Bodfish and the surrounding area in 2013 (Bodfish, the Kern River, Lake Isabella, Kernville and the Lake Isabella/Kern River Valley), are said to be home to about 22,000 people.
1. BODFISH – In the late 1850’s, the Kern River [gold] Mines brought George Bodfish to the area along with other miners. At the Kern River Mines, there were two veins of granite containing flecks of gold about 200 feet apart – one called the Russian Bear and the other called the Bulgarian Troubles. The mines were finally closed in 1914 but, during their years of production, generated about $25 worth of gold per ton of ore mined, ultimately yielding a total of $500,000 in gold over 65 years.
The history of Bodfish revolved predominantly around three families – the Vaughns, Rhodehamels and Fussells. Indeed, other than these families, the population of Bodfish consisted mainly of single miners.
The first school was constructed in Bodfish in 1905 and boasted an average daily attendance of 10 pupils. The school continued to operate until 1950 when the area became part of the Kernville School District.
The community that grew up around the miners was first referred to as Bodfish in 1892 when the first post office was established there. But when the post office was closed three years later in 1895, the town’s name went with it. When a new post office was re-opened in 1897 at the home of Edward and May Vaughn, the town was called Vaughn. First Edward and then May served as Postmaster – and it wasn’t until May’s retirement in 1907 that the community again became known as Bodfish. The Postmaster who took over in 1907 restored the original name.
In 1915, the County finally began work on a new road to the west of Bodfish to replace the old stage road. Finished in 1916, the new road allowed the journey from Bakersfield to Bodfish to be made in three hours.
Today little remains of the old Bodfish – and no ichthyologist has yet found a “bodfish.”
2. THE KERN RIVER – On May 1, 1776, Padre Garces, a Spaniard from Aragon, is said to be the first European known to have visited the Kern River. Accompanied by two Mojave Indian guides, he arrived at a Yokuts village where he saw “a great river which made much noise and whose waters (were) crystalline, bountiful, and palatable.”
The Kern is California’s third-longest river and flows approximately 164 miles from the high plateau west of Mount Whitney to Lake Buena Vista southwest of Bakersfield. The upper Kern (the river flowing into Lake Isabella) is reported to be one of California’s best trout streams. The lower Kern (the river flowing out of Lake Isabella) is the steepest river west of the Mississippi.
Narrow and relatively shallow, the Kern descends 75 feet in the course of a mile in some stretches. (Professional rafters consider a 60-foot-per-mile drop to be steep.) The river is known as the most dangerous river in California and provides some of the finest raft-able white water in North America.
Hydroelectric power, a small dam-and-turbine generator, was completed on the river in 1890. There are now six hydroelectric plants on the Kern.
3. LAKE ISABELLA – Construction on this man-made reservoir began in March, 1948, and was completed in 1954 to provide Bakersfield with water. Today, the Lake is said to normally contain around 11,000 acres of surface water surrounded by 38.6 miles of shoreline.
4. THE LAKE ISABELLA/KERN RIVER VALLEY – For centuries, streams cut through decaying rock as they tumbled down Greenhorn Mountain. By the end of the first quarter of the 20th Century, the excitement generated by the discovery of gold in the area had waned and towns sprung up as some people stayed on to raise families and crops.
The Valley became a microcosm of the American West – everything from gold rush fever to badmen and gunslingers as tough and dangerous as they were legendary, to the tussle between cattlemen and sheepmen. The Valley continued evolving into modern times as the Kern River was harnessed to furnish hydroelectric power. The Valley today offers a respite from the frenzied life of California’s cities.
The Kern River Valley is mostly located in a dry desert environment at the tail-end of the Sequoia National Forest and is one of the few areas in California to experience all four seasons.