- where the West was Wildest
spirit of the "Wild West" has been one of the defining
themes of American culture - literature, film and art - for the last
150 years. But the great age of the Wild West was actually rather
short. It began around 1850, with the opening up of the American west,
but by 1900 it was over. Towns appeared one year, and disappeared a few
years later. One of the finest examples is the California "ghost town"
of Bodie, which was once said to be the wildest town in the Wild West.
Once this was one of the wildest places in the Wild West.
the second biggest city in
California is San Francisco. Once it was Bodie.
you say. "Where's that?"
question. But in 1880 in America, reactions would probably
have been very
different. Then, Bodie, with its population of over 10,000, was one of
infamous places in the whole U.S.A., reputed as the worst, most violent
most lawless town in the Wild West. Many
historians have quoted a letter from a young girl whose
parents decided to go
and live and work in Bodie; even this 12-year old knew of Bodie well by
and in her diary
"Goodbye God! I'm going to
Bodie". Bodie was "hell on earth".
1859, a gold prospector named William Body (pronounced like "roadie")
rock in a desolate part of the
California desert. Claiming the stake
in his name, he set up a base
cabin there with two friends.
it was the start of winter, Body and one of his
companions then went off to
from the nearest
shop..... about a hundred miles away.
By the time they started back however, the temperature and the
had begun to fall; and as the snow got deeper and deeper, the
harder and harder. Though the men were tough
and knew how to survive under most circumstances,
they had not reckoned
the terrible cold in the high
California desert, situated at an
altitude of over 2,500 metres. A few hundred metres from their
collapsed. His friend struggled
on to get help, but by the time
it came, the snow had covered up his tracks
Body's body was not found until the following spring.
Body never extracted a single ounce
of gold from his claim; but
since it was his claim
mining camp, then town, that grew up
on the spot got named after him.
legend, the town's name changed from Body
a sign-writer could not spell correctly. In actual fact, the
change was deliberate,
the townspeople did not want the name to be mis-pronounced.
(rhyming with "shoddy
implying a dead corpse,
sounded rather macabre!
first the town grew slowly, as there was more gold to be found in some
towns in the region, than near Bodie; besides, Bodie was such
a desolate spot
It was not until
some very rich veins of gold were discovered in 1876 that the Bodie
most gold rush towns, Bodie grew very fast, then shrank
almost as fast, as the gold ran out. Maximum size was reached in 1880,
65 saloon bars and
its own daily newspaper, in
which its violence and lawlessness were reported in fine
detail. On 5th
September 1880, for example, the Bodie
shootings, plus two hold-ups of stage
1885, the town's population had dropped to a couple of
thousand, many of the
miners having gone off to seek
better fortunes elsewhere; many
of the town's wooden buildings had been burnt down. Fire, indeed, was a
risk in Bodie's dry climate, and the town was
actually destroyed several
times in its history, the last time in 1932.
survived until then as a small town, providing
services to the local
but the 1932
fire signed the
town's death warrant
. Many of
the facilities were destroyed, as
were the homes of many of the surviving residents. After the
fire, there was
no reason for people to go on living in Bodie.
man who did most for Bodie was Jim Cain, who opened the town's first
1880. He was also one of the most successful of Bodie's miners, and as
declined, he bought most of the buildings that no-one else wanted
the principal mine.
Bodie was abandoned by its last inhabitants during the Depression of
1930's, Cain saved the town from total destruction. A watchman
at the mine, and his job was to make sure that no-one came and dismantled
the remaining wooden buildings (as happened
to so many other ghost towns).
result, the 150 buildings in Bodie that survived the fire have
as a real ghost town, until this day.
the remains of the most lawless town in the West stand exposed to the
summer sun and the cold winter frosts, as a memorial to one of
the most turbulent
ages in American history. During the short summer
season, a few adventurous
tourists drive along the unmade roads, to walk for
themselves through the
now-quiet streets of this once-active town; but most of the year, the
are quite empty, and the only noise is the whistling of the cold dry
wind as it
blows round the corners of deserted buildings
the old cemetery, just outside town,
the bodies of William Body and others who perished
now lie in peace.
journal - bearing:
territory - stores:
necessary things for the
winter - reckon with:
account of - struggle:
the snow - ounce:
grams - claim:
reserve - according to:
words of - shoddy:
quality - spot:
place - shrink:
smaller - boast:
of - stage coach:
coach - seek:
look for -
give, supply - death warrant:
death order - dismantle:
pieces - perish
for the Firefox
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Bodie - Where the West was Wildest
Say whether the
following statements are true or false.
Once its population reached about 10,000, Bodie never got any larger.
2. The Bodie gold rush began with William
3. By 1885, not much gold could be found.
4. On September 5th 1880, the stage coach
was held up twice, and three people were killed.
5. Jim Cain died before he had time to
celebrate his fiftieth birthday.
6. The watchman's job, created before the
Great Depression, was to make sure that no-one stole the remaining gold
from the mines.
7. Today Bodie has about 150 buildings
8. William Body died a few hundred yards
from his cabin.
9. Within the space of 12 years, Bodie
grew to being a big town, then returned back to its original size.
10. Today, Bodie is a major tourist
Usinfg information from this article, and your imagination, write an
article for the Bodie Standard of 5th September 1880.