Saturday, October 23, 2010

Looking into the Past 2


If history were a photograph of the past it would be flat and uninspiring. Happily, it is a painting; and, like all works of art, it fails of the highest truth unless imagination and ideas are mixed with the paints.
Allen Nevins

A bit of change of pace, because it is so interesting I am going to let Michael H. Piatt's words tell about Bodie:

In 1859 four prospectorsdiscovered gold in a shallow California valley north of Mono Lake, where tales of riches had drawn them from their homes in the Mother Lode region. Joined by other gold hunters they mined briefly, until an unexpected November blizzard overtook the remote mining outpost and killed one of the discoverers. W.S. Bodey's wintry death gave the diggings its name. The spelling changed when a painter in the nearest town lettered a sign "Bodie Stables," and area residents thought it looked so much better than other phonetic variations that by 1862 "Bodie" had become the district's accepted name.1

Several financially backed companies acquired claims at Bodie, but by 1868 they had abandoned their mines along with the district's first two stamp mills.

Bleak terrain and meager returns prevented even the glimmer of gold from attracting much interest, and Bodie District languished for the next seven years, yielding only enough yellow metal to tempt a few hopeful prospectors and sustain a scattering of destitute miners. Some steadfast inhabitants washed placer gravel, while the most hearty drove tunnels or sunk shafts to follow low-grade quartz veins into the earth. Then in 1875, a mine called the Bunker Hill caved, exposing an ore body that attracted San Francisco speculators. One group of capitalists purchased the claim and organized a company that set up industrial-scale mining. Their gamble paid off. The Standard Company produced $784,523 in gold and silver bullion during 1877 and rewarded stockholders with four consecutive monthly dividends.

The company's good luck sent shock waves through the mining world and attracted hundreds of fortune seekers. The newcomers built a scruffy, ramshackle town while distant speculators organized companies and sold stock to eager investors. Two bonanza veins in the Bodie Mine, followed by the discovery of the incredibly rich Fortuna Lode and the vast Main Standard Ledge, convinced stockholders and hopeful arrivals that opportunity awaited. Based on overoptimistic reporting, everybody believed that Bodie's ore sprang from a colossal vein, similar to the Comstock's Big Bonanza. This lode, experts theorized, stretched two miles from Bodie Bluff, passed through High Peak and Silver Hill, then pinched out somewhere below Queen Bee Hill. Although most Bodie mines had yet to produce profitable ore, investors from San Francisco to New York City poured money into companies that spent with abandon to reach greater depths. By late 1878, twenty-two mines sported expensive steam-powered hoisting machinery to bring riches to the surface, and the booming town's startup newspaper cried: "Ho for Bodie!"

People of all descriptions poured in to Bodie, each hoping to find a fortune. Their excitement gave rise to one of the West's wildest boomtowns, earning the nascent community a reputation for frontier violence that rivaled Tombstone, Deadwood, and Dodge City. "Saloons and gambling hells abound," reported San Francisco's Daily Alta California in June 1879. "There are at least sixty saloons in the place and not a single church."

Tall tales about "The Bad Man from Bodie" entertained readers nationwide, while seemingly daily stories of stagecoach holdups, shootouts, saloon brawls and other forms of deadly mayhem almost eclipsed reports of developments in the mines. "Goodbye, God; we are going to Bodie ..." was the bedtime prayer of a sweet little San Jose 3-year-old after she learned her family was moving to Bodie. An annoyed Bodie editor retorted that the girl had been misquoted. What she really said was "GOOD. By God we are going to Bodie ..."4Miners, tradesmen, businessmen, wives and others, some desperate, all hopeful, flooded into the booming town until mid-1880, when residents estimated the population had grown to 7,000 or 8,000 and Main Street stretched more than a mile. Bodie also boasted a brass band, two banks, a Chinatown and a red-light district.

So Bodie has a rich history. Supposedly some it's residents are still hanging out there. Since we're so close to Halloween I'll share those stories next.

Here's another piece of history instead of music, a 50 year old documentary on Bodie.

Ghost Town: Bodie, Part 1 of 2:


1 comment:

susanna said...

Very interesting post. It's amazing to think how quickly towns grew on rumours and speculation and the dreams for a prosperous future and then how quickly they died. Thank you for writing the setting for a good ghost story.

And I really like your photographs here.

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