Thursday, June 2, 2005

Goodbye God, Gone to Bodie (Monologue)

Jim Cain's house, Bodie used by permission @Allen Saywer

"Winter is here--the snow part at least.  A nice little cabin on Wood Street.  A winter's supply of grub; a few books, including a pack of cards; and--half a barrel of whiskey will carry a person through until spring." —Free Press, Nov, 1881

James "Jim" Caine and Joe Maguire got themselves a nice little grubstake saved up after shipping all that lumber up to Bodie, and they became partners. Imagine a Scotsman and a Mick pairing up like that.

Stranger bedfellows have been made. But in Ireland the Catholic & Proddies are oil and water with a little fire and brimstone all mixed together in a strange baptism. Now, that was a long-standing taste of hell if ever I saw it. See, they had to come to the New World to put aside their differences.

At nearly 8200 feet straight up from the bosom of the sea, it was damned cold at night. Bodie had the worst climate out of doors, save Alaska. Up on the plateau, it was exposed as an ass in the outhouse, and cold as a witches' tit. Shaving water froze in the cup. And when the winds blew at 100 miles-per-hour off the mountains, it was the banshees straight from hell singing a funeral dirge with your name on it.

Joe Maguire said Potato Peak was wearin' a snow jacket again. And here it was, mid-August. He missed the sweet taste of new potatoes roasted in their jackets in the embers, all slathered with butter and salt, he missed it more than the Emerald Isle itself. About the only other thing that would willfully grow in Bodie was the hops plant in front of the Donnelly house. Handy for making beer.

All this brown and dust and sage, sometimes if you didn’t look at the long narrow valley head on, and sort of blur your side- vision, it does look a bit like Ireland with all that green growing in the crevices and the wild irises nodding their dainty purple heads.

A pity about old Waterman (William) Bodey dying in that freak blizzard in '59 and all, he never even saw his namesake town. He would've been real proud. Just look at it now. That's B-O-D-E-Y, not I-E; some illiterate sign-painter got it wrong. Said it looked more refined that way.

They say Bill Bodey got caught short in an unexpected storm while making a supply trip to Monoville. November. Shoulda been fine. Some say it was the Bodie Curse, he took some ore with him. Bodie's mighty protective of its sugar quartz, there's always the risk. 

Bill was the first one to find the placer gold, you see. Sparked off the biggest gold rush in the west, he did.  Would you believe that 20 years later, they dug his body up and reburied it again just to celebrate him with a big bash. We were waking the dead twice.

Joe Maguire came up from 'Frisco with Johnny and Tom Parr. Joe was Bill Irwin's foreman at Standard, and Johnny was foreman of the Syndicate Mill. Irwin put a donkey hoist on one of the shafts and did right well, indeed. That's when they called themselves the Standard Mine and built a 20-stamp mill. That's what kick-started the town of Bodie.

They say in '77, the boomtown's population swelled from 20 lost souls, to 7,000, then by '79, to 10,000 headless, bedless, and souless grubbers and claim jumpers that kept streaming in from all four corners of the globe—and hell and highwater all that summer long in search of gold. The dividends alone sent a thrill throughout the world.

Bodie has better climate than Rhyolite or Furnace Creek, a lot prettier too. Funny, how some folks believed that hell was hot when Joe knew firsthand that hell was cold as a frigid hoor on a Bodie winter's night.

Well, then, when the news got out in '77, all the boarding houses were busting at the seams. Men bunking down with their mules and hunkering down with all forms of whatnot for warmth. Every imaginable shed & sty & stable turned into bunks...a whole lot of housing was needed—and pronto.  

It was the worst winter on record, to boot—20 below zero and thousands were dying of pneumonia. Why they stayed on through the winter was foolish. No food, no place to sleep, but still they trudged up the mountain to Bodie. With stardust in their eyes. Only the town Madam, Rosa May, braved the cold to minister to the sick and dying. Lord knows how many she saved, and later, the church wouldn't even give her a Christian burial when her time came.

No wood was to be had for miles around, see? Bodie was above the treeline. That's where Jim came in, he transported timber for the mines, and the steam engines. Then he had so much gold, he opened up a bank, and well, the rest is history. He built himself an empire, he did.

What few newspaper to be had were pressed into service insulating thin walls against the cold, if it was rescued from the outhouses in time. The valley was filled with 10,000 illiterate asses up to no good. Couldn't read a newspaper sideways and certainly not with their backsides. Staking and jumping claims like rabbits, they were. And we had two rival newspapers, we did. 

And we had a lawyer too. Patrick Reddy was his name, and boy was he was ready for anything. Maybe for a piece of the pie as bail for the "guests" was $5. As Johnny Parr said, It was dangerous to run a bluff on a gun play in Bodie. There was an open season on killing but it didn't last long. Eventually law and order prevailed. But we ran Sheriff Davis out of town when he got too trigger happy. We took care of bidniss ourselves.

Imagine milling all that wood and barging it across that hellish alkalai sea, what do they call it? Mono Lake, yeah—hauling timber 2000 feet straight up Coyote Creek Canyon. That's just what Jim and Joe did. Sweet smell of Jeffrey pine, like vanilla shortbread cakes. And sweat of salt mixed with success. Eventually they got some track laid out for a train, but most supplies arrived by stage.

They made plans to lease out the old Bunker Hill Mine claim, I mean, the Standard Mine. At the time, it wasn't paying out much, hardly worth keeping it open. But as luck would have it, danged if they didn’t have a cave in (they didn't properly shore up the roof—wood was so scarce) and uncovered a rich quartz ledge right before the lease went through: they hit paydirt indeed! 

Some $90,000 worth of gold in 90 days! That was over $1000 a day between them. They went wild with joy. Luck of the Irish haltered to the business wagon of the Scots and several fortunes were in the making. Not just theirs.

Luck must've rubbed off on the neighboring hills too because suddenly there were claims everywhere: in one month, the Syndicate Mill and Mine produced more gold that most of the claims in California and Nevada combined. The engine and boiler were said to have come 'round Cape Horn.

Here was Joe, at 25, filthy rich beyond his wildest dreams. Jim already had a taste of the fine life. It was all imported cigars and quail in aspic every night at the Hotel Maison Doree. A rich, fine ash, indeed. He began to buy up the town.

No more ready-made sandwiches from the Philly Bar Depot for Joe, though he had to admit it was right handy, with its pool table and roulette being open 24 hours and all. Someone was always willing to lose a little goldust over a bad hand of cards. Like Wild Bill Walsh. Sold his own wagon in Ione for a good hand of cards and a barrel of whiskey. Joe was no stranger at the poker table. No siree!

Big Black Bill's cook crew still made the best grub. Bodie attracted men from far and wide. Uncle Bill was a South African, with an Irish name—O'Hara. Figure that one out. He must've come from the Cape with the mining equipment. Everybody called him Uncle in reverence.

Fortunes were routinely traded every night in the 65 saloons lining Main Street. You could drink in a different saloon every week and still have a baker's dozen extra to spare for emergencies in case you needed to double up your drinking routine. That’s where the real money was to be had, in the transaction process.  Not the town bank. The straw bosses knew that much. 

It kept the mortuary in business too. Not that it needed help where murder was a daily event. Caskets had spring-loaded false bottoms to keep up with the burial demands. Stagecoach robberies, to shootouts, Bodie was one wild and lawless boomtown, second-to-none in wickedness and sin. 

Jim began to dream about his future. A man need a family. He was a Stuart. Substance. Put down some roots. A son and a daughter. A mail-order bride, say, a sweetbud of age 14, not like the bloozy "Ladies" on Maiden Lane at the north end of town—that was the ticket. 

No more riding into Carson City or Aurora, no more Lottie Johl or Madame Mushtache with the wooden leg for him! He'd dance with his pure flower of a bride at the Fireman's Ball in the Miners' Union Hall, he would.

He'd move his new bride into his new house sporting the only glassed-in front porch in Bodie. Glass was damned hard to get up the mountain in one piece. Hardly worth the bother seeing as it would crack in the cold, come winter, if the transport mules didn't get to it first. But she’d keep him warm. Yesiree indeed!

He'd put some real kimberly glass on her finger, he would. Get married in Carson City. No churches in Bodie, see. Saloons was our religion. Sweet little Martha. So young. So trusting. He'd change his evil ways, he would. Yep. No more Rosa May with the wild eyes and windblown hair for him either. No sirree! 

Would the little mite come up the mountain? But if you were sick, or got the lung disease, or having a baby, you sure wanted Rosa May on your side, she had the healer's touch. She did.

I can't help but think of that little girl who wrote the last entry in her diary, "Goodbye God. I'm going to Bodie," she probably wound up working the pox-infected cribs as Cain pondered popping the question. 

Lottie Johl gave up her wicked ways and took up painting, she was purty good at it too. Never knew whatever happened to Joe. Some say he went to San Francisco, some say he went back to Ireland, but I think it was the mountain that called him home with a good hand of cards, and a six-gun.

© Maureen Hurley
6/2005, 2008, 2009

Bodie, Jon Sullivan photo—Wikipedia