As Rittenhouse Stands his Ground, the Bad Man of Bodie Haunts America Once More

Craig K. Collins
11 min readNov 24, 2021

A few years ago in the tony Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale, while on a business trip, I stepped into a P.F. Chang’s for lunch and immediately thought of the Bad Man of Bodie.

Stores and restaurants in Arizona who prefer their patrons not pack heat on their premises must post garish signs opting out of the state’s “constitutional carriage” law that enables anyone over 21 to carry a concealed weapon just about anywhere without a permit.

That’s because I was greeted with a sign emblazoned with a red circle and diagonal line atop the black silhouette of a handgun. Bold, ominous words proclaimed: “No Firearms Allowed. Pursuant to A.R.S. Section 4–229.”

I half expected the hostess to tell me that after I’d tied my horse to the hitching post out front, I could leave my holster with the bartender for safekeeping while I dined. But she didn’t. She simply led us to a roomy booth, handed me a menu and suggested that we start with the lettuce wraps.

I made sure, however, to sit with my back to the wall and scanned the establishment with squinty eyes for any would-be gunslingers.

Apparently, Arizona, in a wise nod to its Old West heritage (or a complete cave-in to NRA lobbyists and corporate gun makers, depending on your perspective), passed in 2010 a “constitutional carriage” law, which enables just about anyone over 21 to pack heat without the bother of a concealed-weapon permit. Furthermore, retailers were not to deny service to any modern-day gun-toters unless customers had been amply warned with a garish, ridiculous-looking sign.

The Bad Man of Bodie captured America’s imagination in the late 19th century. The Eastern Sierra boom town of Bodie, CA, with its no-duty-to-retreat laws, was a haven for gunslingers, where Main Street shootouts between mean-spirited, quick-draw killers was a regular occurance. (Illustration from Roughing It by Mark Twain.)

And that brings me to the Bad Man of Bodie. He arose from the carnage and mayhem that daily stalked the 19th-century streets of the remote California gold town. He morphed into the notion of a grizzled-faced, seldom-bathed, mean-spirited, steel-nerved, whiskey-drinking, quick-draw killer who packed a bad attitude in his head and a Colt Navy .44 on his hip. From there, he swept into the American conscience through caricatured depictions in newspaper articles from coast-to-coast, as well as pulp western novellas, and then later in silent films and talkies. In 1880, there were few in the United States who hadn’t heard of the Bad Man from Bodie.

But he wasn’t just one man. He was more of a composite. For Bodie was filled with droves of very…

Craig K. Collins

Author & Former Tech Exec. Purveyor of thoughtful, hand-crafted prose. Midair: Thunder: