In the summer of 1859, W.S. Bodey struck gold in the stark hills north of Mono Lake. Alas, the pioneering prospector froze to death that November in a blizzard less than a mile from his cabin at “Bodey’s Diggings.”

Within 20 years, Bodie (pronounced BO-dee) had struck it rich, boasting more than two dozen mines, a population of 10,000, three newspapers and, count ’em, 65 saloons.

Between 1860 and 1941, the Bodie Mining District churned out almost $100 million in gold and silver, the price of gold alone rising to $35 an ounce—more than $700 in today’s dollars.

With prosperity came growing pains, and like many Western boomtowns, Bodie became a notorious den of gamblers, whores and gunmen. En route to town with her family, one little girl famously scribbled in her diary, “Goodbye, God, I’m going to Bodie.”

Bodie’s horrendous climate, described by Mark Twain as “the breakup of one winter and the beginning of the next,” claimed as many lives as did bullets. In the heavy snows of 1878–79, scores of poorly clad, poorly housed and just plain poor new arrivals died of exposure, disease and starvation.

Falling fortunes and fires—in 1892, 1896 and 1932—finally ended Bodie’s lucky streak. The last residents moved away in the 1950s.

Designated a state historic park in 1962, Bodie stands in a state of “arrested decay,” its timeworn buildings leaning into the wind, listening for ghosts.

 

Originally published in the December 2007 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here