February 2011 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts










Room 8-The Most Famous Cat in Los Angeles



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

NOTE: Because of heavy snowfall, access is not recommended during the winter months.

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:


Robert C. Likes, co-author of From This Mountain--Cerro Gordo, has  completed a second book about Cerro Gordo.

Click on the cover image (above) to learn more.

This is a story of a generation that sought its own self-identity in a world that suddenly became more complicated with an uncertain future and values.

This epic journey was staged on desert mountains, on steamboats carrying silver bullion across a desert lake, and on a freighting trail that traversed 200 miles of inhospitable desert.

Mules can taste the difference--so can you


A new book

by Nick Garieff

Discovering Bodie tells stories about twenty residents of the High Sierra ghost town of Bodie, California. Included are a selection of the author's black and white photographs presented as duochromes of buildings or artifacts relating to the residents lives.

The story of Eli and Lottie Johl is an example of new revelations this book uncovers.

Published 2010 by Nick Gariaeff, Gilroy, CA.
80 pages including 64 photographs.
8 1/2 inch square perfect bound
ISBN 978-0-984363

Click on the book cover above to go to discoveringbodie.com

LOGO T Shirts Available


Explore Historic California with our  logo depicting the California backcountry and its rich history both true and farce.

We now offer shirts, sweats, jerseys and cups with our logo.

Click the shirt 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.



"Uncle Billy" O'Hara

The Foster Father of Bodie and Aurora

by Cecile Page Vargo

February is African American History Month. Originally known as Negro History Week it was first celebrated in February 1926.  The celebration was expanded to a month in 1976, the nation's bicentennial. President Gerald R. Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.

Every February since 1976, the U.S. president issues a proclamation declaring the second month of the year Black History Month or National African American History Month.

Read more about African American History Month from the Library of Congress.

In the late 1860’s the boomtown of Aurora, Nevada, was on the decline and the neighboring mining camp named after W. S. Bodey teeter tottered on the edge of extinction. Peter Eshington and Louis Lockberg combed the Bodie Hills for what gold and silver they could find, continuing to work the Bunker Hill Mine, while African American William “Uncle Billy” O’Hara, left Aurora and hung on to the dream as a staunch Bodie supporter. Without Uncle Billy, and his financing, Eshington and Lockberg may not have stuck around long enough to hit the mother lode that caused the sleepy camp of Bodie to awaken.

O’Hara started his career on the Mississippi steam boats working as a cabin boy. For 25 years he worked on the river.  During this time he met William C. Ralston, the future President of the Bank of California. Ralston ran a cotton boat on the Mississippi with O’Hara. When gold fever hit Ralston, Billy followed him. At the Isthmus of Panama they caught up with each other, eventually winding up in San Francisco.

The rush for gold at Hildreth's Diggings (Columbia) in the foothills of the western Sierras called to Billy. With his wife, Charlotte, by his side, he decided to try his hand at placer mining. The restaurant business turned out to be a better deal, and he left the mines to run the Jenny Lind Hotel until 1859. Billy and his wife lived in a ranch near the hotel. His wife was noted for taking care of the miners and others who became sick. In August,1859,  the O'Hara's threw a grand party at their ranch in honor of the twenty fifth anniversary of the British government’s abolition of slavery in the West Indies Islands. Local newspapers reported on the party, which was well attended by the citizens of Columbia. The O'Hara's were well liked by everyone.

When Charlotte O’Hara died in 1862, Billy left Columbia for the eastern side of the Sierras and the booming town of Aurora, Nevada Territory. The lavish basement restaurant at the Merchant’s Exchange Hotel was Billy’s next venture, where he was well regarded as manager. For O'Hara, race wasn't an issue, but other African Americans were discriminated against. When another Aurora citizen of color witnessed the burning of the Durand Mill on Bodie Creek he was not allowed to give testimony and the arsonists were never prosecuted.  "Uncle Billy", as he had become affectionately known, was so well liked, however, that he was able to host a large farewell party for himself before his move to the mining camp of Bodie in 1865.

The Empire Mine Gold and Silver Mining Company hired O’Hara to run their boarding house, which was probably the first of it’s kind in the Bodie Mining District.. Even after the properties were abandoned in 1867, O’Hara stayed on as watchman. At some point Billy received title to the Bunker Hill Mine. When he couldn’t find a buyer for the mine, he turned it over to Peter Eshington and Louis Lockberg, with the agreement that they would pay him $8,000 when the mine began to pull out ore. Eshington and Lockberg worked the Bunker Hill at a loss until an accidental cave-in revealed a rich vein.

Perhaps because of his success with money in Bodie, Uncle Billy O’Hara wound up back in Aurora where he earned a reputation as a fair and favorite lender to those in need. At his death in 1880, Billy had accumulated $40,000. Because of his assistance and encouragement to anyone who tried, the Bodie newspapers declared him the "Foster Father of Bodie & Aurora."

"Uncle" Billy O'Hara's death notice from the Daily Alta California, (San Francisco), Volume 32, Number 10969, 26 April 1880.

(Courtesy Veridian Newspaper Archive)

According to the present day Bodie cemetery brochure, Uncle Billy is buried in Bodie, but the sands of time have taken its toll on his grave, and the exact location is unknown.

Billy O'Hara's final resting place is in the Bodie Cemetery, but the exact location of his final resting place, like that of W. S. Bodey, is lost to time.



Bodie 1859-1900
by Frank Wedertz
Community Printing & Publishing, 1969

Bodie Bonanza
by Warren Loose
Exposition Press Inc., 1971

Bodie's Gold
by Marguerite Sprague
University of Nevada Press, 2003

Bodie-The Mines Are Looking Well.
by Michael H. Piatt
North Bay Books, 2003

African American History Month

The Library of Congress



Daily Alta California

Volume 32, Number 10969, 26 April 1880

via Veridan Newspaper Archive


Maggie Ho Dog Wishes Sadie to the Cornfield

by Cecile Page Vargo

For several years, our blonde chow retriever, Sadie, travelled with us on our Explore Historic California tours. She came to us the fall of 1996, rescued from an abusive home when she was three months old.  On Monday January 24, 2011 Sadie crossed over the Rainbow Bridge to be with her canine siblings, Jessie and Jake, who also travelled on our tours. The last years of her life were spent at our son's house. Sadie's ashes will be scattered in the Inyo Mountains near Jessie's and Jake's.  

Sadie, Jessie and Jake. Together again for all time.

It was a sad day in October, when Maggie wished Sadie into the cornfield much like Billy Mumy did to everyone he knew in that old and familiar Twilight Zone or Outer Limits episode, which ever it was, I don't remember. But there was nothing to do about it.....the two no longer got along and it was frightening at times. We played musical dogs for nearly a month, until we couldn't handle the stress of it any more, and were tired of living in fear that dogs and humans were going to get hurt in an accidental altercation.

A few days after Halloween we packed up all of her belongings...the big plastic house, the stainless steel dish, a big bag of her favorite food, the same red leash she had had for all 9 years of her life, some doggie biscuits, a Nylabone and some rawhide one's as well. And with a tear in my eye, unable to breathe, I took Sadie from the huge dog yard where she had lived with her brother Jake since the day she came to us a three month old rescue puppy, frightened and abused.

I hooked Sadie's leash on her collar and took her to the 4Runner, prepared for her to balk when I went in, certain she knew something unusual was going on. I remembered how frightened she and Jake were two years before when their 14 1/2 year old sister, Jessie, didn't come back from the vets, and how they shook so hard as I sat on the little bedroom couch reserved for them, and cried and sat between them with my arms around them and told them it was just us now, but it would be all right. Then two days later they were still at such a loss without their alpha sister dog to lead them as she always had. I had loaded them in the 4Runner, then, for a ride to get their minds off of things and they had to be forced in for fear they were doomed to a similar fate as she had been. And they trembled and shook and forgot everything they had learned about enjoying car rides and traveling with me.

In spite of all I was feeling, and surely relaying to poor Sadie who had a 6th sense about those things, she must have realized that this ride on this day was different. Perhaps it was seeing every earthly thing she owned in the vehicle with her, I don't know. She just jumped in the back seat as if it was the most naturally thing in the world, something she didn't do well even when she would go camping and ghost towning.

My husband and I drove her the near mile down the street to Eric's house. Sadie had never been there before, but she jumped out of the 4Runner and walked in his house and went out to his yard as if it were hers. And truly it was now, but the actions from her were so unusual, this was our Sadie...the abused rescued puppy, part chow, part golden retriever, who was a one couple dog, who wouldn't hurt a flea, but barked at everyone and was distant to them, even if she had seen them a hundred times in her life.

To make the transition easy, we stayed at Eric's for the evening, and Sadie settled in to a big back yard twice the size of hers, and with grass instead of dirt! We gorged on a big pot of homemade chili Colorado Eric cooked up special for us, then watched a couple of movies on his DVR. All three of us nearly forgot what we had originally come to his house for.

Then the time was over and it was time to go. I held back the tears and my breath once again, and I swallowed hard as I looked out the big sliding glass doors. I wanted to hug her and tell her it was ok, she was with her human brother now and he loved her and would take could care of her like we did. And she could still come for doggie visits to see Jake. I would babysit her here when need be. But she was off exploring her new yard and didn't notice me looking through those sliding glass doors, so I let it be, and went home to almost two year old Maggie Moore Ho Dog who had wished her in the cornfield, and to 14 year old Jake, who would miss her, but get over it and needed to live his last years with his Mommy and Daddy. Thank goodness the cornfield was Eric's, and Sadie liked the cornfield!

It was tough for Sadie at first. Eric worked long hours and was gone a lot, and she was left there with Eric's roommate, a complete stranger to her. She barked all day unless someone was there. She probably barked all day for a month of days, and then she got over it. The dog that was fearful of people and kids, and loud noises, got used to it. The first bash, on New Year's scared her, particularly the loud music coming from the DJ. She tucked her tail in between her legs as she walked around, and she occasionally barked at the strange people gyrating on Eric's floor to the strange sounds. But she got used to it for the most part, and handles the strange people and the noises pretty well now. Thank goodness, because Eric and housemates like frequent bbq's and bashes.

 Over the weekend, a year later, Eric brought Sadie to us to see Jake. He was having a big party, anyway, and while Sadie is used to it all, it was still a stressful for her. So we happily played musical dogs with Sadie and Maggie for a day and a night and it was good. The next evening Eric arrived in his bikini topped Jeep and picked her up and loaded her in it and she went home again. Hard to imagine her in that open Jeep not jumping out, as she used to jump out of the 4Runner when I didn't want her to, if we wouldn't let her out to ghost town with us. But while this was all a new experience this bikini top Jeep riding, Sadie took it in stride and calmly sat down on the seat beside Eric as he drove her back to her new life in the safety of the cornfield that Maggie Moore Ho Dog had wished her in, and somehow it all seemed right and meant to be.

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