In the shadow of the eastern Sierra Nevada, north of Mono Lake between Lee Vining and Hawthorne, Nevada is the ghost town of Bodie, California. Once the home of 10,000 miners, gamblers, and ruffians, Bodie today is a silent wood and brick monument to the American west. It is remote but well worth a visit.
The barren hills around Bodie are dotted with sagebrush and abandoned mines. Gold and silver made Bodie, but the streak played out, and that killed Bodie. In its time, Bodie was the exemplary gold strike town. It made men wealthy and made them poor, and had a gunfight nearly every day of its heyday.
The original strike was made in 1859. There really wasn’t much to that find, but in 1876, a freak cave-in at the Bunker Hill mine exposed a rich body of gold ore. The rush began and by the end of 1878 the town, and the legend, of Bodie was born.
It was a magnet for all kinds of people. There were hundreds of saloon keepers, gamblers, prostitutes, and ‘Bad Men’. It was a rough town. The Bad Man From Bodie’ became a catchphrase around the west.
A Truckee newspaper printed a prayer from a little girl whose family was moving to Bodie: “Goodbye, God! We are going to Bodie.” The Bodie paper said the Truckee paper got it wrong; the prayer was actually “Good, by God! We are going to Bodie.”
Bodie was wild and woolly and the streets were always busy, day and night. But Bodie’s heyday was short – from 1879 to 1882. The boom ended, and camp followers went away. All mining stopped in 1914.
Now Bodie stands as a testimony to the gold chasers – bad men and builders, miners and players – who lived the legends of the west. The state park service took over Bodie in 1962. Rangers and volunteers have rebuilt part of the town and put a museum in the old miner’s union hall. It’s a long way off from any main road, but if you’re interested in the history of the west, it’s well worth the trip.
I’m Len Wilcox and that’s the Western View from AgNet West and Citrus Industry Magazine. Visit us on the web at www.citrusindustry.net.
About the Author
Len Wilcox is a retired scientist who also ran a newspaper and has written for agricultural publications since the 1980s. He was a regular contributor to California Farmer Magazine. His commentary “The Western View” is a regular feature on Farm City Newsday and AgNet West.