Appalachia Games

Mumbly Peg

Mumbly peg

Mumbly peg (or mumble peg) is a game I’ve seen boys play during my lifetime. I’ve even seen grown men play it once or twice. I’ve never played it.

The game is played with various rules depending on whose doing the playing. The general gist of the game is: a circle is drawn in the dirt; the players take turns trying to flip an open pocket knife off their arm or balled up fist and make it land in the circle.

I’ve seen it played where you start with the knife on one knuckle and as you flip the knife and get it to stick you move to the next knuckle. The Foxfire 6 Book shares a version of the game where you keep moving the knife up-starting on your fingertips then moving to your elbows, shoulders, and eventually your head! Trying to flip the knife so that it sticks in the circle drawn on the ground. The version of mumbly peg in the Foxfire 6 Book details the game as being a point system-for example if the open pocket knife sticks straight up on the large blade you get 10 points. If the knife sticks like the one in the photo above-you only get 5 points.

Some versions of the game end with the winner getting to keep the knife.

Have you ever played or seen mumbly peg?


*Source Foxfire 6


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  • Reply
    Michael Yarger
    April 15, 2018 at 7:46 pm

    There is a book called Village Life in America by Caroline Cowles Richards that was published in 1908 and tells the story of a young girl growing up in the village of Canandaigua, NY from 1852-1872. In the book she recounts visiting a classmate
    “After school to-night I went out into Abbie Clark’s garden with her and she taught me how to play “mumble te peg.” It is fun, but rather dangerous. I am afraid Grandmother won’t give me a knife to play with. “

  • Reply
    Roger Brothers
    April 11, 2018 at 11:05 am

    Yep, my students used to do this. They called it root-a-peg because as some have already described the looser would have to pull the peg with his teeth . Winner got to drive the peg and the number of places the looser was behind would be the number of wacks he got to drive the peg with the knife handle. Heaven help you if you were more than one or two places behind cause the winner could really drive it in deep and the loser would literally have to root like a hog to get it up.

  • Reply
    Shirley Freeman
    October 6, 2016 at 9:43 pm

    I watched my husband play mumbly peg and the one that lost drove a peg in the ground and he had to get down on the ground and pull the peg out with his teeth. I have a picture of him spitting mud out of his mouth.

  • Reply
    May 7, 2013 at 7:15 pm

    Jean-Im sure thats the way we sound when we say it too: eaten table : )
    Blind Pig The Acorn
    Celebrating and Preserving the
    Culture of Appalachia

  • Reply
    May 7, 2013 at 5:38 pm

    HI Tipper, I recall my late husbends family in Ky calling the table -eaten table,just gave my sister in-law a ring and sure enought she said I was was right.Have you ever heared it said that away? God Bless. Jean

  • Reply
    RB Redmond
    May 2, 2013 at 11:21 pm

    I’ve heard of it, but don’t remember seeing it played or playing it myself.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    May 2, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    and Jim…Now then I’m hidin’ behind the tree on this one…
    but I shudder to think that I ‘yodeled’, “Let us play mum-bull-let-teee” peg, back in the fifties! It was, “You’ont to play “mum-blee pag”!?
    Now for how it is spelt..I am shore Jim is right…since he does all that proof-readin’, book writin’ and reviewin’ and sich!
    Thanks Tipper,
    Yep, Jim I’m lookin’ it rite now, too!

  • Reply
    May 2, 2013 at 10:57 am

    What we called Mumbly Peg is what Bob Aufdemberge describes in his comment about the other knife game. My brothers, and sometimes I, would play this a lot. The last time it was played was when my brother lost his knuckle. It became terribly infected because of the old hospital my mom took him to. He could never bend his right hand middle finger completely and when making a fist, well it just looked like a bad sign. It kept him out of the draft in ’70 because he couldn’t bend it, my mom was finally happy for a moment that her boys were naughty.

  • Reply
    May 1, 2013 at 12:05 am


  • Reply
    Bob Aufdemberge
    April 30, 2013 at 6:33 pm

    The game I remembered as “stick ’em” was also called stretch. Thanks for rteminding me, Ron.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    April 30, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    Tipper–It was a popular game when I was a kid (and when you could carry a knife to school). We played it at recess quite a bit, although marbles (for “keeps”) was an even more popular game.
    Today pocket knives seem to be treated with almost the same misguided mindset as guns (sometimes city folks can be incredibly stupid).
    When I went to the Social Security office a few years back to start drawing some of what I’d been putting in for 50+ years, there was an overweight black “guard” at the door. I don’t think he could have stopped an oversized cat from grabbing a piece of fish, much less having a deterred a human bent on doing something bad, from improper behavior.
    Yet he did greet me with a big smile and then said: “You look like a man who might carry a pocket knife.”
    I was actually flattered to be perceived that way and replied: “Yes, as a matter of fact I’ve got two. Want to see ’em?”
    You would have thought I had broken through the first three of four barriers protecting Fort Knox. He was all wrought up and said: “Oh no, you can’t go in there with a pocket knife. Go back to your truck and leave them.”
    I did as ordered, and I must admit that once I was inside amidst the chaos which typifies our give-it-all-away to the trifling who won’t work society, I saw some logic in his approach. It was bedlam, and probably not one in 20 of the people present was there to deal with simple Social Security issues.
    Instead, it was all about child abuse and neglect, “I ain’t been gettin’ my SNAP cards,” rants about the government not paying housing supplements, and the like. I was absolutely appalled to see where we are today. I got far more of a view of the entitlement society than I wanted.
    Sorry for the rant, but it was a totally disgusting experience, and divesting myself of my knives was but a small part of it.
    One more thing while I’m being a contrarian. Check the spelling of mumblety-peg, and I will too. I’ve always heard it pronounced with a “t” included, and I rather suspect that is the preferred spelling.
    Finally, there’s still at least some interest in knives and knife games (and I know a bonnie, musically gifted lass who has been known to carry a fine folding pocket knife–I caught her with it sticking out of a pocket one time). I just completed a feature story entitled “In Praise of Pocket Knives” for “South Carolina Wildlife” magazine. It will be in the next issue and is basically a nostalgic look back to a world of knives we have lost.
    Jim Casada
    P. S. Ken mentioned taking a gun to school for show-and-tell. Brother Don drove a school bus when he was in high school, and I know for a fact that he sometimes carried his squirrel gun in the fall so he could hunt after completing his bus route.

  • Reply
    Sallie Covolo aka Granny Sal
    April 30, 2013 at 9:56 am

    I used to watch boys play Mumbly Peg during recess at school. It seems as if I remember them playing it with a pencil with a pin or needle stuck in the eraser if they did not have a pocket knife.

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    April 30, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    Yes, I’ve played a version of mumbly peg…aka growing up with two brothers…
    The main one I remember is the one Bob and Ron mentioned. It’s a wonder that we didn’t get a toe or top of the foot punchered with the knife. Back then we wore hard leather shoes unless it was the middle of summer.
    We were visiting my Aunt and Uncle in Canton one Spring Suday after a Memorial Day Service.
    Dad gave the boys his knife to keep them occupied since theirs was back home in Tennessee.
    They began playing, stretch, “stick-em” or mumbly peg…yes, it seems we called this game mumbly peg. After a few throws and laughter and one brother falling after spreading out his legs too far….My Dad yelled, “Bring me back my knife” My Uncle asked if he was afraid the boys would get hurt or dirty, He said “Heck no, I’m worried about my knife.”
    It was a dangerous game, but skill usually prevailed and accurate throws kept feet safe. The blade was gripped at the tip and then flung as it turned over and over. Only rarely falling over if it hit a pebble in the ground. My brothers would toss their knifes at trees as well the same way. We ran with sissors too…Rode our bikes in traffic and trapesed thru poison ivy…I don’t know how we made it but we did…Swinging on a grape vine, or a large rope over a revine was the most fun…The danger here, some brave boy shimming up an old oak with the rope to tie it out on a limb… what pure courage…
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    April 30, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    We played this a lot. And amazingly, no one ever got cut (or put out an eye!!) that I can remember–those pocketknives were kept sharp as a razor. No one can sharpen like Mama & Daddy could.
    Sharpening & hand tools might be an interesting topic sometime. Our hoes were quite thin from being sharpened & from so much hoeing. My husband is a good sharpener but my hoes are never that sharp. Sharpening knives is still almost recreational for my brothers.

  • Reply
    April 30, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    When my friend Lonnie mentioned
    playing mumblepeg at school, he
    hit it right on the nose. We
    couldn’t wait till recess to get
    this game started. And back then
    every boy always carried a knife.
    Even the teacher would sometimes
    call on one of us to borrow his
    knife to back out a screw or
    something. Today I guess we’d be
    called a terrorist!
    One time I took a 303 British
    Army Rifle to school (without the
    magazine) to show what kind of
    gun was used in WW2. I got on the
    school bus, showed it in class,
    and brought it home without any
    problem. Imagine now!…Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 30, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    Tipper-I and other readers have been unable to click on your “you might also like” at the bottom of your posts. If I left click, I get a blank screen, but I have just discovered that if I right click it, I can open it in a new tab or a new window. It’s a little different but it works for me and might for the others who are having the same problems.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    April 30, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    I have played it years ago, but wouldn’t dream of treating my favorite Case XX knife that way now. My knife actually looks a lot like the one in your picture. It is razor sharp, but they don’t stay that way for long playing mumbly peg.

  • Reply
    Bob Aufdemberge
    April 30, 2013 at 11:59 am

    We always called it mumble peg, and played it at recess at our one-room country school. It was a different world back then for sure. I don’t recall that we used a circle, just got points as mentioned for how the knife stuck. We always flipped it off of the back of the hand, didn’t change flipping positions.
    We had another knife game we called “stick ’em”. In that game two boys would face each other about a foot to 18 inches apart. The one who led off would try to stick his knife in the dirt in line with one of the other boy’s feet, and if he stuck the knife the second boy would have to move his foot out to touch the knife, then he would try to stick his knife and make the first boy move his foot. This kept up by turns, trying to stick your knife first on one side of the other player and then on the other. The winner was the one who managed to stick his knife far enough out that the other player couldn’t reach it with his foot.
    Anybody ever play something like this?

  • Reply
    April 30, 2013 at 11:54 am

    Heavens yes! During recess in the sixth and seventh grade, it was a daily occurrence. this was ‘way back before pocket-knives became evil.

  • Reply
    April 30, 2013 at 10:47 am

    I have never seen this one played. I have heard of mumbledy-peg, though I can’t think where. Can you imagine allowing your children to play this game now-a-days? You’d have the Child Protective Services down on you like a plague of locusts!

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    April 30, 2013 at 10:46 am

    My uncle was a whiz at this and also marbles (he could shoot hard enough that marbles would sometimes crack)! Me? I’m a klutz…..

  • Reply
    steve in tn
    April 30, 2013 at 9:44 am

    thanks for the reminder. knives were a big deal in the pre ipod days. my first grown up possession.

  • Reply
    April 30, 2013 at 9:30 am

    I had totally forgotten about this game! I played it once or twice with my grandpa who played it all the time as a kid! I am so glad you reminded me of that!

  • Reply
    Bob Dalsemer
    April 30, 2013 at 8:49 am

    We played at a summer camp I attended when I was about 10. I don’t remember keeping score, but the game was pretty much as you described, starting close to the ground and ending with the knife dropping off your upraised, fully extended hand while you were standing.

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    April 30, 2013 at 8:39 am

    I have played the game and it was always fun. Another game we played was stretch. Two people stand opposite each other with legs together. One throws his knife into the ground and the other has to stretch to put one foot at the knife. If he makes it he gets to throw his knife. This is a little more dangerous game than mumbly peg. That is a good looking bone handle Case knife !

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 30, 2013 at 8:37 am

    Tipper, I have never seen or played mumbly peg but I have heard of it.
    I think this ‘game’ is about boy/ big boys, and their knives never to be comprehended by the female species.

  • Reply
    April 30, 2013 at 8:36 am

    I wonder how many knicks and small cuts were in place until one became a good player. I have never played this game; as a matter of fact, I have never heard of it. Very interesting!

  • Reply
    Lonnie L. Dockery
    April 30, 2013 at 8:19 am

    Mother taught me mumbly peg when I was probably six or seven years old. She probably regretted it later because she was the only one old enough to play it with me; and we played many, many times. Later on, if you can imagine, we even played it at school! We got 5 points if it stuck with the big blade; 3 if it stuck on the little one; and 1 if both blades were touching the ground.

  • Reply
    April 30, 2013 at 8:13 am

    My dad used to go through those motions as a way of self entertainment but I never saw it as a challenge game with 2 or more people. Although I was given a small pocket knife one Christmas when I was 8 or 10 or somewhere thereabouts, I was never taught the activity and never tried it.
    I seem to recall hearing or reading of a game called “mumbledy peg” but I don’t think I ever knew how that was played. Wikipedia offers an explanation at this link: I think I’m glad I didn’t learn this one!

  • Reply
    We Need Bandaids Mom
    April 30, 2013 at 8:12 am

    My Dad taught us farm boys that game to keep us busy when we were too little to help with the chores. We counted 25 points if it rested on the handle and the middle blade, 50 like shown above, or 75 points straight in, with the big blade. We didn’t have to keep it in a circle. I suspect he wanted us to practice our arithmetic more than anything.

  • Reply
    speschull ed
    April 30, 2013 at 8:03 am

    tha wooden let us play wif knifes when i uz littel. i snuk an got one one tim an cut mi sef purty bad. atter that i lef knifes along butt yew outta see me wif a ax er a chain saw. yont te play mumeltee peg wif me?

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    April 30, 2013 at 7:14 am

    Neither, I have heard the name though and always had a different picture of the game in my mind.

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