December 2003 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts



Memories of Bodie Christmas

by Cecile Page Vargo

        Christmas of 1859, the mining camp that was to become  Bodie was barely a glimmer in the eyes of the few prospectors that had wandered up the hills in search of gold. For Black Taylor, perhaps alone in a tiny cabin on a gulch named after him, it would have been a somber one.  Thoughts of his partner, W. S. Bodey whom he had buried in the deep snow after he collapsed and died in the fierce November blizzards, would have haunted him.  It would be May of the following year, before Taylor was finally able to return to the spot where Bodey had been abandoned.  Scattered bones were all that remained for Taylor to bury in the ground near where they were found.   As more prospectors inhabited the area, it became Bodey’s Diggings, and by July 10, 1860 , the “Body” Mining District was formed.

            In the mid 1860’s Bodie was a typical mining camp, with most of its fifty residents men who were miners.  They lived up on the hill close to the mines.  There were no stores or restaurants.  Supplies were brought in from Monoville or Aurora. One can only imagine the harsh and lonely winters these miners survived. As the mines became prosperous, the population expanded and Bodie slowly grew into a real town. 


             It was not  until 1877, that the post office, telegraph office, and newspaper arrived.  Families and children were common enough to create a school district. The Miners Union was organized and their great hall was built.  The first of what was to become many Christmas parties was held in the hall,  complete with Christmas tree, Santa, and gifts for everyone. The Christmas tree was lit with candles, while men stood by with wet sponges held on long poles, in case of fire.

            The newspaper reported of  LIVELY TIMES IN BODIE: “ Main Street has presented a lively sight during this past week.  The weather has been all that could be asked for, and out of door work has been pushed in every direction.  The stores, shops and saloons have been doing a big trade, especially in the last five days, with nearly $70,000 in miner’s wages circulating around.  Wagons, long trains and stages arriving daily with freight and passengers; interested crowds eagerly discussing the latest strike, or some new discovery; capitalists and prospectors joining forces or driving quick, business-like bargains; the rush and stir of superintendents hurrying their winter supplies to safe and convenient shelter while the favorable weather lasts; all these are the sights and sounds of a prosperous growing mining town, on a solid substantial basis.”


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My Dear Santa

We travel a few miles outside of California into Nevada to find Santa Claus  stuck in the  Bullfrog, Nevada,  jail for Christmas of 2003.   While he’s there,  perhaps he’s fondly remembering  these letters that were published in the Bullfrog Miner on December 21, 1906

“Dear Santa Claus:

         Please send me a train of cars with a track

         and some candy and orange game and a horn,

                                                                    Tom Birbeck”

 “Dear Santa Claus: 

            I would like a doll cart, set of dishes, a

            table and trunk.  I have two doll bodies without heads.

                                                                   Catherine Baird”

 “Dear Santa Claus:  

             Please send me an automobile,

             a game, 5 trains an engine, and a coal car and some

             candy and nuts and some paints and a set of tools

             a  fire team freight train and that is all.

             My P.O. Box is No. 31

                                                                       H. Hauter”

 “My Dear Santa:

              …….I  yoused to have a doll named Blanch and

              thought she was the cutest thing on earth and our

              Italian neighbor’s boy stole her but I am older now

               And don’t want no more dolls…………

                                                                        Freda G. Jackman”

 “My Dear Santa Claus.

                I love you and if you love me you will bring me

                part of Mr. Clark’s railroad track with a big toots

                engine and two three cars and a conductor mans

                cap and a nice suit of clothes and some marbles

                and some carpenter tools……..”


Thanks to author Alan Patera and his book Rhyolite, The Boom Years,  available at:


Can This Mine be Saved?
You Can Make a Difference

           Tucked away in the Sierra Nevada Mountains high above the Mono Basin is an almost completely intact mine and mill.  Legend has it that two prospectors wondered up the mountain and discovered gold, but one miner was killed in an avalanche before they could do anything with the claim. The year would have been1890, and the  original file on this claim was listed as  the Mendocino. The mine and mill were active through the 1980’s.

            Until recently, only a few tried and true ghost towners or local residents have ventured up the dusty dirt road, and explored the area. Most refused to talk much about it in fear that less mindful  people would haul everything away. Today, the Inyo National Forest and the Mono Basin Historical Society have joined hands in efforts to preserve what remains. Plans are in the making to make this area safe for general public access to this important part of California ’s mining history.  Buildings are being locked and safety hazards removed.  Plexiglas may replace glass windows for viewing the complicated mining machinery inside these buildings. Interpretive signs may be put up to help visitors identify what they are seeing.  There’s even talk that a  caretaker will stay at the site during the summer months.

            The Mono Basin Historical Society is spearheading the preservation efforts for this nearly forgotten mine and mill, but they  can’t do this alone. If enough interest from people who care about preserving our mining history is not shown, there is a possibility that these efforts will stall, and this historic site will  fall victim to the harsh winter weather and to the vandals and souvenir hunters who have discovered it.

            Please e-mail us at or contact Don Banta of the Mono Basin Historical Society (760-647-6627) or, or the Inyo National Forest (760-647-3044), if you would like to  help save this endangered mine and mill.    Volunteers are also needed to help  collect oral or written histories from old timers that actually worked in this mine.  

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Our Tours with Ecological 4-Wheeling Adventures

Our 2003 tour season is complete and we're resting!

Please check here  for our 2004 tour schedule.

Explore Historic California!

     Not too many years ago, the family station wagon was the magic carpet to adventure. Today, that family station wagon is likely to be a four wheel drive sport utility vehicle or pick up truck. SUV's and other 4x4's are one of the best selling classes of vehicles. Ironically, industry statistics show that once purchased, few owners will dare to drive their vehicles off the paved highway. Click your mouse through our website and enjoy our armchair adventures and the histories behind them. If you are interested in taking one of our guided tours with your vehicle, please visit our ECOLOGICAL 4-WHEELING ADVENTURES.

     Several years ago, we bought our first SUV. We went to a one-night class at a local community college entitled "How to 4-Wheel Drive" by Harry Lewellyn. The following weekend we attended the hands-on day tour. We liked what we were doing so much that we began going out nearly every weekend and learned how to negotiate a variety of dirt roads. Our spare time was spent doing research on the history and ecology of our favorite areas. A one-day outing turned into 15 years of leading others on mini-vacations throughout Southern California and the Owens Valley.

     Our 4WD outings involve driving on easy to moderate dirt roads and are ideally suited to novice and intermediate level drivers. All tours are suitable for stock vehicles in good condition, although some tours do have vehicle size restrictions.

     We share our knowledge of the backcountry over the CB radio with our guests. We frequently stop to explore mining areas, old and new, and ponder the rocks, plants and animals we may encounter. We'll occasionally visit an old cabin or deserted mountain lookout.

     California has a fascinating history, from geologic unrest and prehistoric petroglyph scribes to the "Radium Queen of the Mojave" and the "Human Mole of Black Mountain." Load up your 4X, fasten your seatbelts and get ready to explore historic California.

Roger, Cecile and Marty

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