Pioneer Cemetery Watsonville, Santa Cruz County, California, USA
Charley Darkey Parkhurst, born Charlotte Darkey Parkhurst (1812–1879), also known as One Eyed Charley or Six-Horse Charley, was an American stagecoach driver, farmer and rancher in California. Born and reared as a girl in New England, mostly in an orphanage, Parkhurst ran away as a youth, taking the name Charley and living as a male. He started work as a stable hand and learned to handle horses, including to drive coaches drawn by multiple horses. He worked in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, traveling to Georgia for associated work.
In his late 30s, Parkhurst sailed to California following the Gold Rush in 1849; there he became a noted stagecoach driver. In 1868, he may have been the first anatomically female individual to vote in a presidential election in California. At his death, it was discovered that he was anatomically female, as was the fact that he had given birth at an earlier time.
Charley Parkhurst was born Charlotte Darkey Parkhurst in 1812 in Sharon, Vermont, to Mary (Morehouse) Parkhurst and Ebenezer Parkhurst. Parkhurst had two siblings, Charles D. and Maria. Charles D. was born in 1811 and died in 1813. The mother, Mary, died in 1812. Some time after Charles D. died, Charlotte and Maria were taken to an orphanage in Lebanon, New Hampshire. (Some sources say Charlotte was born there.) They were raised under the care of Mr. Millshark.
Parkhurst ran away from the orphanage at age 12. He adopted the name Charley and assumed a more masculine self-presentation. According to one account, Parkhurst soon met Ebenezer Balch, who had a livery stable in Providence, Rhode Island. He took what he thought was an orphaned boy under his care and returned to Rhode Island. Treating Parkhurst like a son, Balch taught him to work as a stable hand and gradually with the horses. He developed an aptitude with horses, and Balch taught him to drive a coach, first with one, then four, and eventually six horses. Parkhurst worked for Balch for several years. He may have gotten to know James E. Birch, who was a younger stagecoach driver in Providence.
In 1848, the 21-year-old Birch and his close friend Frank Stevens went to California during the Gold Rush to seek their fortunes. Birch soon began a stagecoach service, starting as a driver with one wagon. He gradually consolidated several small stage lines into the California Stage Company. Charley Parkhurst was the first women to enter a presidential vote.
Seeking other opportunities in California, Parkhurst, in his late 30s, also left Rhode Island, sailing on the R.B. Forbes from Boston to Panama; travelers had to cross the isthmus overland and pick up other ships on the west coast. In Panama, Parkhurst met John Morton, returning to San Francisco where he owned a drayage business; Morton recruited the driver to work for him. Shortly after reaching California, Parkhurst lost the use of one eye after a kick from a horse, leading to his nickname of One Eyed Charley or Cockeyed Charley.
Later Parkhurst went to work for Birch, where he developed a reputation as one of the finest stage coach drivers (a "whip") on the West Coast. This inspired another nickname for him, Six-Horse Charley. He was ranked with "Foss, Hank Monk and George Gordon" as one of the top drivers of the time. Stagecoach drivers were also nicknamed "Jehus," after a Biblical passage in Kings 9:20: "…and the driving is like the driving of Jehu the son of Nimshi; for he driveth furiously."
Among Parkhurst's routes in northern California were Stockton to Mariposa, "the great stage route" from San Jose to Oakland, and San Juan to Santa Cruz. Stagecoach drivers carried mail as well as passengers, and had to deal with hold-up attempts, bad weather, and perilous, primitive trails. As historian Charles Outland described the era, "It was a dangerous era in a dangerous country, where dangerous conditions were the norm."
Seeing that railroads were cutting into the stagecoach business, Parkhurst retired from driving some years later to Watsonville, California. For fifteen years he worked at farming and lumbering in the winter. He also raised chickens in Aptos.
He later moved into a small cabin about six miles from Watsonville and suffered from rheumatism in his later years. Parkhurst died there on December 18, 1879, due to tongue cancer.
After Parkhurst died in 1879, neighbors came to the cabin to lay out the body for burial and discovered that his body appeared to be female to them. Rheumatism and cancer of the tongue were listed as causes of death. In addition, the examining doctor established that Parkhurst had given birth at some time. A trunk in the house contained a baby's dress. The LA Times reported, "The discovery of her true sex became a local sensation," and was soon carried by national newspapers.
The obituary about Parkhurst from the San Francisco Call was reprinted in The New York Times on January 9, 1880, so the extraordinary driving career and the post-mortem discovery of Parkhurst's assigned sex received national coverage. The headline was: "Thirty Years in Disguise: A Noted Old Californian Stage-Driver Discovered. After Death. To be a Woman."
He was in his day one of the most dexterous and celebrated of the famous California drivers ranking with Foss, Hank Monk, and George Gordon, and it was an honor to be striven for to occupy the spare end of the driver's seat when the fearless Charley Parkhurst held the reins of a four-or six-in hand...
Last Sunday [December 28, 1879], in a little cabin on the Moss Ranch, about six miles from Watsonville, Charley Parkhurst, the famous coachman, the fearless fighter, the industrious farmer and expert woodman died of the cancer on her tongue. She knew that death was approaching, but she did not relax the reticence of her later years other than to express a few wishes as to certain things to be done at her death. Then, when the hands of the kind friends who had ministered to her dying wants came to lay out the dead body of the adventurous Argonaut, a discovery was made that was literally astounding. Charley Parkhurst was a woman.
The article noted how unusual it was that Parkhurst could have lived so long with no one discovering his assigned sex, and to "achieve distinction in an occupation above all professions calling for the best physical qualities of nerve, courage, coolness and endurance, and that she should add to them the almost romantic personal bravery that enables one to fight one's way through the ambush of an enemy..." was seen to be almost beyond believing, but there was ample evidence to prove the case.
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