The Town That Man Could Neither Tame Nor Sustain ~ Bodie, CA

“And now my comrades all are gone; naught remains to toast.  They have left me here in my misery, like some poor wandering ghost.”  ~  unknown

1927 Dodge Graham sitting next to Bodie’s gas station

Bodie, the best preserved ghost town in California, perhaps even in the country, was once a bustling gold-mining town, but soon became the town that man could neither tame nor sustain, as you will soon see.

Approximately 75 miles southeast of Bridgeport, at an elevation of roughly 8400 feet, Bodie began her existence in 1859 after prospector W. S. Bodey discovered gold near Bodie Bluff.  Sadly he did not have the chance to see his namesake erected, as he lost his life in a blizzard before the town’s foundation was laid, or so the story goes.  And no, I did not misspell Bodey’s last name. Credit for the town’s name being spelled differently will have to go to the painter who erected the “Bodie Stables” sign.

Long, bumpy, dusty road leading into Bodie

As we have read in the history annals, times were tough back then, and Bodie was no exception, the extreme temperatures being one of the major obstacles – blazing hot in the summer, well below zero in the winter, with strong winds whipping across the plains.  If that were not enough reason to label life as challenging, just walking across Main Street could shorten your life, or at a minimum cause a debilitating injury thanks to the 65 saloons lining this mile-long street in her heyday.  Yep, Bodie was about as wild and lawless as they come.  Barroom brawls, shootouts, robberies and murders were commonplace and the red light district and opium dens were plentiful, debauchery enough to spread around!

Methodist church
Kitchen in “arrested decay”

Lest you think that this was all Bodie had going for it, not so.  At its peak, with about 10,000 residents, 2000 buildings in town, and the Standard Consolidated Mine running at full tilt, Bodie was a town of many amenities – a Wells Fargo bank, four fire stations, a railroad, several newspapers, miner’s union, and one jail (probably could have used a few more of these).   Telegraph lines connected Bodie with Bridgeport and Genoa, Nevada. Life looked promising or did it?

Standard Consolidated Mine

As early as 1880, when mining booms began developing in Butte, Montana, Tombstone, Arizona, and parts of Utah, the men of Bodie began to be lured away and Bodie’s reputation for being a rough-and-tumble booze-swilling town settled into that of a family community, with schools and two churches being erected. The Methodist Church still stands today and, should you have a mind to be wed in this ghost town, that can be accommodated.

Lovely cornices still remain
J. S. Cain residence

Bodie enjoyed a brief revival until ~1912, which was when the last newspaper was printed and the Standard Consolidated Mine followed the winding down of the town by closing its shafts in 1913.  The hardiest of souls stayed on through most of the 20th century.

Wells Fargo bank vault
Machine shop

Enter James S. Cain, a man intent on resurrecting Bodie.  He bought up much of the land around town but even this could not save her so instead he turned his attention to hiring caretakers to ensure Bodie’s buildings were not vandalized. Although only ~5% of the town’s buildings remain, his efforts may have had an impact in salvaging these.  Bodie could now be classified as the “real deal” Wild West gold-rush ghost town.

Peek into my window
Bodie hillside

Today Bodie is maintained by the California State Parks system. Self-guided tours allow you to peek into windows and walk through some of the buildings, which remain intact just as they were left, stocked with goods and personal family items, all in a state of “arrested decay“.  Wander into the Bodie Museum/Visitor Center and you will find many interesting artifacts, as well as a t-shirt you can buy that reads “Goodbye God, I’m going to Bodie”.  Legend has it that these very words were found in a young girl’s diary whose family moved her from San Francisco to Bodie.

Common homestead

I have read that there is still as much gold sitting underneath Bodie as has been removed.  Perhaps time for a resurrection?  Probably not as this is the town that man could neither tame nor sustain. 

View of Bodie from cemetery

Although we are no longer on our road trip and will be wintering in Southern California, I will be creating some posts from our past adventures, a little blast from the past. 

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43 thoughts on “The Town That Man Could Neither Tame Nor Sustain ~ Bodie, CA

  • Fantastic post, Lu. I love what you did with the photos; very clever. Thank you for sharing. I’m glad you were able to get there to see it.

    • I have learned most everything I know from you. Although my photos don’t compare, nor my writing, I do thank you for all the pointers you have given me. Hope your ankle has improved. 🙂

  • Love the photo’s. I went to Bodie when I was young. It was my family and two of my cousin’s from out of state. Mom rode in the back of the camper with me, my two siblings, and the cousins. It was a long and wash boarded road to get there, very long and the camper was very noisy rolling down that dirt road. From where I sat I was not able to see much of the terrain and it seemed like we were a very long way from civilization which added to the mystique of the experience. I must have been about 6 years old about 1965ish. Once we finally got there (which seemed like hours on that dirt road) the family toured the town. It left a big impression on my young mind. It was the first ghost town that I remember visiting. I was baffled by the way the town was left, as if the residents were in the middle of the dinner, table set and everyday life abandoned. Then the town people just left! I have to believe that my family also added to the mystery of Bodie with tales of ghosts and lost people. My imagination ran wild. I don’t remember much of that time in my life but I will never forget how that first ghost town peaked my interest in learning about the history of ghost towns, I have been to many now and if I get a chance will visit many more. I went back a few years back and although it was a great experience, it was not as “haunted” as I believed back then. Thanks for the memory just in time for Halloween! lol

  • What a clever way to display your photos. So appropriate for the topic.
    Thanks so much for the history lesson. We drove near Bodie but did not stop. I enjoy learning about anything dealing with our great country.

  • Since we’re not likely to make it there, I have an extra dose of appreciation for your description and moody photos. Seems like quite an experience. Thank you!

    • I’m glad you got to visit. I am surprised that they were closing for the season as my husband specifically asked when their season ended and the ranger who was working said they are open all year. We found that hard to believe given what kind of weather they can get.

  • I looked at your link for Bodie thinking I might want to go there. No wonder it is a ghost town! Temperatures in winter frequently below 0, 100 mile per hour winds and elevation above 8,000 ft.
    Great pictures, now I don’t need to go.

    • When we were out there we were told by the ranger that they are open all year. One of my recent commenters said she was there on 10/29, which was the last day of the season. It would make sense to me that they close in the winter, given the extreme weather. It is a long bumpy road to get out to Bodie. Glad you enjoyed the pictures. 🙂

  • What a wonderful guide you are both pictorial and narrative, I really enjoyed this trip through Bodie, very creatively done and a pure pleasure to read LuAnn.

  • The quote you put in the beginning reminds me of “The Parting Glass” for some reason. Great pictures. I like the one of the decaying kitchen best.

  • Thank you for taking me to these charming places in your country that I have never heard of and will likely never visit! The sepia photos really work well with the narrative.:-)

  • Ow, I read Mike and Lindy’s post first about Bodie. You guys are killing me with all these great travel finds and adventures. How I wish to be out there easily like you guys do. After reading two awesome posts about this place, I definitely have to go. Where is this anyway? Way up noth that I have to drive long hours? Hehe.

    • Well it would be a bit of a drive from Ventura, I’m guessing about 400 miles, up in the Eastern Sierras. If you ever find yourself in that part of CA, it is a must-see but probably not in the winter unless you like really cold weather. 🙂

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