Wreck of the Yankee Blade
(as she appeared on the evening of October 1st 1854, Courtesy Huntington Library, San Marino, CA)

W. S. Bodey and the Yankee Blade Shipwreck (8/19/2015)

A letter dated October 31, 1879 from Myles Conway of Gold Hill, Nevada, to Dr. Davison of Bodie indicated that Myles was W.S. Bodey's partner in three places after Bodey "returned from the shipwreck of the steamship Yankee Blade." - The shipwreck occurred on October 1, 1854. Dr. Davison was the physician in charge of W.S. Bodey's remains after they were discovered and exhumed several days prior. Myles Conway, a member of the Pacific Coast Pioneers, probably knew Dr Davison because Davison was elected vice president of the organization a few weeks before the letter was sent..

The letter was published in the November 6, 1879, Morning News. Myles wrote that W.S. Bodey "used to follow diving as his profession or calling - encased in a suit of gum clothing with helmut. We saw his diving suit, and also portraits of his family - wife and two children;" The three places that Myles Conway was a partner with Bodey were:

  • Poverty Hill, now called Stent, about 3 miles from Jamestown, California.
  • W.S. Bodey deeded a 1/6 part of his "Old Poverty Hill" claim to his wife Sarah Bodey for $600. The deed was signed by the Justice of the Peace of Poverty Hill in November of 1856. Bodey was spelled "Body" in the deed. His first name was spelled "Whitman" and "Waitman" in the same document. Another 1/4 part of the claim was deeded to E. Lewis in April of 1857 for $600. The Poverty Hill School established in 1857 in the town is still used for community events. In 1856, a "Mr Bodey" was appointed to the school comittee.

  • Red Mountain Bar
  • Conway wrote that he, Bodey, Gordon Thompson, and Thomas Northrup of the Excelsior Hotel were partners at Red Mountain Bar. Northrop was said to know Bodey well. The Excelsior Hotel, established in the 1860s, once stood at Sugarpine, CA. They were fluming the canyon at Red Mountin Bar near Chinese Camp, CA.

  • Marlow Diggings at Turnback Creek in Tuolumne County, CA.

    A September, 1859 article in the Sonora Democrat indicated that the "richest claim that has been struck in Tuolumne is that of Bodey & Co., at Marlow Diggings." $1,200 (over $30,000 today!) was taken out in two days washing. Another partner, Sylvanus Drew Cobb, who was a mechanic in Bodie, also said he was Bodey's partner at Marlow Diggings. Sylvana said his name was William S. Bodey - not Body as it was commonly spelled. Cobb was also a resident of Chinese Camp in 1856.

"W. Body" was listed as one of the crew members aboard the Yankee Blade. The November 10, 1854 New York Tribune reported that "Wm. Bodey" was one of three porters aboard the Blade. There were 121 crew members, 812 passengers, and more than 30 stowaways. Some of the stowaways were wanted criminals in San Francisco. The Yankee Blade was on its way to Panama from San Francisco when it struck a rock at Point Pedernales off the California coast near Lompoc, CA. In 1923, a group of seven U.S. Navy destroyers wrecked at the same place in what is called the Honda Point Disaster. Photographs of the disaster show where the U.S.S. Chauncey wrecked at "Bridge Rock." The Yankee Blade wrecked very close to this spot.

A great deal of plunder occurred by a number of wanted criminals who stowed away. The Blade had $153,000 in gold shipped by Page, Bacon, & Co., $60,000 by Fretz & Ralston, and an unknown amount of passenger gold. Criminals and some of the crew members took over the ship while Captain Randall went ashore in a life boat to look for safe place for passengers to come ashore. The first mate took a number of passengers, including women and children in another life boat and crashed on rocks in the breakers, resulting in the loss of lives. The captain's teen age son was left in charge on the wreck. Liquor and guns were obtained by hoodlums and passengers spent a horrific night aboard the wreck. The next morning the steam tug Golliah came to the rescue. Order was restored on the Blade by law enforcement people who happen to be aboard the Golliah. The Golliah took a number of passengers to San Diego, and came back two days later to rescue more passengers.

Captain Randall was in charge of salvage of the gold from the Yankee Blade. Several attempts were made. First on the Carolina, and then on the Dancing Feather. They were attempting to recover nine boxes full of gold dust. Each box was 8"x 8"x 24".

According to a 1/28/1855 Daily Alta article about an inquisition of Captain Randell, it was noted that "Wm. Austin, a diver, who went down on the Dancing Feather testified to having seen the box brought up. He and another diver, Wm. Body, had received $450 each for their services from Capt. Randall's son; their contract was to have five percent of the plunder."

A song by Matthew R. Sayles tells a popular version of the story.





© Copyright 2015 Nick Gariaeff. All rights reserved.