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The Butcher of Bodie & His Bride

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The Eli & Lottie Johl House - Bodie 2001

The Butcher of Bodie
                &
            His Bride
 
          

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. 

 

Eli & the Renegade Steer 

 

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, and 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 relatives, arrived on the scene, and shot the renegade, 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 get to him. 

 

Encounters in the Dance Halls

 

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 twirling 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.  Inspite 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. 

 

Settling Down to Married Life

 

Determined that his new bride would have nothing but the best, Eli bought Lottie a 5 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.

 

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, inspite of their love.  Eli realized his wife needed something to do other than sit and look out the living room window during he day. 

 

Eli 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.

 

The Masquerade Ball

 

Mining towns often enjoyed grand balls and celebrations to brighten up the drudgery of day to day life.  When the  Bodie Miner's 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, with 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 reports afterwards.

 

Lottie had a beautiful evening, dancing and dancing to her heart's 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. 

 

Lonely To The End

 

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 woman who had been a prostitute.  They learned to live a quiet lonely life, sharing their deep love for each other in the solitude of each other's company, until Lottie became ill some time later.  A doctor was called in to examine her, and a prescription was ordered.  Eli gave Lottie the medication, but  her condition became much worse.  In 24 hours, Lottie Johl died.

 

Even in her death, poor Lottie could not escape the town's gossip.  Everyone was sure that she had committed suicide. Determined  his beloved wife would never  have killed herself, inspite 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, one of those things that happened.  Now, the problem was where would she be allowed to be buried - a woman with Lottie's past could not be buried  in the cemetery beside the good citizens of Bodie.

 

After much discussion amongst the town's 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.  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 all her beauty wearing her fine jewelery 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  the town of  Bodie began to decline, then he  sold out and left his memories and  lonely past behind. 

 

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.

 

Written by Cecile Page Vargo

 

Bibliography:

 

  Books -

    Soiled Doves: Prostitution in the Early West

        Anne Seagraves

        Wesanne Publications

     

    Big Bad Bodie: High Sierra Ghost Town

        James Watson & Doug Brodie

        Robert D. Reed Publishers

 

     The Storie of Bodie

         Ella Cain

         Fearon Publishers and Mother Lode Press

 

  Guides & Pamphlets -

    East of the High Sierra:

    The Ghost Town of Bodie, A California State Park

         As Reported in the Newspapers of the Day

             Russ & Anne Johnson

             Chalfant Press for Sierra Media, Inc.

 

     The Guide to Bodie and Eastern Sierra Historic Sites

          George Williams III

          Trees By The River Publishing

 

      Poag's Guide For 1880 Bodie:

      A Tour of Main Street As It Was

           Larry Poag

           Western Places

 

       Poag's Guide To Shopkeepers And Shootists

            Larry Poag

            Western Places

 

        Bodie State Historic Park Brochure

            California State Historic Park

 

        Bodie Cemetery: The Lives Within

            Bodie State Historic Park

 

A Brief History of Bodie

Bodie.com

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