“Pegleg” Smith, was born Thomas Smith on October 10, 1801 in Kentucky. Smith spent his early years traveling the western United States trading, and trapping furs. He even established a short-lived trading post along the Oregon Trail in Idaho.
Smith lost his leg and began using a wooden stump as replacement in 1827, after being shot in the knee by an Indian.
In the late 1830s “Pegleg”, and a partner traveled to Los Angeles to trade-off a number of pelts that they had acquired during a recent hunting expedition. Along the route “Pegleg” picked up a few black pebbles from the top of a butte, in what we call today the Anza Borrego Desert. Once in Los Angeles he found that the pebbles had gold inside of the black outer layer.
In the 1840’s the fur trade slowed. To make ends meet, “Pegleg” began kidnapping Native American children and selling them to Mexican haciendas as slaves. The tribes caught onto his activities, and “Pegleg” fled to California.
Once in California “Pegleg” established a horse theft operation. “Pegleg” and his gang of horse thefts can be attributed to 100’s of horses being stolen from Mexican ranchers. The authorities caught onto the activities, and put a stop to the operation.
It wasn’t until the 1849 California Gold Rush that “Pegleg” decided to make a big deal of the gold that he had claimed to have found almost 20 years prior. A number of search parties had been put together by “Pegleg”, but they never had any luck in finding the gold-bearing butte. “Pegleg” made a business of selling maps to his supposed lost gold mine until his death in 1866.
Today a monument stands in honor of this liar, thief, and kidnapper. The monument was originally established by famed writer, and artist Harry Oliver in 1947. The original monument was a simple pile of stones, with a wooden sign that reads, “Let those who seek Pegleg’s gold add ten rocks to this pile” – Harry Oliver 1947. In 1949 a mailbox with a guest register was added to the site.
Harry Oliver also established the Pegleg Smith Liars’ Club, which to this day still meets at the site of the monument every April Fools Day to tell tall tales.
In 1960 the State of California honored the corrupt thieving bastard with a State Historical Landmark.
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