Gravel Approach to Bodie
Credit: Terrie Plowman

Bodie, named after W.S.Bodie, who discovered gold in 1859, is an unmissable National Historic Landmark and California's official state gold rush ghost town.

As one of America's historic landmarks, Bodie should be a must-see visit for any tourist who is interested in the contrasts of California. It is an easy and picturesque drive from Las Vegas.

Location

Bodie is located to the east of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, in Mono County, California and is approximately 75 miles from Lake Tahoe.

Ghost Town Atmosphere

Arriving in Bodie, in the middle of the high desert with the snow-capped Sierra Nevada Range in the background, the bleakness of the location is evident.

The rustic nature of the site may be difficult for any disabled visitors but alternative arrangements for access can be made.

The Unsafe Gold Mines
Credit: Terrie Plowman

In 1879 there were 60 mines, most of them were 600ft to 800ft deep, and, with the water table at 300ft, the mines needed constant pumping to keep the miners safe. 

In the boom years nine stamp mills were set up to crush the ore in order to extract the gold and silver. A vast amount of wood was required to operate the steam-powered equipment and so people were needed to bring in the wood.

It is estimated that 150 wood camps sprung up in the Sierra canyons. Thirty miles south, the pine, the preferred timber, was milled at an alarming rate, with no thought for the effect on the environment. Tree felling was dangerous and many lost fingers, toes or even their lives.

The decline began in 1880, when many of the single gold prospectors moved away to other prospecting boom regions.

Bodie became more of a family community from that point.

Bodie Jail(72317)
Credit: Terrie Plowman

All the buildings are in an arrested state of decay. Yet it is possible to enter some of the properties and recognise the sheer determination and self-belief of the early gold diggers who had to erect their own wooden homes quickly in order to survive the harsh conditions.

They lined the interior walls with newspapers and cheesecloth to keep out the drafts before covering the walls with wallpaper.

Split and flattened tin cans nailed to the outside were used to seal the seams and cracks.

Some of the buildings, however, are closed to the public as they are extremely unsafe but you can still see the Methodist Church, the fire house the store that later became the Wheaton and Hollis Hotel, the remains of the bank and James Stuart Cain's house.

There is a museum that contains fascinating letters from inhabitants as well as all kinds of artefacts to help you understand the lives of these ambitious gold prospectors even more.

An Array of Decayed Wooden Buildings
Credit: Terrie Plowman

Significant People

W.S.Bodie

W.S.Bodie found gold in 1859. Word spread quickly but months later he perished in a blizzard and never knew that he had discovered one of the largest deposits of gold and silver in California. Neither did he know that the town would be named after him, though the citizens changed the spelling to ensure correct pronunciation.

James Stuart Cain

Originally, Cain was hired by Porter Lumber Company but he quickly raised enough money to buy a steamboat to transport wood, a most valuable commodity, across the Mono Lake. He invested in several important industries that supported Bodie and he bought a half interest in the Bank of Bodie. It wasn't long before he bought the second half!

Michael J. Cody

Cody arrived in Bodie in 1879 to oversee the land office. He became Mono County Sheriff and was a respected leader. His daughter, Ella, is credited with the idea of saving artefacts and setting up the museum.

Marietta Butler

Marietta arrived a year after her sister, Elizabeth, who was the first white woman to settle in Bodie in 1863. The Native American women from the Kutzadika Paiute tribe thought she had magical powers when they saw her dressmaking talents, courtesy of her sewing machine! Marietta and other seamstresses paid the women for doing chores by making thm dresses.

Kutzadika Paiute Tribe

The lives of the people of this tribe were dramatically affected. When the gold prospectors introduced sheep to the desert region, the pine nuts for winter food and plants for medicinal purposes were no longer easily available. The sacred springs were tapped by the Bodie prospetors, causing the deer and antelope to alter their natural grazing area. However, there were some advantages for the tribe as some of them were employed in the homes of the Bodie residents.

Inhabitants of China Town

These people were hard-working but were not allowed to join the Miners Union nor to be connected to the gold companies in any way. So they set up restaurants and laundries or worked in the homes of the Bodie prospectors. By 1879 they had set up four opium dens and supplied drugs to anyone who was interested. Many prostitutes bacame addicted and died. The smoke-filled dens were the centre for suicides, fights and murders.

Bodie Fire House
Credit: Terrie Plowman

Buildings for the community were added later. This fire house was an important addition to their personal safety whilst a grocery store, school and hotel served the needs of the inhabitants.

At one time there were 65 saloons, which brought their own problems of large numbers of drunken men, murders, shoot-outs, bar room brawls and stage coach hold-ups. 

The jail was erected later in 1877 and needed to be extended very quickly to cater for the wickedness of many of the gold prospectors.

It was certainly a tough environment inhabited by tough characters.

A year later the Bank of Bodie was established and in 1882 a Methodist Church was completed by Reverend F.M. Warrington but it was considered to be too late to save Bodie's reputation as a lawless place full of lust and passion.

Afterthought

A visit to Bodie may make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. It is certainly an eerie place but a fascinating homage to the grit and determination of a long ago group of adventurous people.