“Goodbye God! We’re going to Bodie.”
High in the desert hills, east of the Sierra, ghosts of the Old West still live in Bodie. Dry wind blows the tattered curtains of houses and caskets remain waiting in the morgue on Main Street for the next victim of a shooting. Bodie is today the best place in California to experience what life was like the last of the old-time mining camps.
And wild it was. It was reported that there were fights and shootouts almost every night in this bad town. A Truckee newspaper printed the prayer of a little girl whose family was bound for Bodie: “Goodbye God! We’re going to Bodie.”
This remote, barren place was discovered by Waterman S. Bodey. In 1848 he left his wife and six children in Poughkeepsie, New York, to sail around the Horn and head for the California gold fields.
After ten years of working the gulches of the Mother Lode, Bodey hit pay dirt on a barren bluff eight miles southwest of Aurora. He and his partners built a cabin at the claim site but Bodey never lived to make his fortune – dying in an early season snowstorm less than a mile from his cabin.
In the summer of 1860 shacks began to spring up beneath the mines of Bodie Bluff (the spelling of the town’s name was changed to avoid mispronunciation). By 1877, investors began pouring into the town, bringing mining camp men in by the thousands. Newspapers began promoting the area has having the richest gold mine in the world. Soon, many Bodie-bound stages arrived crammed with ladies ready to sell their ‘merchandise’. There were also gamblers, hustlers, professional men, saloonkeepers, and more wives and children than should have been in such a place.
At 8,374 feet in elevation, Bodie is in a range of barren, windswept hills with little vegetation, except for sagebrush. During it s heyday there was no hospital, little law and almost no government. The only comfortable places to go were the dance-houses, gambling halls and saloons. At its height, Bodie had 50 saloons along Main Street and a cast of characters that would inspire Hollywood’s wildest scripts. By 1879, nearly 10,000 people called Bodie their home.
By 1882 the Bodie boom as over. Some 21 million dollars worth of bullion had been taken from the hills. The population dwindled and Bodie barely stayed alive into the 1950’s. Since there were no moving companies out there – people just filled up would they could in their wagon or truck and left the rest behind.
Although only about 5% of the buildings survived, there are still many standing. What remains has been maintained as a State Historic Park with much of Bodie retaining its frontier aura. Today, Bodie is probably the most authentic ghost town left in the West and is truly the last of the old-time mining camps.
Bodie is located 7 miles south of Bridgeport and 19 miles north of Lee Vinning. From Highway 395, head east on Bodie Road (270) for 13 miles (the last 3 miles are dirt) to Bodie. There is no over-night camping allowed near Bodie. Motels are available in Bridgeport and Lee Vining. The Bodie Road is usually open from Memorial Day through September (closed in the winter).