Borrego Sun - Since 1949

Pegleg Liars Day Confirmed

Words of Wisdom from a Retired Champion Liar


Last updated 3/8/2017 at 11:43am

How do you win the Pegleg Smith Liars Contest? The same way you get to Carnegie Hall – practice.

The 43rd annual revival of the contest will be held Saturday, April 1, at dusk at the Pegleg Smith historical marker at the corner of Pegleg Road and the Borrego Salton Seaway. It’s a real, live, historical marker because Pegleg Smith was a real, live historical person (though he hasn’t been alive since 1866). Smith was a trapper, a trader, a prospector and an occasional horsethief in the 1830s-40s-50s, and also had quite a reputation as a teller of tall tales.

Hollywood set designer (and early Borego homesteader) Harry Oliver launched the liars contest in his memory in 1949, along with Ray Hetherington, who ran the rock shop at Knott’s Berry Farm. The contest continued until the early 1960s, was revived in 1975 under the leadership of Diana Lindsay, and has been an annual event ever since.

Sheer veracity forces me to admit that I have won the contest more times than anyone else in its 68-year history (six times, plus the year I won in absentia without even being there). After that, I retired to take over for the late Bill Jennings as emcee. It’s a job I rather like, since coming up with good lies year after year is a lot of work.

But for the folks still gunning for my record, here are a few suggestions:

The lies are supposed to be about Pegleg Smith and the desert he roamed. All these people who do stories that have nothing to do with Pegleg should be glad I’m not one of the judges.

And it’s Pegleg Smith, not Pegleg Pete. Pegleg Pete is that big bulldog-looking guy in the Mickey Mouse cartoons.

Keep it short! The stories are only supposed to be about five minutes; if you ramble on too long I can’t guarantee your safety.

Remember, too, that there might be a microphone, but it can’t do all the work for you. You’ve still gotta make yourself heard.

Me, I’m a big believer in costuming. Something appropriate for the occasion, of course. On the other hand, I’m not big on props. They don’t always work and they sure don’t work if the audience can’t see them.

We call ‘em lies, but what we’re really looking for are tall tales. Think Paul Bunyan, or Mark Twain. I told one story where Pegleg fell all the way down a mine shaft and popped out the other end in China. Another time I told how he used a penguin as a compass, since it always wanted to head home to the North Pole. I was criticized for saying that penguins live at the North Pole – even by National Geographic “Traveler” magazine – but it is a liars contest after all. In other words, you get to make stuff up.

And the more ridiculous details the better. One joke gets you one laugh, but a good story keeps people chuckling all the way along.

If you want to do something other than tell stories, that’s fine. Music, for example, has been a part of the contest since its earliest days. But there’s no room for angry rants or obscenities – this is a family-friendly liars contest.

Finally, if you really want to be a winner you’ve got to work at it. Learn about the Pegleg story, think about the good stories you’ve heard, and practice, practice, practice. The shorter the story, the more work it takes to craft it.

And don’t get discouraged. It took me more than a quarter century to rack up six wins, but I kept coming back and kept telling lies – and finally they caught me at it.

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