German immigrant, Eli Johl, co-owned one of Bodie’s two
butcher shops along with Charles Donnelly during the famous mining
town’s heyday in the 1880’s.
While Donnelly worked behind the counter, Eli butchered the meats.
The Bodie Evening Miner reported of the Easter Sunday Eli
devoted his holiday to dressing 15 hand raised gentle natured steer from the great ranges of
Smith Valley, for the Union Market’s customers the following
Monday. Eli was also
noted for tackling the not
so gentle wild steer from Kirman & Rickey’s slaughter house
corral a few months before Easter actually arrived. The steer, apparently determined that he should not be killed
during the Lent season, enabled
by a corral full of several inches of snow, jumped the fence. At
least 17 dogs, and untold numbers of men and boys escorted him up and down the streets of town several
times unable to retrieve him. During
the chase, Mr. Steer ran across a laundry man, apparently mistaking
the poor Chinaman for a beefeater.
The Chinaman, attacked the steer with his laundry basket;
causing the wild steer to be thrown by the deep snow.
As the Chinaman escaped, Eli, who had been busy slaughtering
the steer’s brethren, arrived on the scene and shot the renegade
steer, butchering him right
then and there on the streets of Bodie.
Reportedly, Eli’s “knife flew around that beef like a
cooper around a barrel” and hung the steer where the dogs
couldn’t reach him.
Obviously a rough, yet
simple man, Eli Johl was a bachelor, who spent
his time away from the butcher shop, frequenting the dance
halls and saloons that
lined Main Street.
He enjoyed whirling around the dance floor with the fancy
girls, then going off into the night with them to be entertained at
the high classed brothels. He
had his eye on one particularly attractive and lively dancer in one
of the halls, and was more often than not caught just staring at her
as she danced with her many admirers.
Lottie was the name of the woman that Eli couldn’t keep his
eyes off of, and he was sure he was in love with her.
He began showering her with not only his attention, but gifts
and money as well.
Born on a farm in Iowa, Lottie had
married, given birth to a daughter, then divorced, for
whatever reasons, which
in the 1800’s was not at all a respectable thing for a woman to
do. With little skills,
and few opportunities to support herself, she left the child, and
eventually arrived by stagecoach
in the red light district of Bodie.
She possibly worked either in the Highgrade or the Ozark, the
better houses of Virgin Alley and Maiden Lane.
In spite of her chosen profession, Lottie appeared to be a
decent woman, of merry and gentle disposition.
Eli Johl knew that Lottie was employed in a house of
ill repute, but he loved and respected her enough to ask her
to marry him. Having
lived a life where she
had never known true love, it took her awhile to
accept his proposal, but at last she did.
The butcher and the soiled dove of Bodie were legally
married, much to the chagrin of the prim and proper women in town.
Unfortunately, amongst those prim and proper women was Annie
Donnelly, the wife of Charles Donnelly, Eli’s business partner.
Certainly her husband could not remain partners with someone
who was bold enough to marry a woman with Lottie’s past.
However, the butcher partnership was stronger than Mrs.
Donnelly’s ability to undermine it.
Determined that his new bride would have nothing but the
best, Eli bought Lottie a five room cottage near his butcher shop,
on Main Street, and filled it
with the finest furnishings. To celebrate their home and their love,
they decided to have a party. Friends were invited, and Lottie excitedly prepared the meals
they would serve, sure that everyone would attend.
As the evening of the party wore on,
no guests arrived. Annie
Donnelly had convinced everyone in town that a former prostitute did
not deserve to have a fine and normal life as they had, so no one
had dared to show up. Lottie, of course, was heartbroken.
historian Terri Geissinger as Lottie Johl during Living
The Johl’s kept to themselves and tried to live a quiet
normal life, just the two of them.
Eli went back and forth to the butcher shop each day,
and came home to a
loving wife. The two of
them would enjoy their suppers together and try to forget about
having friendships. Yet
Lottie grew lonelier and lonelier, in spite of their love.
Eli realized his wife needed something to do other than sit
and look out the living room window during he day. He knew that Annie Donnelly was famous for her oil paintings
and taught others how to paint as well.
Surely, if his
business partner’s wife could paint, his own wife could do so, and
perhaps she could do better. He
purchased paint supplies for Lottie and she tried her hand at
painting. Before you
know it their house was filled with her beautiful paintings, but no
one would see them except the two of them, for no one in town would
forget what she had done with her life before she had married.
Mining towns often
enjoyed grand balls and celebrations to brighten up the drudgery of
day to day life. When
the Bodie Miners Union
Hall posted announcements of a masquerade ball, Eli Johl saw this as
an opportunity to show the town that his wife, Lottie, was as good
as any of them. From San Francisco, he ordered
a white satin dress decorated with seeds and imitation
pearls, and a crown to match. He
presented it to her and sent her to the ball, surely the most
beautiful woman Bodie had ever seen, in the finest costume
available. So no one
would recognize her, Eli stayed home and waited to hear her glowing
Lottie had a beautiful
evening, dancing and dancing to her hearts content, as she had
always loved. Everyone
agreed she was the most beautiful of all, and the appointed
committee announced her as the winner of the most outstanding
costume as the night wore on. Slowly, Lottie slipped off her mask,
and everyone in the room gasped as they saw her face.
The man who had been dancing with her recognized her from his
past and he left her standing alone on the dance floor. Two men came over and whispered something into Lottie’s ear
and she ran out of the ballroom.
Eli was furious when he found out what the town had done to
Lottie, but she no long cared. Respectable
people would never accept a prostitute.
They learned to live a quiet lonely life, sharing their deep
love for each other in the solitude of each others company, until
Lottie became ill a few years later.
A doctor was called in to examine her, and a prescription was
ordered. Eli gave Lottie
the medication, but she her condition became much worse. In 24 hours Lottie Johl, died.
Even in her death, poor Lottie could not escape the towns
gossip. Everyone was
sure that she had committed suicide. Sure his beloved wife would
never kill herself, in spite of her unhappiness, he demanded an
autopsy on her body. The
results of the autopsy proved that she had been poisoned, but
officials decided that it was not intentional, it was just something
that had happened. Now,
the problem was where would she be allowed to be buried - a woman
with Lottie’s past could not be buried beside the good citizens of
After much discussion amongst the towns people, some actually
siding with Eli that his wife had been good and faithful for many
years, it was decided that Lottie Johl could be buried just within
the fence of the cemetery. Eli
sadly built a memorial for his wife with a tall wrought iron fence
around her grave, the most elaborate in the entire cemetery.
and Eli at their gravesite in the Bodie Cemetery during Living
As memorial Day came along months later, he asked a carpenter
to build a canopy over her entire grave, then he decorated it with
red white and blue bunting, little flags, and paper flowers.
At the head of the grave Eli placed a large picture of his
wife in her all her beauty, with her fine jewelry and lace.
Every Memorial Day thereafter he would decorate her grave and
mourn his beloved wife’s death, as the curious would pause to
watch. He lived alone in
the fine little cottage he had bought for her, until Bodie began to
decline, then he sold
out and left his memories and lonely
Lottie and Eli Johl’s house still stands in Bodie today, a
haunting reminder of the butcher of Bodie
his love for his bride and the citizens who scorned her.
Her now unmarked grave still lies in the far southwest corner
of the Bodie cemetery; a strong black iron fence surrounding it. At least one of the paintings she rendered is on display in
the museum in town.
Doves: Prostitution in the Early West
Bad Bodie: High Sierra Ghost Town
James Watson and Doug Brodie
D. Reed Publishers
Storie of Bodie
Publishers and Mother Lode Press
GUIDES AND PAMPHLETS
of the High Sierra: The
Ghost Town of Bodie, A California State Park
Reported in the Newspapers of the Day
Russ and Anne Johnson
Press for Sierra Media, Inc.
Guide to Bodie and Eastern Sierra Historic Sites
George Williams III
By The River Publishing
Guide For 1880 Bodie: A Tour of Main Street As It Was
Guide To Shopkeepers And Shootists
State Historic Park Brochure
State Historic Park
Cemetery: The Lives Within
State Historic Park