June 2012 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts










Room 8-The Most Famous Cat in Los Angeles

Visit our Explore Historic California site on Facebook


Cerro Gordo is again open to day visitors, road and weather conditions permitting.

Please phone (760-876-5030) for current conditions before venturing out!

A caretaker is living on on the site and visitors must check in before venturing around the ghost town.

No supplies or accommodations are available at Cerro Gordo and visitors should bring plenty of drinking water and haul out their own trash. The dirt road from Keeler to Cerro Gordo is a steep, eight mile ascent. Four wheel drive is not usually required, but vehicles should have adequate ground clearance.

Phone 760-876-5030 for current information or contact us through email at:

Now Available

Cerro Gordo

A Ghost Town

Caught Between


Cecile Page Vargo's collection of Cerro Gordo stories, true, farce and somewhere in between, is being published in a new book, Cerro Gordo A Ghost Town Caught Between Centuries.

The book gives glimpses of Cerro Gordo from the silver and lead mining days through the early twentieth century zinc era to its modern place as, according to author Phil Varney, "Southern California's best, true, ghost town." There's even a possible solution to the location of the fabled "Lost Gunsight Mine" that former Cerro Gordo owner Mike Patterson once suggested.

We are proud to team with the Historical Society of the Upper Mojave Desert (HSUMD) in Ridgecrest, Calif., to bring Cerro Gordo A Ghost Town Caught Between Centuries to print. This is their first major publishing venture. The book is  available for sale directly from HSUMD or through selected book sellers.

Contact HSUMD directly to order:

P.O. Box 2001, Ridgecrest, CA. 93556-2001.

Phone: 760 375-8456

Email: hsumd@ridgenet.net

Mules can taste the difference--so can you

Available August, 2012


We are proud to announce Cerro Gordo, by Roger Vargo and Cecile Page Vargo, featuring images from the L. D. Gordon Collection, will be available August 20, 2012 as part of Arcadia Publishing's Images of America series.

Click the image for details!


Friends of Last Chance Canyon is a new organization interested in sustaining and protecting areas within the El Paso Mountains, near Ridgecrest, California. The main focus is preserving and protecting historic sites like Burro Schmidt's tunnel and the Walt Bickel Camp.

Please click on either logo to visit the FLCC site.

We support

Bodie Foundation
"Protecting Bodie's Future by Preserving Its Past


Click on Room 8's photo or phone

951-361-2205 for more information.


The Panamint Breeze is a newsletter for people who love the rough and rugged deserts and mountains of California and beyond.

Published by Ruth and Emmett Harder, it is for people who are interested in the history of mining in the western states; and the people who had the fortitude to withstand the harsh elements.

It contains stories of the past and the present; stories of mining towns and the colorful residents who lived in them; and of present day adventurers.

Subscriptions are $20 per year (published quarterly – March, June, September & December) Subscriptions outside the USA are $25 per year. All previous issues are available. Gift certificates are available also.

To subscribe mail check (made payable to Real Adventure Publishing) along with name, address, phone number & e-mail address to:  Real Adventure Publishing, 18201 Muriel Avenue, San Bernardino, CA 92407.

For more information about the Panamint Breeze e-mail Ruth at:  echco@msn.com

It's always FIRE SEASON! Click the NIFC logo above to see what's burning.

Visit Michael Piatt's site, www.bodiehistory.com, for the truth behind some of Bodie's myths.

Terri Geissinger is a Bodie area Historian, Guide and Chautauquan. A long time resident who lives in Bodie and Smith Valley, she is dedicated to preserving stories of the pioneer families, miners, ranchers and teamsters. Click the photo for information on her tours with the Bodie Foundation.

Credo Quia Absurdum




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 the website and enjoy our armchair adventures and the histories behind them.



The First Families of Bodie

by Cecile Page Vargo

Composite panorama of Memorial Day Weekend snowfall covering Bodie, May 25, 2012.

The dark clouds and brief snow that came to Bodie, California on Memorial Day Weekend, 2012, gave way to sunshine and nice weather by the actual Memorial Day holiday, allowing a trio of modern Bodieites to take a day off to head to the neighboring ghost town of Aurora, Nevada, for explorations.

Composite panorama of Aurora, Nevada, town site. Most of the remaining structures were demolished for their bricks after WW II.

Following a visit to the nearly extinct town site and the remnants of a ball mill, a visit to the cemetery was in order. Fresh flags were put on Civil War veterans graves. The war never reached the far west and the likes of the mining camps of Bodie and Aurora, but many a man wound up trading his blue or grey uniform and rifle for a rugged pair of Levi Strauss jeans and perhaps a red shirt, a gold pan, a pick axe and a shovel in search of  the earth’s riches. Those who weren’t successful or suited to mining, provided other services and supplies that the camps needed.  One such man, was Elijah Butler, of Wisconsin, who fought with the Union Army. While flag was placed on his grave, his tombstone begged to tell a story.

Elijah Butler's grave in the old cemetery at Aurora, Nevada. The monument is inscribed; "ELIJAH G. BUTLER PVT Co G 3 Wis Cav Civil War 1843 1868."

Several days after the visit to the isolated cemetery in the high desert just a few miles past the Nevada  border, Elijah Butler’s story and that of his family began to unfold in the old history books of the mining camps. As the youngest child of the Daniel Butler family Elijah chose to side with the North in the hard fought battle between the United and Confederate States. His father, Daniel, age 51, enlisted and fought beside him. When the war ended, Elijah decided to join his family in Bodie.

Elijah’s brothers, Wilson and Benjamin Butler arrived in the crude mining camp from the booming town of Aurora in 1863 where they had a successful blacksmith business. With them came their sister Elizabeth Anne Butler Kernohan, who would become the first white woman among the rough and tumble miners. She came from Placerville (Hangtown), Calif., where she had lived for two years with her husband Robert Kernohan, and her nine month old daughter Helen Anne Kernohan, the first child to arrive and live in Bodie.

Elizabeth missed her sister, Marietta, who resided in Indiana, and wrote a chain of letters to convince her to come out west and join them. While Elijah and father, Daniel were in the midst of the Civil War battles,  Marietta took her sister up on the offer and traveled to Bodie.  She met and fell in love with Rodger Horner, marrying him in Aurora three years later on December 8, 1867. They moved to Bodie to be with the rest of the family, and Marietta gave birth to the first child to actually be born in the camp on April 3, 1869. This child was named Daniel after his grandfather.

Rodger Horner had been in the area briefly before the Civil War, then headed back to his home state of Wisconsin to serve in the Union army, then back to Aurora and Bodie. These few families lived amongst the miners, struggling to make some semblance of social life and home in a harsh and isolated high altitude environment, where supplies were hard to come by. 

Robert Kernohan, Rodger Horner and the Butler men managed to successfully keep the mines in Bodie alive in the early sixties, along with a handful or more of men who worked various claims together in the long and slow number of years before the less than promising Bunker Hill claim caved in with riches of gold and silver and the camp grew to a thriving metropolis.  Horner was a skilled miner from his hometown of Potosi, Wisconsin, and would have passed his knowledge and skills on to others.

Wilson Butler operated the first blacksmith shop in Bodie, and Kernohan served as mining recorder. The men owned several profitable mining ventures that relocated and incorporated under various names over the years. Elijah Butler, along with Kernohan and Horner relocated the old Columbus Lode as the Savage in 1867, and before that they located the Great Western, both on High Peak.  The May, 1868, Esmeralda Union reported that Robert Kernohan, Dan Olsen, and Company had made rich strikes in a small ledge. Eight ton of ore was piled up glistening with native gold, unable to be transported to their arrastra on Rough Creek due to deep snow and mud.

The successes the first families made in the mines in May 1868 was overshadowed by the tragic death of Elijah in early January of the same year. Elijah was a beloved member of the Butler family, and well liked by the communities of Bridgeport, Bodie and Aurora. On Monday January 6, 1868 he was at the Bridgeport office of George Whitman preparing to go back home to Bodie after time spent working at one of the Bridgeport saw mills with his oxen. The oxen had escaped and he was prepared to look for them at Mormon Ranch along the way. Mr. Whitman noted that Elijah had gunny sacks wrapped around his feet, and a pair of snow shoes with no straps to prevent his heels from slipping off. Whitman urged Elijah to change his socks, and asked if he was going to attempt walking the entire twenty  miles from Bridgeport to Bodie in one day, which indeed he did. Two days later his body was found frozen in position so badly that it had to be thawed in a tank of cold water before being placed in a coffin.

The Esmeralda Herald, January 11, 1868:

 “FROZEN TO DEATH – On Wednesday last, the 8th inst., the body of  Elijah G. Butler was found about one mile and three-quarters from Bodie. The last that was seen of him while alive was at Bridgeport, on Monday morning, when he left that place in search of some of his work oxen, and it is therefore a matter of doubt how long he suffered or when he died. When found he was in a posture that would indicate that he had become exhausted from fatigue and had sunk to rise no more. It would appear that he was conscious of freezing, as he had cut his boots off and wrapped one foot up in his blanket, which he had torn to strips; the other foot was entirely bare and showed that he had been travelling in the snow.  The deceased was a native of Wisconsin and had served a term of three years in the 3rd regiment of cavalry from that state; he had been in several hard fought battles, and upon receiving his discharge, came to this place where two of his brothers are now residing. Two of his sisters reside at Bodie. He was in his 25th year, and has been cut down in the midst of his usefulness, and his untimely death is deeply lamented by is relatives and the community at large…”

 The early pioneer families of Bodie hung on, and continued to make their living in mining,

Elizabeth Anne Butler Kernohan

(Courtesy Wedertz family and Terri Lynn Geissinger)

blacksmithing, carpentry, freighting, logging and more. The Butler women managed to keep house, and raise their children and become prominent women in society as the town waxed and waned with the tides of the ore veins. Elizabeth would suffer more tragedies over the years, as she lost her husband, Robert Kernohan to tuberculosis.

She went on to marry Almond Huntoon and  together they ran the Booker Flat Hotel at the south end of town. Almond also suffered from illness which led him to commit suicide to relive his turmoil. Her third husband was a successful miner, carpenter and teamster named Jesse McGath. The prosperity Elizabeth and McGath enjoyed, was celebrated with the building of one of the finest homes in Bodie. This house was built in 1879 and decorated with the finest furnishings of the day. Banker, J. S. Cain eventually bought the house, and it still stands (as the J. S. Cain house) in Bodie State Historic Park.

Marietta Butler Horner, mother to first child born in Bodie, was noted for her seamstress skills. As she sat at her

Marietta Butler Horner

(Courtesy Mono Co. Historical Society and Terri Lynn Geissinger)

machine, the local Indian women would bring calicos to her and ask her to “grind” out a dress for them. They were certain she had magical powers. Marietta’s husband honored her by naming one of his later mines “The Minnie” after her. The Mono Alpine Chronicle of 1878 listed Rodger Horner amongst a handful of successful men “who should never be forgotten as long as anyone enjoys the blessings of wealth or remunerative employment drawn directly from Bodie mines.”

Wilson Butler earned the distinction of being the oldest resident of Bodie just before he died in 1896. His blacksmith shop, the first in Bodie, offered everything from farrier work to wagon repair. He also made iron fences for grave sites, the pointed iron pickets of which, were often stolen for handy tools. The rich vein, Lucky Rodge, that Wilson and Ben Butler, and Dan Olsen discovered on High Peak in 1878 and his brother in law’s mine, The Minnie were among those sold to make up the Bodie Bluff Consolidated Mining Company. The Lucky Rodge created a sensation upon discovery when certain specimens assayed  at $40,000 a ton. Out of the hands of the original pioneer family owners, the high assays of the Lucky Rodge were used to attract investors and gamblers and was never profitable.  

The names of the early pioneer families are often eclipsed by the more familiar names and stories that are told by modern Bodie interpreters, but the thriving boomtown that Bodie became during the years of the mid 1870s -1880’s is a tribute to their perseverance and blood, sweat and tears, and are of equal importance. Those that follow the Butler, Horner, and Kernohan families even through the ghost town years of the once crude mining town are forever indebted  to these hearty soles who followed a dream and dared to keep it alive.

The former McGath home is now referred to as the J. S. Cain house. It is one of the most photographed and recognizable of Bodie's remaining structures.




Bodie 1859-1900

by Frank S. Wedertz

Community Printing and Publishing

Bishop California, 2003


Images of America: Bodie 1859-1962

by Terri Lynn Geissinger

Arcadia Publishing, 2009




explorehistoricalif.com Copyright © 2012, All Rights Reserved.                           Powered by ebray.net