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East County News Service

Photo: Pegleg Smith state historical marker;  CC by SA-NC

February 17, 2023 (Borrego Springs, CA) – Telling a whopper is usually taboo.  But at the Peg Leg Liars Contest, named for the purported discoverer of a yet-to-be-found treasure in black gold, you can win prizes for spinning the best tall tale.

After a two year hiatus due to COVID, the contest will be held on Saturday, March 4, 2023 at the American Legion Post, 4515 Borrego Springs Road in Borrego Springs (across from La Casa del Zorro). The contest starts at dusk.

Begun informally in 1916 and formally in 1948, the event is the longest ongoing story-telling competition in the West.

The contest is named after Pegleg (Thomas) Smith, a real-life mountain man, fur trapper, horse thief, trader and tall-teller extraordinaire who boasted of finding a fortune in black gold nuggets atop a desert butte. He claimed to have mistaken them for copper until having them tested in Los Angeles, but never returned to find them.  

Pegleg got his nickname after losing a leg to an arrow and having a wooden leg fashioned.  He lived from 1801 to 1866 and is commemorated with a California historical landmark in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

Over 30 prospectors since the 1880s have died searching for this bonanza, though it’s unknown whether Pegleg’s gold is a real lost treasure waiting to be found,  a myth, or if someone already found the treasure and kept it secret. There are several fragments of stories that may partially support his claim of seeing black gold in the West, possibly even in Anza-Borrego desert:

Contestants are judged based on presentation, originality, costumes, and whether Pegleg Smith is mentioned.  (Don’t say “Pegleg Pete,” a different character, or you’ll lose points.) All contestants get a trophy and certificate of participation; if enough young people show up, there will also be a youth division.

The event is free, with food and drinks available for purchase.  It is organized by the Committee to Accumulate Curious Tales of Incredibility (CACTI). 

According to the Borrego Sun newspaper, “The event is designed for fun. Liar’s are always in demand and you needn’t be an expert. Any subject is acceptable, less profanity. Funny, bizarre, and nonsensical appreciated. Western theme, tuxedos appropriate.”



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