Bodie California / A Visit to the Most Famous of Gold Mining Ghost Towns

California gold mining which started with the great Gold Rush of 1849 is what the history of California is all about. Ironically, the discovery of gold at Sutters Fort is what started the rush and it happened at just the time that Alta California was being handed over to the U.S. government as a result of the Mexican American War in 1848.bodie california state park

There is one old California gold mining town which probably is the best example of what an early mining camp was like. In addition to that, the site is now preserved by the California State parks system which means that it will remain there for both tourists and historians to enjoy. The town, which is now officially a ghost town, is Bodie California. Bodie is located high in the Sierra Nevada mountains on the east slop towards the state of Nevada. It’s not one of those tourist stops you’re going to just drive by. When you arrive at Bodie State Historic Park it means that you’ve purposely driven there. The area is just a few miles north of Mono Lake California, itself an interesting tourist side trip.

In the late 1850’s, a man by the name of W.S. Bodey and two partners were prospecting for gold. It was near the present day ghost town where Bodey did indeed find gold while sifting through dirt. Although W.S. Bodey knew there would be more gold to find in the surrounding hills, nothing similar to a gold rush occurred. At the time, prospectors were more interested in both Virginia City Nevada to the north and the nearby camp of Aurora. Bodie, being as remote as it was most likely had something to do with the lack of enthusiasm from outsiders. As for W.S. Bodey, he died just a year later in 1859 while lost in a blizzard while trekking back to camp with supplies bought near Mono Lake.

Prospecting continued for the next several years. The area didn’t really take off until 1876 when the Standard Company discovered a profitable deposit of gold ore. This one event more than anything transformed Bodie from an isolated gold mining camp with only a few people to a bustling gold town. The Standard Mine was the major employer by the late 1870’s. At one time Bodie had over sixty saloons and a sizable Chinese population.


The photo at right is of Bodie California circa 1890.

The area at first took on the name of Bodey’s Camp. That bodie california in 1890spelling didn’t last for long. The story of how the town ended up being spelled Bodie even though it’s name was in honor of W.S. Bodey, is tale that could only have happened in the 1800’s Calfiornia gold era. It seems that a man who owned a stable in nearby Aurora California was having a sign painted for him.

Some twenty years after W.S. Bodey found that first gold in the Sierra foothills and ten thousand people made the area it’s home. This was primarily due to the gold found by the Standard Company. Sentiment finally arrived for the founder of the camp. Nobody really had a good idea however just where the founders remains were buried. In 1871 by sheer chance his grave was located when a person was looking for a lost horse. Nothing was done until 1879, when because interest in the founder came forefront, it was decided to exhume the body. When this was completed it was somehow determined that this indeed was the body of W.S. and plans were made to rebury the body. This was planned with quite some ceremony under the direction of a group named the Pacific Coast Pioneers of Bodie. During this time of town pride, a fund of some $500 was established to commission a sculpture commemorating both the town and W.S. Bodey.

What happened next is a one of a kind story. perhaps something that coulcalifornia jubilee half dollard only have happened in a remote California gold mining town of the late 1800’s. At about this same time, news of President Garfield’s death by assassination reached Bodie. Emotions and sentiment were such that all agreed that a special inscription be placed on the new monument for the town’s founder. On the monument erected for W.S. Bodey reads the inscription, ” Erected to the Memory of James A. Garfield”. The monument with this inscription however is not on the gravesite of W.S. Bodey. The gravesite for Bodey is on a hill up above it overgrown with sagebrush. The wild west gold mining town of Bodie California therefore has the distinction of being spelled a bit different than the founders name and the monument paid for by the funds earmarked for his grave honors one of our nation’s fallen presidents.



It’s a true story and certainly so strange that it couldn’t possibly have been made up. By the year 1881, Bodie’s mine production reached $3.1 million. The gold was shipped by armed guard to the mints in Virginia City Nevada as well as the mint in San Francisco. A narrow gauge railroad was built in 1881 called the Bodie Railway & Lumber Company. The rail cars brought lumber, cord wood, and mine timbers to the mining district from Mono Mills just south of Mono Lake. In the latter part of the 1880’s many prospectors were lured away to other promising sites in Tombstone Arizona and Butte Montana. During the 1890’s, while on the decline from the peak years, Bodie was aided by advances in mining techiques but by about 1910 the town was on the final decline. During that year the population was estimated to be just under 700. The people who remained were those that decided to make Bodie their home regardless of the mining decline.

Today, Bodie California is a true ghost town by every sense of the word. By the same token we are fortunate to have it as part of the California State Parks system. While Bodie never seemed to receive the same publicity of other California mining camps, it is probably the best authentic example to visit. What remains of Bodie ghost town is now protected by being a California State Historic Park. Visitors can tour the old town site and really get a glimpse of what a roaring gold town was really like. When you see the location, it’s surprising to know that at one time some 10,000 people called it home. There is a museum and guided tours are available. All in all it’s an excellent learning experience and a great stop for the entire family.

Bodie California is located about 90 miles southeast of lake Tahoe, about 5 miles from the Nevada state line and about 10 miles north of Mono Lake California.

(Photos and images are in public domain)


The Palace of the Governors / Santa Fe New Mexico

The Palace of the Governors has always been a highlight of Santa Fe tourism, and for a good reason. It is one of the most unique structures in the United States. Located directly on the Santa Fe plaza, this historic site is in easy walking distance from many Santa Fe hotels.

The Palace of the Governors located directly on the north side of the plaza served as Spain’s official seat of government in what was called Nuevo Mexico. The adobe structure with four foot thick walls was built in the early 17th century after the founding of Santa Fe in 1610. Today, the Palace of the Governors is one of Santa Fe’s most interesting cultural museums. The building was placed on the list of National Historic Landmarks in 1960. The Palace of the Governors museum consists of period rooms. The exhibitions at the Palace tell stories of over 400 years of New Mexico history starting with Francisco Vásquez de Coronado’s 1540 expedition from Mexico into the southwest. It was Coronado’s expedition that was in search of the seven Cities of Gold and along their path came in contact with several Native American tribes such as the Zuni’s in the area of present day southwest New Mexico. Coronado and most other Spaniards in New Spain (Mexico) had heard many rumors from the Aztecs about these cities to the north built of gold. This 1540 expedition was also the first introduction of Franciscan friars into the southwest.

Another distinction for the Palace of the Governors is that it is recognized as the nation’s oldest continuously used public building. The building was constructed between 1610-1612 and features a unique combination of Spanish and Pueblo Indian design. These structures are generally referred to as adobe and are found throughout the southwest.
The Palace of the Governors also has the distinction of having served as the governmental seat for several different rulers of the territory. The Spaniards, who built the structure were obviously the first and their governor reported directly to the Viceroy of New Spain who resided in Mexico City. After the Mexican revolution in the 1820’s the building was used as the Mexican governments seat of Nuevo Mexico. After the Mexican American War in 1848, the United States occupied the building as the seat of government of the new official New Mexico Territory. At that time the territory comprised what are now the states of New Mexico and Arizona. This building served as the territorial governors palace. Today, Santa Fe still serves as the capitol of the State of New Mexico in the modern building complex just a few blocks south of the plaza.

Prior to the 2009 opening of the New Mexico History Museum, located adjacent to the Palace of the Governors, the Palace structure built in 1610 served since 1909 as New Mexico’s history museum. It was where the finest artifacts of the history of New Mexico were housed. The exhibits in the museum chronicle the entire period of first Spanish settlement in the area. What tourists in Santa Fe will also experience are the many Native Americans under the building’s front portico who sell their genuine jewelry and other art products on a daily basis. The Native vendors who sell in front of the Palace building are licensed to guarantee that what is being sold are genuine native American made items. The selection of various merchandise offered is fascinating and you don’t want to miss taking a look. The Native American vendors program assures that you are purchasing legitimate art rather than fake knock-offs. The artists come from the surrounding pueblos and this gives you a unique chance to meet the artists themselves.

The Firearms of Sharpshooter Annie Oakley

Annie Oakley no doubt gained her shooting ability while hunting as a child. Some believe her father may have introduced her to firearms at a very early age.

One story is that Annie’s first shot taken at a squirrel with her father’s old Kentucky rifle. This probably would have been before even eight years of age. Shooting contests were quite popular when Annie was young and she entered many of them. The story there is that she won so many of these contests that many of the events began to bar her from entering. It was at one these popular events that Oakley met her future husband, Frank Butler.

Annie Oakley’s Firearms

So what were the guns that Annie Oakley liked?

Many people who try to find out what models of guns Oakley employed during her long career find out that the list was quite long. Annie Oakley, the famous sharpshooter and star performer in Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West, used a wide variety of firearms during her life.

In fact, years after her life, one such gun was sold for a mere five dollars by a relative in 1940. The gun sold was a Remington Beals. The Remington Beals was a very rare rifle. Supposedly only 800 hundred were manufactured during the two year period 1866-1868. Remington actually manufactured a few different models of the Beals, such as the Navy Beals and the Army Beals, however the model that Annie Oakley was known to use was produced in this small number. The rifle was a .32 caliber, single shot gun. This particular Remington model was used by Annie Oakley often in Cody’s Wild West.

As I mentioned above, if you’re trying to figure out what that “special rifle” was that Oakley used, it’s going to be difficult.

In addition to the Remington Beals model, Oakley used a large assortment of both rifles and pistols. These include both Smith and Wesson and Colt revolvers, a large assortment of shotguns including the Hibbard double barrel and several .22 caliber rifles.

As a side note, during her long career with the Wild West, one of Oakley’s more popular shooting demonstrations while performing with Cody’s Wild West was hitting a dime tossed ninety feet away. She generally used a .22 rifle for this one. Often she reportedly used a Marlin lever action .22 caliber rifle similar to the close-up photo below right. This photo is courtesy of In regards to shotguns, there’s a story that circulated that Annie was having trouble using the shotgun and supposedly was fitted with a better model in England. It is known that in addition to the Hibbard shotgun, Annie also at one time tried Lancaster and Francotte models.

Oakley was also known to give out some of her guns as souvenirs.

Whether it was a pistol, rifle, or shotgun, the legendary Annie Oakley was masterful with them all. Some of these guns have made it back over the years to the National Firearms Museum in Washington D.C. for public display. The Garst Museum in Greenville Ohio which features the Annie Oakley Center also has some of her authentic guns on display.

My understanding is that an Annie Oakley gun is also on display at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody Wyoming.

Annie Oakley purchased a Model 3 Smith and Wesson handgun in 1888. This would have been while she was touring with Buffalo Bill. The Smith and Wesson design pioneered the use of sealed cartridges for quick loading and rapid firing. The Smith and Wesson Model 3 shown in the photo below is courtesy of There are also flyers that pop up every so often that point to Annie Oakley preferring this gun or that. Colt ran advertisements around the year 1913 regarding Oakley preferring that firearm during her daily performances. Although, by 1913 Annie had retired from the Wild West and was putting on demonstrations sporadically.

Below are links to our Trips Into History article regarding Samuel Colt, his repeating pistol invention and a family tragedy involving his brother. Also the article, The Woman Called Calamity Jane…

Samuel Colt, His Personal Successes and Trials

The Woman Called Calamity Jane

Another related and very interesting article is the story of Frank Butler and Annie Oakley, the sharpshooting duo. On our Western Trips site we also have an interesting article with photos about the 1800’s Frontier Firearms.

Annie Oakley honed here sharpshooting skills at an early age. Annie was born in 1860 and lived in poverty after her father passed away.

Annie actually began hunting and shooting at the age of eight. It was necessary in order to  support her siblings and her widowed mother.

The game she obtained from hunting around Greenville Ohio allowed her to bring in money by selling it to both restaurants and local townspeople. The story is that the proceeds from Annie’s hunting allowed her mother to pay off the mortgage on the farm. This all happened when Oakley was a mere fifteen years old.

Annie was quoted in a publication of hers “Powders I Have Used” as stating, ” When I first commenced shooting in the field in the Northern part of Ohio my gun was a single barrel muzzle loader, and as well as I can remember was a 16 bore”. She further states in ” Powders I Have Used” regarding her first guns, “My first real gun was a breech loading, hammer, 16-gauge made by Parker Brothers. I was proud of that gun. One hundred brass shells came with it. These I loaded with DuPont black powder, and continued to do so after I joined the Wild West Show, always using wads two sizes larger, so that the shot would not loosen in the second barrel”.

Concerning the various powders Annie used, she states that the first smokeless powder was called “Ditmar“. She then tested another from England which was named “Schultz“. In fact, while the Wild West was touring England, Annie’s husband, Frank Butler, went to the Schultz factory to learn more about using it. Annie Oakley was known however to try just about any new powder that came to market including a French powder when performing there. From my research it appears that the American Schultz powder manufactured by DuPont in the U.S. may have been Annie’s favorite.

Annie Oakley used many different firearms and powders during her career. There is not one firearm that Oakley used exclusively. It appears that she actually used or at least tried out almost every model gun manufactured. I’m certain she had favorites but with her sharpshooting skills she probably was a sure shot with just about any.

(Photos and images from the public domain)


Billy the Kid in Santa Fe New Mexico

Strolling around town is one the most popular things to do while visiting Santa Fe New Mexico. Historic sites and landmarks are everywhere. For those interested in old west history, one must see landmark is located just a few blocks west of the plaza. Walk west down San Francisco Street and you’ll come upon a plaque on the side of a building on the south side of the street. This plaque marks the site of an old Santa Fe jail that at one time, and probably a few times, house the infamous Billy the Kid. His real name has been disputed for over a century. Depending on the source the Kid’s real name was either Henry McCarty or William Henry Bonney. What is somewhat agreed upon is that he was born in Brooklyn New York. The other agreed upon fact is that the Kid spent his teen years living in Santa Fe.

Billy the Kid was a well known outlaw during the 1870’s who gained a lasting reputation during what was called the Lincoln County Wars between 1876-1878. Lincoln County was at the time a vast area comprising what is now southeastern New Mexico. In fact, it comprised all of southeastern New Mexico. Today, the area comprises several different counties. The Lincoln County war was essentially a bloody feud between to factions operating in the town of Lincoln. One faction which were prosperous merchants had been entrenched for years and pretty much controlled politics. They also had lucrative contracts providing the military with supplies. This was the Murphy-Dolan group. The other was the McSween -Tunstall group who were also merchants and were trying to unseat the incumbents.

Sporadic gunfire and bloodshed between the two groups went on for a long time. Both sides had hired guns in their employ. Sheriff William Brady was shot and killed during this time and the shooter was said to be Billy the Kid who was aligned with the McSween group. The Lincoln County War was thought to be the event which turned the Kid into an outlaw. Also, a lawyer named Chapman, representing the McSween group was gunned down in the streets of Lincoln allegedly by gunmen of the Murphy faction.

Eventually the Lincoln County war ended in 1878 largely by the intervention of federal troops, many of which were the Buffalo Soldiers, stationed at nearby Fort Stanton. There were many arrests of which the most notable was the arrest of Billy the Kid by then Sheriff Pat Garrett. Garrett arrested the Kid for the murder of sheriff William Brady and brought him up to Santa Fe and jailed him in the old jail which reportedly in the building pictured left. This site is also near the historic Lensic Theater on San Francisco Street.

After Billy was transported to Santa Fe where he spent three months in jail in 1880 and then sent to a town in southern New Mexico to stand trial for the Brady killing. He was found guilty and sentenced to hang. He was then transported over to Fort Sumner in Lincoln county and jailed. As the Kid had done numerous times he found a way to escape from the jail. He actually had quite a reputation for jail breaks. Once again sheriff Pat Garrett was on his trail. This culminated on July 14, 1881. on this date Billy the Kid was killed sheriff Pat Garret. There is dispute in how the Kid was killed. Was he shot in a fair fight or shot in the back? That question will probably never be answered with any certainty. What was ironic was that Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid were at one time good friends. Another ironic thing about the Kid was that while he was a hunted fugitive, many of the Mexicans in New Mexico held him in high regard and offered him assistance while on the run.

When you stroll around the adobe structured streets of Santa Fe New Mexico, you may want to see this historic site for yourself.




Santa Fe’s La Fonda Hotel and the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad

There is probably no better example of the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad’s early promotion of Santa Fe as a tourist destination than the La Fonda Hotel. Located directly across from the southeast corner of the plaza, The La Fonda Hotel, a glowing example of Santa Fe’s unique adobe architecture, remains one of Santa Fe’s busiest hotels. One of the hotel’s most famous attributes is that it is located at the end of the Santa Fe Trail. Across the street from the hotel and near the southeast corner of the plaza is a plaque demarcating the end of the Trail.

la fonda hotel santa feThere had been an inn at the current La Fonda location since early in the 1800’s. In fact, when General Kearny took over Santa Fe during the Mexican-American War in 1846, he stayed at the inn which was then named The United States Hotel. At a point years later the hotel was renamed the Exchange Hotel. Later, a group of local Santa Fe investors took over the hotel and named it La Fonda. 

Real changes came to the hotel in 1925 after it was sold to the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad. The hotel that the AT&SF bought was reconstructed in 1922 but when the railroad took ownership they expanded the building once again. By the latter part of the 1800’s the main way people traveled to the American southwest was by train and the AT&SF was the first rail line to enter New Mexico. The year was 1878. Railroads had a history of using their natural influence with travelers to promote destinations. The Southern Pacific did this with the Del Monte Hotel in Monterey California. The Northern Pacific did the same thing with it’s rail line crossing the southern end of Glacier National Park. The Canadian Pacific was quite successful promoting the natural scenic beauty of western Canada. The railroads had active advertising departments that could tap into the adventurous spirit of the turn of the century tourist.

atchison topeka and santa fe railroad engineThe AT&SF along with the hotel/restaurant management skill of the Fred Harvey Company. Fred Harvey’s company made Santa Fe their top priority. What’s interesting is that the city of Santa Fe does not lie directly the the AT&SF line but is connected to it by an eighteen mile spur line to it’s station in Lamy New Mexico. Most historians agree that besides being part of the railroad’s name. the town of Santa Fe and it’s surrounding area was the obvious area to promote. The railroad as well as The Fred Harvey Company contributed greatly to the promotion of Santa Fe as an art community. When the rail spur was completed from Lamy, artists in great numbers traveled to Santa Fe and started putting the areas scenic beauty on canvas. Additionally the railroad commissioned several artists to create artwork highlighting the unique features of the region. Adobes, mesas, mountains, beautifully colored rocks..all  the things that make Santa Fe stand out. Many of these paintings ended up adorning AT&SF stations along their line as well as the Fred Harvey restaurants and hotels. AT&SF brochures captured the architectural distinctiveness of Santa Fe as well as articles put out by the advertising department. All of this promotion resulted in more and more people traveling to the area. Many people credit both the AT&SF and Fred Harvey with literally inventing southwest tourism.

hotel la fondaAnother first for Santa Fe was the “Indian detour” escorted trips by specially equipped cars and buses. These motor tours typically started at the La Fonda Hotel lobby and took travelers to surrounding areas of interest including Indian pueblos and other scenic sights. Often there would be informative lectures about the sights to see in and around Santa Fe by well informed Indian detour guides. Many of these lectures would take place at AT&SF’s La Fonda. Indian detour was a very successful endeavor which was owned by the AT&SF and managed by the Harvey people. The highpoint of motoring lasted from the mid 1920’s through the 30’s. The start of World War Two put a halt to sightseeing tours and the improvement of roads such as with Route 66 and the fact that more and more people were driving their own vehicles started the decline of these type of ventures. Fred Harvey as many know also had great success with his Harvey motor tours at the Grand Canyon. That was another AT&SF/Harvey venture.

The AT&SF took advantage of Santa Fe’s multicultural uniqueness, both with it’s people and it’s architecture, and was very successful in urging visitors to a region they had only previously read about in the eastern papers. The railroad was responsible for the building of a burgeoning art community and also for the promotion of Indian artwork and jewelry products to the traveling public. The railroad brought a market right to the doorstep of Santa Fa natives. That doorstep as far as the railroad was concerned was the La Fonda Hotel, recognized by many as Fred Harvey’s most famous Harvey House.

What the railroad did in essence was to highlight the attributes that really were in Santa Fe and the surrounding area all along. When looking back now after over a century, the success that the AT&SF had with helping to make Santa Fe a national tourist destination is an amazing story.