Monday, December 18, 2017

Today in 1879: 'One Eyed' Charley Parkhurst Died, His Secret Discovered

Charley Parkhurst, also known as One Eyed Charley or Six-Horse Charley, was an American stagecoach driver, farmer, and rancher in California. He died today, December 18, in 1879, and his secret was discovered -- that he was designated female at birth.

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 transgender person to vote in a presidential election in California.

Charley Parkhurst was born Charlotte Parkhurst in 1812 in Sharon, Vermont, to Mary and Ebenezer Parkhurst. He 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 Charley D. died, Charlotte and Maria were taken to an orphanage in Lebanon, New Hampshire. (Some sources say Charlotte was born there.

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. 

The boy 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.

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 his time.

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 15 years he worked at farming and lumbering in the winter.

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, 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 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 physical sex received national coverage. The headline was: "Thirty Years in Disguise: A Noted Old Californian Stage-Driver Discovered. After Death. To be a Woman."

The Santa Cruz Sentinel of October 17, 1868, lists Charles Darkey Parkurst on the official poll list for the election of 1868. There is no record that Parkhurst actually cast a vote.If he had voted, Parkhust may have been the first female to vote in a presidential election in California. Women did not have the right to vote in elections in California at that time.

1 comment:

type an essay said...

We really need leaders like the one in old times that you are telling about in this post. It sure is a good idea to bring the change and move the world to the new era of revolution.