old usa western gold ghost mining town of bodie

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Bodie, California is a ghost town east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Mono County, California, United States, about 75 miles (120 km) southeast of Lake Tahoe. As Bodie Historic District, the U.S. Department of the Interior recognizes it as a National Historic Landmark. The ghost town has been administered by California State Parks since becoming a state historic park in 1962, and receives about 200,000 visitors yearly.3

Discovery of gold

Bodie began as a mining camp of little note following the discovery of gold in 1859 by a group of prospectors, including W. S. Bodey (first name uncertain).45 Unfortunately, Bodey perished in a blizzard the following November while making a supply trip to Monoville (near present day Mono City, CA), never getting to see the rise of the town that was named after him.4 According to area pioneer, Judge J.G. McClinton, the district’s name was changed from "Bodey" to "Bodie" after a painter in the nearby boomtown of Aurora lettered a sign "Bodie Stables"6 7 Gold discovered at Bodie coincided with the discovery of silver at nearby Aurora, Nevada, and the distant Comstock Lode beneath Virginia City, Nevada. By 1868 two companies had built stamp mills at Bodie, and both had failed.4


In 1876, the Standard Company discovered a profitable deposit of gold-bearing ore, which transformed Bodie from an isolated mining camp comprising a few prospectors and company employees to a Wild West boomtown. Rich discoveries in the adjacent Bodie Mine during 1878 attracted even more hopeful people.4 By 1879, Bodie had a population of approximately 5000-7000 people89 and around 2,000 buildings. One idea maintains that in 1880, Bodie was California’s second largest city,10 but the U.S. Census of that year disproves the popular tale.11 Over the years, Bodie’s mines produced gold valued at more than $34 million.12

Bodie boomed from November 1877 through June 1881.13 The first newspaper, The Standard Pioneer Journal of Mono County, published its first paper on October 10th, 1877. It started out as a weekly newspaper but soon became a tri-weekly paper.14 It was also during this time that a telegraph line was built which connected Bodie with Bridgeport and Genoe, Nevada.14 Bodie was advertised by California period newspapers as being the next Virginia City, Nevada.151617 In fact, men were lured away from Virginia City by the prospect of Bodie.18

Gold bullion from the town’s nine stamp mills was shipped to Carson City, Nevada by way of Aurora, Wellington and Gardnerville. Most shipments were accompanied by an armed guard. Once the bullion reached Carson City, it was delivered to the mint or sent by rail to the mint in San Francisco.

Geography of the boomtown

As a bustling gold mining center, Bodie had the amenities of larger towns, including two banks, a brass band, a railroad, miner’s and mechanic’s unions, several newspapers, and a jail. At its peak 65 saloons lined Main Street, which was a mile long. Murders, shootouts, barroom brawls, and stagecoach holdups were regular occurrences.19

As with other remote mining towns, Bodie had a popular, though clandestinely important, red light district on the north end of town. From this is told the unsubstantiated story of Rosa May, a prostitute who, in the style of Florence Nightingale, came to the aid of the town menfolk when a serious epidemic struck the town at the height of its boom. She is credited with giving life-saving care to many, but was buried outside the cemetery fence.20

Bodie had a Chinatown, the main street of which ran at a right angle to Bodie’s Main Street,14 with several hundred Chinese residents at one point, and included a Taoist temple. Opium dens were plentiful in this area.14

Bodie had a cemetery on the outskirts of town and a nearby mortuary, which is the only building in the town built of red brick three courses thick, most likely for insulation to keep the air temperature steady during the cold winters and hot summers.

On Main Street stands the Miners Union Hall, which was the meeting place for labor unions and an entertainment center that hosted dances, concerts, plays, and school recitals. It now serves as a museum.

[edit] Mining town
The Methodist Church
Bodie had its own gasoline stop. A Dodge Graham can be seen in the picture, among gunshots on the boards

The first signs of Bodie’s decline appeared in June 1880 and were more apparent in October-December 1880 as promising mining booms were being advertised in Butte, Montana; Tombstone, Arizona; and in Utah.13 The get-rich quick, single miners who originally came to the town in the 1870s moved on to these other booms, which eventually turned Bodie into a family-oriented community. Two examples of this settling is the construction of the Methodist Church (which currently stands) and the Catholic Church (burned in the 1932 fire) that were both constructed in 1882. With the population dwindling, the mines were flourishing, and in 1881, Bodie ore production was recorded at a high of $3.1 million.12 Also in 1881, a narrow gauge railroad was built called the Bodie Railway & Lumber Company, bringing lumber and supplies into the town from Mono Mills at Mono Lake.

In 1891-1911, Bodie had a short revival seen in industrial achievements in the mines that continued to support the town. In 1893 the Standard Company built its own hydroelectric plant, located approximately 12.5 miles (20.1 km) away on Green Creek, above Bridgeport, California. The plant developed a maximum of 130 horsepower (97 kW) and 6,600 volts alternating current (AC) to power the company’s 20-stamp mill. This pioneering installation is marked as one of the country’s first transmissions of electricity over a long distance.21

In 1910, the population was recorded at 698 people, which were predominantly families that decided to stay in Bodie instead of moving on to other prosperous strikes.


The first signs of an official decline occur in 1912 with the printing of the last Bodie newspaper, The Bodie Miner. In 1913, the Standard Consolidated Mine closed. Mining profits in 1914 were at a low of $6,821.12 James S. Cain was buying up everything from the town lots to the mining claims, and reopened the Standard mill to former employees, which resulted in an over $100,000 profit in 1915.4 However, this financial growth was not in time to stop the town’s decline. In 1917, the Bodie Railway was abandoned and its iron tracks were scrapped. The last mine closed in 1942, due to War Production Board order L-208, shutting down all gold mines in the United States. Mining never resumed.2245
Historical populations
Census Pop. ±
1880 5,417

1890 595 −89.0

1900 965 62.2%
1910 698 −27.7%
1920 120 −82.8%
Note: Population figures include a slightly wider
geographical area after 1900

The first label of Bodie as a "ghost town" was in 1915.23 In a time when auto travel was on a rise, many were adventuring into Bodie via automobiles. The San Francisco Chronicle published an article in 1919 to dispute the "ghost town" label.24 By 1920, Bodie’s population was recorded by the US Federal Census at a total of 120 people. Despite the decline, Bodie had permanent residents through most of the 20th century, even after a fire ravaged much of the downtown business district in 1932.

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