Welcome to Bodie, or rather to what remained of the gold-mining town in the hills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Mono County, California.
Bodie was named after Waterman S. Bodey who discovered gold here in 1859. It’s not certain how the spelling of the town’s name came about. Some sources attribute it to an illiterate sign painter. Others claim the spelling was deliberately changed by the citizens to ensure proper pronunciation.
In 1861 a mill was established here and the town began to grow. It started with about 20 miners. Due to other strikes in the area Bodie’s development started very slowly, but it eventually boomed. By 1879 Bodie was a thriving, bustling place, containing some 600 to 800 buildings and a population of about 10,000 people. But with the growth of the population also grew the town’s bad reputation for wickedness and bad men.
Bodie was considered one of the most violent and lawless towns in the Wild West. Killings, staged robberies and street fights occurred almost every day. At some point there were about 65 saloons in town, numerous brothels, gambling halls and opium dens. The story goes that one little girl, whose family was taking her to the infamous town, wrote in her diary: “Goodbye God, I’m going to Bodie.” The phrase became known throughout the West. Bodie had a bad climate reputation too: melting hot summers and savage winters, with winds that can sweep across the valley at close to 100 miles per hour.
The town’s downfall came when an earthequake caused the main vein to move and it was decided it would be too much trouble and cost to relocate it. Then, in 1892 a disastrous fire struck, followed by another devastating one several years later that destroyed much of the town. Although some mining continued, Bodie was already dying. Its citizens were leaving. The town’s decline was also accelerated by the Prohibition and the Depression. By the 1950s all the mining ceased and Bodie became a ghost town. In 1962, after years of neglect, the Ghost Town of Bodie was declared a California Historic Site.
They say that some $75million in gold was taken from Bodie Butte, but there is still as much gold under Bodie as it was taken out. However, the tunnels and shafts have been filled with water and the cost of mining would exceed the gold’s present day value. So for now, the gold will probably stay where it is.
Today, there are only 168 remaining structures in Bodie, but the town is one of the most authentic gold-mining towns of the Old West. Even though it is a dusty, slow and bumpy road to Bodie from the State Highway 395, it’s surprising how many people come to visit the ghost town every year.