a sack
Of the same nuggets of black-spar gold
All covered with shellac

They all assayed the same percentage
A metal alloy of mostly gold
That kind of proof has made believers
Of doubters young and old

There is a tale back in eighteen-eighty
Of an Indian near Warner Ranch
Who would vanish for days in the desert
And return with gold in his pants

The same black pebbles of crusty gold
He would use to pay his bills
Cleaned and weighed on an assay scale
Taken from those desert hills

Killed by a knife while drinkin' one night
And when they made a search
Carefully hidden in his bed and shack
Was four thousand dollars worth!

But then as late as nineteen sixty five
Someone tried puttin' the tale to rest
By sendin' samples to a 'desert magazine'
Of black nuggets they could test

Claiming he found the lost Peg-leg gold
Some quite a few years ago
And that he sold three hundred thousand
But there's no real way to know

So Peg-leg's hike from Yuma to Carrizo
Prior to eighteen thirty five
And findin' and losin' that pile of gold
Is a saga that's still alive

All those campfire tales of lost treasure
From Yuma to Julian and Hector
Haunts the hearts of rock-hound dreamers
And even a real prospector

His legend haunts each chocolate butte
And in gulches of dried-up streams
Where followin' the trackless wastelands
Leads to hoax or bonanza-dreams

So his story still fires the imagination
Like thoughts in a powder keg
Of finding his famed hills of chocolate
The golden legend of Peg-leg

It's truly a wonderful childhood treasure
That I'm certain to never forget
And I'll always enjoy hearin' that legend
No matter how old I get!

© Ed Keenan


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  • Guest
    Still Scared Saturday, 23 April 2016

    Campfire tales

    My dad's version of Peg Leg Pete involved a companion turned traitor who killed Peg Leg for his gold. Peg Leg had hidden it though. His spirit still roams angry and vengeful. If you listen closely you can hear him walking dragging his peg leg.

    Then there was a part about how he preys on young children who don't go to bed when told. (Obviously at that point my parents were tired)

    In the morning way before my sister and I would awaken, my father would go outside and grab the hatchet. He would loudly stomp then drag the hatchet mimicking peg leg's walk. Then he'd shake the tent and scare the bajezes out of my sister and I. All the while our mother was trying not to laugh.

  • Guest
    rhianna Wednesday, 11 January 2017

    I'm learning about this in school


  • Guest
    Eugene Smith Sunday, 24 June 2018

    peg leg smiths gold cache.

    hello, that was a yarn worth its weight in gold. I sure would like to know who has an idea where are the mountain or areas this tale might have been. I have a conffortable walking shoes

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