Western Article
Bodie, California
Scott Gese

Bodie, California started simple

It started out simple enough, The way many western towns did in the 1800's. With the discovery of gold in California.

Western mining camps popped up wherever a few flakes were found and a couple of tents could be pitched. The Bodie mining camp was no different.

In 1859 W.S. Bodey and a few others discovered gold on the California side of the California / Nevada border, east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

The camp was named after him, but an eventual misspelling changed the name forever. As other cities around Bodie became better known, this small mining camp struggled to maintain its foothold in their shadow.

A couple of stamp mills tried their luck in Bodie, but both failed. It looked like this mining town was about to go the way of so many others, a flash in the pan and then gone, never to be heard of again.

The situation changed in 1876 when a “profitable” gold bearing ore deposit was discovered in Bodie. The small mining camp morphed into a boom town overnight. A second deposit was discovered a couple of years later and within three years of the original find, Bodie was bursting at the seams as its population increased to close to ten thousand..

Buildings were popping up faster than corn on a hot skillet. Newspapers were making wild predictions concerning future discoveries and Bodie's population swelled and the town kept expanding.

At one point Bodie consisted of no less than 9 stamp mills and over 2000 buildings. Including a bank, four fire companies, a railroad, several newspapers, over 60 saloons and one jail. The town had a red light district and a Chinatown complete with opium dens. Main street was a mile long. Murders, robberies and barroom brawls gave Bodie the reputation of a wild west town like no other.

Bodie, California died the way many western towns did in the 1800's

Bodie had certainly made a name for itself. The get-rich-quick mentality of the towns businesses ran only as deep as the men who worked the Bodie mines.

With mining towns in nearby states beginning to boom, many of the original Bodie miners packed up and moved on, even though the Bodie mines themselves were still producing.

This seemed to be a good thing for Bodie as it quieted the town down to the point where it was more conducive to a family atmosphere. In fact, in 1882, a couple of churches were even built.

By the late 1880's Bodie's population began to steadily decline and in 1892 a major fire burned down a large portion of the town. The Bodie mines began to peter out and close down. By 1910 a mere 700 people remained. By 1912 the last Bodie newspaper printed its final edition. Five years later, the bodie railway was abandoned.

In 1932 another disastrous fire destroyed much of what remained of the town.

The last mine closed in 1942 and the following year Bodie was designated an authentic western ghost town. 

Of the 2000+ buildings at its peak, about 170 remain.

Bodie, California is Reborn

At this point most towns tend to be totally abandoned and left to the elements, but fortunately for Bodie the town was registered as a historic landmark in 1961.

Bodie currently receives about 200,000 visitors a year and is administered by the Bodie Foundation. They have preserved the town in what is called “arrested decay” which means the buildings are only protected from further decay, but not restored.

Visitors can enjoy a stroll down main street as they imagine what this town must have been like 150 years ago.

The way into Bodie is a dirt road in rough condition. You might think twice before you drive your fathers Buick into town.

The road closes in winter due to heavy snowfall.

Learn more about Bodie, California