Tuesday, 1 September 2009

The Way West - CHARLIE PARKHURST


One of the main means of transportation back in the days of the wild west was the stagecoach. People, baggage and mail were carried by such companies as Wells Fargo, Butterfield and the California Stagecoach Company.
There were well known drivers such as Foss and Monk but even they fade into the background against Charlie Parkhurst.
Charlie was born somewhere in the mid-1810s up in New Hampshire and spent some time in an orphanage.
Down in Massachusetts Charlie discovered an affinity with horses and stagecoach owner, Ebenezer Balch, taught Charlie how to handle teams of four and six. So, when Balch went west Charlie tagged along.
During the gold stampede in California Charlie arrived looking for work. Despite the competition with down on their luck miners seeking work Charlie Parkhurst was taken on. Charlie had a reputation for being one of the safest drivers along the trail from Santa Cruz to San Juan and a reputation that made Charlie's name. An accident while shoeing a horse cost the sight of one eye but sporting a black eye patch Charlie carried on.
One day as Charlie rounded a bend there was a masked robber waiting. Never wanting to be caught out again Charlie learned how to use a .44. The next time someone tried to rob the stage he was shot dead by Charlie. Reports say that Charlie killed at least two people.
The most common ailment for a stage driver was rheumatism of the hands and Charlie was forced to retire. Charlie retired to Watsonville, California where Charlie tried a bit of lumbering, cattle ranching and raising chickens.
Charlie Parkhurst died there in 1879 from cancer of the tongue.
So why is Charlie Parkhurst a legend?
Because Charlie Parkhurst was born Charlotte Darkey Parkhurst.
A woman who, in 1868, became the first woman to have the vote - whether she used it or not will never be known.
When she died the press of the time was unkind and branded her a 'crossdresser' and other things.
She was 5'6" tall, slim and wiry with grey eyes. She would drink, smoke and swear. Her voice is described as a touch high pitched.
It is said that no one knew that she was a woman until she was laid out after she died. Somehow, that is hard to believe. A man who has been on the trail for a few days would have a few bristles on his chin - a need to shave. And there were signs that she had had a least one child.
I have no doubt that Charlie Parkhurst led a secret life. Not much choice considering the times that she lived in. Charlie, it is obvious, loved horses and the job that she did. Just that she had to wear men's clothes to do it.

2 comments:

  1. Very interesting. Thanks for the insight. :-)

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  2. Fantastic post - I love all this factual stuff.

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