Pegleg Smith Horse Thief 2.0

Old Bookaroo

Silver Member
Dec 4, 2008
Major Horace Bell was a "rawhide Californian," who wrote a stirring book about his life and times in the early days of the Golden State. Here's what he had to write about Pegleg Smith:

Reminiscences of a Ranger; Or, Early Times in Southern California, by Major Horace Bell (Los Angeles: 1881)

Pegleg Smith was a Rocky Mountain man of great renown in his time, and ranked high as a leader, not of that high type of mountain honor and chivalry as pertained to the Sublettes, Carson, Bridger and others of that standard of excellence, but rather of the Indian freebooting class, as Jim Beckworth and others of that ilk of whom I have heard, but whose names I cannot now recall.

Rem Of A R Cover.jpg

Pegleg was not a trader, neither was he in the strict sense of the word a trapper, but was a trafficker among the Indians in horses, generally having a large supply on hand, and would at any time join a war party of one tribe to war upon another, with an agreement to take a certain prorata of the captured horses in payment for his valuable services.

It was on one of these Rocky Mountain Indian forays that he lost his leg, which was amputated below the knee by an Indian surgeon, under the direction qf Pegleg himself, the only surgical instruments used being a hunting knife and a small Indian or key-hole saw. The loss of his ambulatory member did not, however, incapacitate this hardy hero for war and raiding, but on the contrary greatly added to his prestige, and it was, I think, as related to me by Colonel Williams, Rubideaux and others, in 1839 or '40, that he planned and carried into operation the grandest and most successful horse-stealing expedition that ever crossed the Sierra Nevada and raided our angel land. In 1850 the chronicler hereof in crossing the continent halted at Pegleg's camp, at the Soda and Steamboat Springs on Bear river, and found the old fellow in the zenith of happiness and prosperity. He was in the undisputed ownership of hundreds of most beautiful Spanish horses, so called at the time – in this history designated as mustangs, and by the gringos commonly called broncos. Now the truth is that a bottle of whisky or a pound of powder was the price of a horse in Pegleg's camp, and notwithstanding whisky was scarce and powder reasonably plenty among westward bound goldhunters, Pegleg found ready sale for as many horses as he could spare, and himself, his squaws and his Indian retainers kept gloriously drunk, and were as happy as braves are supposed to be when they reach the happy hunting grounds.

In answer to the question as to how he came to have so many horses, he said, "Oh ! I went down into the Spanish country and got them." "What did they cost you ?" we inquired. "They cost me very dearly," said he. "Three of my squaws lost brothers, and one of them a father, on that trip, and I came near going under myself. I lost several other braves, and you can depend on it that I paid for all the horses I drove away. Them Spaniards followed us and fought us in a way that Spaniards were never before known to do." "How many did you get ?" we again queried. "Only about 3000; the rascals got about half of what we started with away from us, d--n them. I made up my mind to try it over, but then our own people taking the country broke up my plans. I never make war on my own people, and in driving off Spanish horses I might be brought in contact with my own countrymen, and you know that would not by any manner of means do."

According to Rubideaux, a half-dozen white men and about a hundred and fifty Indians took the war-path on this grand expedition of Pegleg to the "Spanish country," Jim Beckworth having preceded the party as a spy. According to Colonel Williams, Jim, who was a mulatto, came in and made his headquarters at his (Chino) ranch, and pretending that he was going to remain in the country and try his hand at killing sea otter, then a most profitable business, Jini spied out the land, and when Pegleg appeared in the Cajon Pass was ready at hand to counsel, guide and assist him. The raid was rapid and successful. Every ranch south of the Santa Ana to San Juan was visited, and the best horses and mares driven away, and before the rancheros could collect in sufficient force to pursue, the raiders had re-entered the Cajon. The pursuit was, however, made, and so vigorously that the raiders were overtaken, roughly handled, and with the result as above stated by the renowned Pegleg himself. This foray was undoubtedly well planned, and was only preliminary to others to follow of a still more formidable character, which were prevented by the country falling into the hands of the great gringo nation. Pegleg, however, had made a previous grand haul of horses in Los Angeles Valley, in 1835.

Good luck to all,

The Old Bookaroo, CM
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