The history of the West is full of knowledge. Shootings, ghosts and cattle grazing adorn the pages of hundreds, if not thousands, of books. None of these stories, however, can be compared to the amazing stories of mines and miners – how some miners mysteriously “discovered” the treasure of gold “somewhere out there.”
Of the stories of mines and miners, none can be compared to Thomas “Peg-Leg” Smiths.
A furrier by profession, his exploits with regard to a particular trip still fascinate people today. As legend has it (and there are several variations of this), Smith was in the desert traveling between Yuma and Los Angeles. When he had to find out, he climbed up a small hill to look out over the terrain. On the hill there were black stones that he thought looked different. He picked up a couple of them, took them to Los Angeles and had them analyzed, only to find that the rocks were almost pure gold. Soon the message came out and Smith became a kind of star.
Many tried to find the mine of Peg-Leg. It was often said that Peg-Leg would go out into the desert alone and come back with some gold, which he used for whiskey and other “essential things.” After Smith’s death in 1866, leaving no indication of where the “mine” was, hundreds of people scoured the desert in search of Peg-Legs gold. Rumors abounded – a Mexican vaquero had found and taken it, another miner had found it and similarly taken it, only to die on the way home. The stories abounded, but in the end, Peg-Leg’s gold remained as intangible as a leprechaun.
In November 1921, however, Sam Combs, the constable of Beaumont, declared victory in the hunt for Peg-Legs gold. Sometime during the summer of that year, he had hired two experienced desert hikers to go out into the desert and find that gold. The men, identified only as veterans of the Great War named Bill and Bob, returned after several months of travel.
“One was wild as a result of facing the heat and exposure in the desert,” Banning Record wrote on November 3, 1921. “But on the back of the herd was ore, which Beaumont people said was almost pure gold – gold from the stick bone. ”
The two men allegedly had a map showing the location of the caches, which was described as being about “40 miles from Beaumont.” The two men could also find water close by, or so they said.
Ultimately, this story may have been fabricated to throw others off track. No more has been written about the three men in connection with Peg-Leg’s gold. Given the number of people searching the desert at the time, either for Peg-Legs gold or their own riches, it would have been beneficial to somehow reduce the competition over which minerals have yet to be found. One thing is for sure – the legend of Peg-Leg Smith and his gold continues to live on.
If you have an idea for a future Back in the Day column about a SoCal historical person, place, or event, contact Steve Lech and Kim Jarrell Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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