“They came in search of gold and dreams of a better life, and here they remain.” ~Loni Patterson
The year was 1859 and gold was not as plentiful as reports had indicated. All the easy placer gold on the western slope of the sierra was long gone, picked clean by the 49ers. The California gold rush was still luring prospectors with the possibility of hitting the mother lode and striking it rich. Then word came to the mining camps that gold was struck in Bodie! People of every sort packed up, lock, stock and barrel and headed for the eastern slope of the Sierra, to the Comstock Lode to seek their fortune.
We must have passed the sign a dozen times over the years: Bodie 13 miles. We always said, “We’ll have to go to Bodie one of these days.” Well, “one of these days” finally came and we visited Bodie. The first ten miles of paved road got us past the point of no return. We couldn’t change our minds now. Not after we’d come so far. So we drove our up-to-this-point-clean Avalon over the washboard dirt road for the next three miles, dodging pot holes and small boulders. We were not disappointed when the ghost town of Bodie came into view. I was expecting a dozen or so remnants of a cowboy town. What we saw was a hundred or more buildings including an entire main street with several saloons, hotels, hardware stores, fire house, churches, a school and dozens and dozens of homes. Astonishingly, the buildings remaining are only 5% of what once stood on the site in 1880 when the population was 10,000 people. We took a walking tour through the town. I recommend the tour booklet (available for 2 bucks) which includes a map and a paragraph of history about many of the buildings.
With the discovery of gold, the town of Bodie sprung up overnight. Gold was being extracted from hard rock mines where the gold is encased in quartz veins deep within the earth. To reach these veins, miners had to sink shafts deep into the ground and work thousands of feet below the surface. Miles of tunnel were dug underground and shored up with timber from the nearby mountains. Miners blasted and dug their way through the mountain, and descended in cage-like elevators, to fill buckets and ore cars with quartz rock. The work was dangerous. Cave-ins, explosions, toxic fumes, and flooding injured and killed many. The mine produced about a hundred million dollars in gold.
Miners, not exactly known for their thrift, would emerge from the mines and proceed to drink away their day’s wages. Bodie had 65 saloons and many brothels in its heyday. It was notorious for wickedness, bad men and “the worst climate out of doors”. One little girl, whose parents were headed for Bodie, wrote in her diary “Good-bye God, I’m going to Bodie.”
Most folks brought by the lure of gold did not strike it rich, but became merchants, hotel keepers and civic leaders. They earned their living providing a service in their community. With the closing of the mines at the onset of World War II, the school and the post office were also soon closed and the last residents left town. The buildings remain in a state of “arrested decay” each with a rich history of the people who lived, worked and raised their families. And many of them are laid to rest in the Bodie cemetery.
(Thank to my wonderful husband, John Paladini, for this post.)