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Emigration stories: The Carrolls of Bodie, California

Updated: Apr 21, 2022

Bodie California. A well preserved ghost town.

Thirteen miles off State Highway 395 on the California/Nevada border lies the modern day ghost town of Bodie.

Popular nowadays with tourist groups and history geeks, back in its heyday it proved attractive for an altogether more alluring commodity. GOLD.

From the late 1870s to the late 1880s, several thousand prospectors in the grip of gold fever descended upon Bodie in the hope of striking it rich.

The town of Bodie was named after William S. Bodey – a pioneer who discovered gold in them thar hills in July 1859. By the following November, Bodey was dead, having frozen to death after losing his way in a snowstorm. His name was immortalised (albeit inaccurately) when the town was inaugurated.

Due to its high elevation, conditions are challenging in Bodie. The landscape is barren and isolated, and the weather is unpredictable. In winter time, sub-zero temperatures combine with strong winds making passage in and out of the area treacherous (witness poor William S. Bodey!). In Spring, mud can be a problem.

From its inception, the lack of water and wood for construction and firewood were pervading issues for the townspeople. These factors undoubtedly contributed to the short lifespan of Bodie.

By the late 1880s, many miners had left Bodie to try their luck at more accessible locations in the country. Golden bonanzas were being reported in Utah, Arizona and Montana at the time. Bodie was on the slide. Such was the fickle nature of the love affair with gold.

Growing up in Mayo, it seems doubtful that brothers Frank and Pat Carroll knew much about gold. The Carroll family set out for America in the late 1860s from Knockglass, Crossmolina.

Their destination was Adams, Berkshire County, Massachusetts, where work in the textile industry provided a mainstay for vast numbers of Irish emigrants during the nineteenth century.

But news of the gold rush in Bodie swept across the country like an intoxicating perfume, enchanting many young men in search of adventure. The excitement proved all too much for Frank and Patrick Carroll. The brothers headed west to make their fortune.

Census records show that the Carroll brothers were not the only Irishmen who saw an opportunity to enrich themselves in Bodie. Frank was one of many young Irish miners listed at a boarding house in Bodie in 1880.

Patrick Carroll had stopped at Virginia City, Nevada to marry. He spent some time mining at Gold Hill on the Nevada/California border before making his way to be with his brother in Bodie.

The brothers did not remain in Bodie, departing in 1883 to make their way back to Massachusetts. It is not known whether their sojourn in the west had been a success.

Success is sometimes difficult to measure. Often it is short lived. Take Bodie for example. Where once it boasted 65 saloons, a bank and a jail along its one mile main street, by the early 1900s the town of Bodie was creaking.

Its population was disappearing, its once thriving streets were empty. A disastrous fire in 1932 burned down two-thirds of its business district. In 1942 the last mine closed forever. Bodie was doomed to become a ghost town.

Bodie has been preserved in a state of arrested decay by California State Parks since 1962. Each year upwards of 200,000 people visit the former mining town to relive the gold rush experience.

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