Bodie was a town so lawless that in 1881 it was described as ". . a sea of sin, lashed by the tempests of lust and passion."
~Quote by Reverend F.M. Warrington
Spread across the landscape of a high, remote valley in the Bodie Hills of the Eastern Sierras, the historic gold mining town of Bodie was once known as the most lawless, wildest and toughest mining camp in the West. In 1859, Waterman S. Bodey and E.S. "Black" Taylor stumbled upon one of the richest goldstrikes in California, which captured the attention of thousands of goldseekers. The ore extracted from the Bodie Hills amounted to millions in gold and silver. The community was named after him for his discovery but unfortunately, Bodey was not able to enjoy it. He broke his leg while hiking out for supplies and froze to death in a blizzard in November 1859. His body was not found until the snow thawed. He had a placer claim on the territory which means he panned for gold by hand, only taking $500 out before he died. The discrepancy in the spelling of the new town's name resulted from a sign-painter's decision to drop the "Y" from W. S. Bodey's name, inserting an "i", in order to squeeze the word B-o-d-i-e within the limited space provided for a Livery Stable sign. In spite of the error, the incorrect version remained. W.S. Bodey is buried in the town cemetery.
Bodie became a boomtown in 1877 sparked by stories of the quality and amount of gold being mined. By 1879, Bodie had a population of approximately 8,500 people and more than 2000 buildings. General stores and saloons supplied the needs of the miners. More than 60 saloons and dance halls lined the streets, providing a source of relaxation and entertainment for the miners after a hard day's work in the depths of the mines. There were 17 operating mines during its heyday, the last being the Standard Mining Co.
There was traffic in the streets all day and all night from freight wagons and stages. Gunfights, stage holdups, robberies and street brawls contributed to its reputation of lawlessness and the legend of the "Bad Man of Bodie". Historians believe that the "Bad Man of Bodie" is a composite of outlaws and men like Tom Adams and Washoe Pete who contributed to the wild atmosphere of Bodie. In 1880, Bodie had a reputation of violence that spread far & wide, sometimes rivalling other well known towns such as Tombstone, Deadwood and Dodge City.
The stamp mills and lodging for the miners were built which generated opportunities for other businesses and individuals to profit from the boom. A need arose for a steady supply of wood to power the mills and warm the houses so Bodie's Chinese residents used mule trains to transport wood 20 miles from the sawmills along the Eastern slope to Bodie. With a population of several hundred, the Chinese created a town within a town in order to maintain their own customs and traditions and also because they were not welcomed members of white society.
Bodie's heyday was shortlived. The year 1881 saw the town in the grips of decline. The rich mines were depleted and mining companies went bankrupt as miners and business people left for more lucrative areas. By 1886 Bodie's population had decreased to 1,500 and a fire destroyed a number of homes and businesses 6 years later. New mininng innovations and the use of electricity revived the town in the 1890s but another fire in 1932 destroyed all but 10 percent of the buildings. Bodie faded into a ghost town during the 1940s and was designated a State Historic Park and a National Landmark in 1962. What remains of the town of Bodie, preserved in a state of "arrested decay," exists as it did when the last residents left. Buildings are padlocked and look like they are waiting for residents to return. Visitors can peek through windows and see the interiors maintained as they were left, still furnished and stocked with goods, providing a snapshot of the past. Its so quiet, there are no dogs, no cats, even the birdhouses are deserted.
Eventually, the passage of the Bodie Protection Act of 1994 withdrew the right of new patent or mineral claims on public lands of the Bodie District and paved the way for California State Parks to purchase the mining claims of the now bankrupt Canadian mining company, preserving this unique California treasure.
Go to the BCG Photo Album page for photos of the BCG's visit to Bodie
Go to the BCG Past Events page to learn more about the BCG's participation in promoting Bodie
Go to this link to view Huell Howser's "California's Gold" Dec. 10, 1992 episode on Bodie