By Len Wilcox
In the shadow of the Eastern Sierra Nevada, north of Mono Lake between Lee Vining, California, 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.
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 testament 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 and it became a California Historical Landmark, a State Historic Park and a National Historic Landmark, in addition to being named as California’s official state gold rush ghost town.
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.
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