The famous legend began during a trapping expedition down the Colorado River in the late 1820s or early 1830s. Pegleg and his party had acquired a large number of pelts during their trip and selected Pegleg and another member of the trapping party to take the supply of pelts across the desert to Los Angeles for sale.
During their journey through the desert, Pegleg had gathered some pebbles which he found on top of a butte in the Colorado Desert. The butte was one of three, thus entering the significant landmark of three buttes in most versions of his story. He gathered the black pebbles thinking they were copper and carried them to Los Angeles where he later discovered they were gold.
It is said that Pegleg got drunk while in Los Angeles, started a brawl in the local saloon and was quickly kicked out of town by the authorities. On his way out of California, he stole 300 to 400 horses and drove them to Taos, New Mexico where he planned to sell them.
Many prospectors and historians wonder why he did not go back to the desert and search for the butte where he discovered the gold. During the 1830s and 1840s, Pegleg settled down and started a trading post along the Oregon Trail in Idaho, specializing in the sale of horses.
It wasn't until after the 1849 Gold Rush that Pegleg returned to California to organize a prospecting party to search for the butte where he found the black gold nuggets. The group wandered around the desert unsuccessfully, and Pegleg ended up deserting the group and turn up later in Los Angeles.
In 1853, Pegleg organized a second search party which had no greater success in finding the butte where he found his treasured black-coated gold nuggets. A third party was organized to search for another lost mine near the Virgin River, were Dutch George Yount, a trapper, claimed he discovered a ledge full of gold, which of course he was never able to relocate.
Pegleg's questionable character and his reputation for drinking and lying add to the controversy surrounding the legend of his lost mine. Since there is more than one version of the story, there are many contradicting facts. Some stories claim the butte where Pegleg found the black-coated gold nuggets was located in the Chocolate Mountains and not in the Colorado Desert area.
There are men who have claimed to have found Pegleg's lost Mine. One story describes the journey of a discharged soldier who followed Pegleg's trail from Yuma to Los Angeles. During his travels through the desert, he discovered the three buttes described in Pegleg's legend and finds gold nuggets. When he arrives in Los Angeles, he shows his friends the nuggets and organized an expedition to return to the desert to bring back more gold. The expedition never returned, and the members of the party were later found dead at the foot of the San Ysidro Mountains.
Prospectors often recite stories that support the fabled legend of Pegleg's lost mine. In one story, a miner is crossing the desert between Yuma and Warner's Ranch, when he climbs up one of three buttes to get a better sense of his location. When he reached the top of the butte, he discovered free particles of gold scattered about. He packed his saddlebags with approximately $7,000 worth of gold and continued on to Los Angeles. When the miner reached Los Angeles, he became ill and was taken under the care of Dr. DeCourcy. The miner confided his discovery to Dr. DeCourcy, and they made plans to search for the buttes as soon as he was well enough to travel. He died before he was ever able to return to the desert in search of his gold-covered buttes. Dr. DeCourcy searched for years, and was never able to find the three buttes the miner described on his death bed.
There are three Indian legends of black-coated gold in the desert that support Pegleg's legend. The Apache Indians spoke of a place in the desert where the ground was littered with gold nuggets. It was against the tribal law and beliefs of the Apaches to tell others where the gold was located. Because of their superstitions, their secret remained well kept.
The second legend concerns an Indian woman who was wandering about the desert in a state of dehydration. She climbed upon one of three buttes to try and figure out where she was and on the ground she found black-coated gold nuggets. While on the butte, she saw a railroad construction camp where she was given water, food and time to rest. While at the camp, she told the workers about the gold nuggets she found and left them with one of the nuggets before she continued on her way.
The third Indian legend is about a Yaqui Indian who lived and worked near Warner's Ranch. He made frequent trips into the desert whenever he needed money, always returning with black gold nuggets. No one was ever able to follow the Indian into the desert to discover his secret gold mine. Later, after the Indian died in a fight, $4,000 worth of gold was found in his bunk.
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