The Muckles of Bodie

My great grandparents Tom Muckle and Bessie Gallagher lived most of their lives in Virginia City, Nevada where they were married in 1871. Tom died there in 1922. Bessie moved to San Francisco with her daughter Maggie and family in 1925 and died there in 1929. But they also spent two years starting in 1878 in the rip-roaring town of Bodie, California.

Bodie, California

Bodie was bustling in the 1870s and Tom decided to get some work in his specialty: building boilers and retorts to separate mercury-gold amalgam. So he packed up his family — his wife Bessie, his son Tom and the girls Maggie, Tessie, Aggie and Mamie — and headed off, leaving one daughter behind in the I.O.O.F cemetery. Sara Jane died the day she was born and because she was not baptized could not be buried in the Catholic cemetery.

My grandmother Maggie Muckle Kenny (we called her Nana)  remembered the trip to Bodie when she was 7 years old. She told me one day that they rode in a covered wagon much like the ones the pioneers used when they crossed the plains on the Oregon Trail.

Maggie received her first Holy Communion in Bodie and her brother Will was born either in Bodie or Carson City or perhaps on the road between these two places. There were about 8,000 people living in Bodie in 1879. Earlier that year a newspaper in San Jose published the story of a three-year old girl’s prayer: “Goodbye God,  we’re going to Bodie in the morning.”

In 2006 some cousins from Ireland came to visit and we showed them the town of Bodie. It’s not too hard to get to. We drove down US highway 395 from Carson City, NV to Bridgeport, CA. Then we turned east on a road (state highway 270) that was paved for about ten miles but unpaved (and pretty rocky) the last three miles. Bodie is now a state historical park and they keep the buildings in a state of  “arrested decay”, meaning they won’t restore but they will prevent a building from falling down.

an example of "arrested decay"

At the small visitor center store and museum I bought a copy of the Bodie Morning News for Tuesday, August 12, 1879 for 25 cents. On page two I came across the following ad:


Thomas Muckle

Brick and Stone Mason

Will do all kinds of brick and stone work in a responsible manner.


Orders left at the Morning News office will receive prompt attention. Work solicited myself. Thomas Muckle


Finding that ad made my day, needless to say! You search and search for family history information and then some days you just stumble across a gold mine!

A major event in the lives of our Muckles occurred one day in November, 1879.  Warren Loose describes the event in detail in his book Bodie Bonanza:

“A stabbing affray drew the attention of the town during the last of November. A prominent counselor at law and a masonry contractor had it out on Main Street, while a sporting saloon crowd looked on.  “The unfortunate affray occurred in front of the Mammoth Saloon in which John A. McQuaide stabbed Thomas Muckle . . . McQuaide had just gotten out of the buggy when stonecutter, Muckle, approached him in a slightly “oiled” condition and began berating him over a money matter with negligible results. Thereupon, the impatient Thomas bounced a haymaker smack dab on the counselor’s left optic. The legal beagle retaliated with a lightning thrust of an abbreviated Bowie — stabbing Muckle wickedly,  but not fatally, under the left rib cage.  McQuaide was immediately arrested. Later he stood trial and was acquitted on a plea of self-defense.”*

Tom and Bessie had a tumultuous marriage, to say the least. Tom came from the Ards peninsula in County Down where he was baptized into the Presbyterian church. Bessie was a Roman Catholic from Roscommon. The couple feuded a lot, often over religion,  and even divorced once. Bessie sued for her husband to turn over the deed to their house to her two daughters Maggie and Tessie. But then a few years later they remarried. I guess Bessie had no other choice to support her children. But now Tom was on his death bed (she thought) and Bessie called the local priest to have Tom baptized a Catholic. I don’t know if Tom ever knew what his wife did to him when he was unconscious with his knife wound.

The Muckles traveled to Carson City where Tom recuperated from his wound. In the June 1880 US census for Nevada the whole family was listed as residents of Carson City. But in July of the same year Tom can be found in the US census for California back in Bodie living in a boarding house.  Eventually the family returned to Virginia City where their youngest child, George, was born in 1889.

Bessie’s decision to re-baptize her husband allowed me to go back two more generations in my Muckle genealogy. The Mono County vital statistics database baptism record listed Tom’s parents as Hugh Muckle (which I already knew) and Margaret Brown (I did not know her maiden name). Last year while on vacation in Ireland I spent a few hours at PRONI in Belfast and found Margaret’s baptism record. Her parents were Hugh Brown and Julia McDonald. Hugh was a farmer who lived in Herdstown just west of Donaghadee in County Down. I guess Julia’s father was Ol’ McDonald.

Tom Muckle mellowed in his old age and he was a kindly grandfather to my Mom and her siblings and cousins. Here’s a picture of him circa 1912 with his granddaughter Mildred Hunter.

Tom Muckle and granddaughter circa 1912

The best time to visit Bodie is in the summer. You’ll need a snowmobile during the winter. The highest weather tracking station in California is at Bodie: 8325 feet above sea level. That’s why it often registers as the coldest place in the state during the winter  months. Here’a a photo of the Sierra Nevada mountains across the valley from the Bodie Road.

The Sierra Nevada from the top of Bodie Road.

*Bodie Bonanza by Warren Loose, Nevada Publications, paperback edition 1989, Las Vegas, NV (page 111).

About crowcanyonjournal

I am a family man with interests in family history, photography, history and travel.
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6 Responses to The Muckles of Bodie

  1. Betty says:

    Well every day I learn something new (or is it re -learn?). Maybe you told me already, and I just forgot….don’t recall hearing about G-G Tom’s knife fight, or your newspaper discovery. I have marked your journal on my home screen. Thanks!

  2. Michelle says:

    Decided to go back in the logs of these a bit after the two recent posts about the Theler side of the family and now I’m confused — who the heck is Mildred Hunter? One of these days I’m gonna need to borrow the whole family tree you’ve assembled to get this all straight!

  3. HENRY says:

    Hi Cousin Jerry, happy memories of our day in Bodie and two fantastic vacations in California/Nevada with you and B
    Good times never forgotten


  4. Pingback: Why We Drove through Six Mile Canyon to Dayton | Crow Canyon Journal

  5. disperser says:

    Nice. It’s always interesting reading near-ancient history. Sometimes we forget that people one hundred years ago were not all that different than modern people. Sure, we have phones in our pockets, but the human side of the equation seems to remain pretty much the same throughout history.

  6. Pierre Lagacé says:

    Great post, from a fellow amateur genealogist.

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