Parkhurst, also known as One Eyed Charley or Six-Horse Charley, was born Mary Parkhurst in 1812 in Lebanon, New Hampshire, to Mary (Morehouse) Parkhurst and Ebenezer Parkhurst. Some reports say her first name was Charlene. She had two siblings, Charles D. and Maria. Charles was born in 1811 and died in 1813. Her mother died in 1812. Some time after Charles died and prior to her father's marriage to Lucy Cushing in 1817, Mary and Maria were taken to an orphanage in Lebanon, New Hampshire where they grew up owned by a man named Mr. Millshark. Upon leaving the orphanage she adopted the name Charley Darkey Parkhurst.
Parkhurst worked as a stable hand for Ebeneezer Balch first in Worcester, Massachusetts, then in Providence, Rhode Island, and later in the "What Cheer Stables" at the back of the Franklin House Inn in Providence for several years.
About 1849, James E. Birch and Frank Stevens went to California and consolidated several small stage lines into the California Stage Company. Parkhurst moved there and started to work for them. Shortly after arriving he lost the use of one eye after a kick from a horse. He had a reputation as one of the finest stage coach drivers on the west coast.
Parkhurst retired from driving some years later in Watsonville, California. After trying lumbering, cattle ranching, and raising chickens in Aptos, California, he moved into a small cabin near Watsonville. He died there on December 18, 1879, of cancer of the tongue.
The Santa Cruz Sentinel for 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 a vote was cast, Parkhust may have been the first biological female to vote in California.
Local legend and Parkhurst's gravestone claim that Parkhurst was the first female in the United States to vote. This is incorrect, since a few states allowed women to vote before 1868. The fire station in Soquel, California, has a plaque that reads: "The first ballot by a woman in an American presidential election was cast on this site November 3, 1868, by Charlotte (Charlie) [sic] Parkhurst who masqueraded as a man for much of her life. She was a stagecoach driver in the mother lode country during the gold rush days and shot and killed at least one bandit. In her later years she drove a stagecoach in this area. She died in 1879. Not until then was she found to be a woman. She is buried in Watsonville at the pioneer cemetery."
When Parkhurst died in 1879, neighbors came to the cabin to lay out the body for burial and discovered that Parkhurst was physically female. Rheumatism and cancer of the tongue were listed as causes of death. The examining doctor established that Parkhurst had given birth. A trunk in the house contained a baby's dress.
On December 28, 1879 the San Francisco Morning Call reported Parkhurst's death without mentioning the post-mortem discovery:
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...
In 1955 the Pajaro Valley Historical Association erected a monument at Parkhurst's grave which reads:
Charley Darkey Parkhurst (1812-1879) Noted whip of the gold rush days drove stage over Mt. Madonna in early days of Valley. Last run San Juan to Santa Cruz. Death in cabin near the 7 mile house. Revealed 'one eyed Charlie' a woman. First woman to vote in the U.S. November 3, 1868.
In 2007 the Santa Cruz County Redevelopment Agency oversaw the completion of the Parkhurst Terrace Apartments located a mile along the old stage route from the place of his death.
Charley's Choice: The Life and Times of Charley Parkhurst by Fern J. Hill
Paperback: 280 pages
Publisher: Infinity Publishing (May 1, 2008)
Amazon: Charley's Choice: The Life and Times of Charley Parkhurst
Charley Parkhurst ran away from an orphanage, worked hard learning horse craft, and, over the ensuing years, earned a hallmark reputation driving a six-up in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Georgia, and California during the gold rush era. When death overtook Charley many long-time friends and acquaintances were astounded to learn the tough old stage-driver was a well-endowed woman who had given birth at some point in her life. A member of the all male Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Charley was the first woman to vote in California during the 1868 federal election, fifty-three years before women won the right to vote.
Re-Dressing America's Frontier Past by Peter G. Boag
Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: University of California Press; 1 edition (September 1, 2011)
Amazon: Re-Dressing America's Frontier Past
Americans have long cherished romantic images of the frontier and its colorful cast of characters, where the cowboys are always rugged and the ladies always fragile. But in this book, Peter Boag opens an extraordinary window onto the real Old West. Delving into countless primary sources and surveying sexological and literary sources, Boag paints a vivid picture of a West where cross-dressing--for both men and women--was pervasive, and where easterners as well as Mexicans and even Indians could redefine their gender and sexual identities. Boag asks, why has this history been forgotten and erased? Citing a cultural moment at the turn of the twentieth century--when the frontier ended, the United States entered the modern era, and homosexuality was created as a category--Boag shows how the American people, and thus the American nation, were bequeathed an unambiguous heterosexual identity.
Rough, Tough Charley by Verla Kay & illustrated by Adam Gustavson
Reading level: Ages 7 and up
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Tricycle Press (May 1, 2007)
Amazon: Rough, Tough Charley
Charley was rough.
Charley was tough.
Charley wore fancy blue gloves.
Charley Parkhurst always was more comfortable around horses than around humans. One of the most respected stagecoach drivers in the old West, Charley also kept one of the biggest secrets anyone could keep.
Now, through thrilling paintings and Verla Kay’s signature cryptic rhyme, readers are invited to explore an amazing real life, lived without limits.
Shady Ladies: Nineteen Surprising and Rebellious American Women by Suzann Ledbetter
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Forge Books; First Edition edition (August 8, 2006)
Amazon: Shady Ladies: Nineteen Surprising and Rebellious American Women
Suzann Ledbetter has researched and written about American history for almost twenty years. The depth of her work is reflected in these well-crafted and enormously entertaining biographies of little-known---till now---Shady Ladies. Some were crackpots, some criminals, some charlatans, some genuine talents, but almost all have been sadly forgotten.
Unsung though they may be, these defiant women challenged post-Victorian society in an era when females were second-class citizens. They are every bit as intriguing as their more famous sisters. Who knew Harriet Hubbard Ayer and her cosmetic concoctions predated Helena Rubenstein, and that Ayer virtually invented the newspaper advertorial?
Photographs of Lydia Pinkham were the first photos ever used in advertising. A century after her death, modern science has confirmed that her black cohosh--laced elixir is a viable treatment for menopausal symptoms.
"The way to a man's heart is through his stomach" was coined by Fanny Fern, aka Sara Parton, who, unlike the better-known Nellie Bly, became the highest-paid newspaper columnist in the country. And Laura Fair was as dangerous to men as Calamity Jane ever was . . . and faced up to the Supreme Court no less.
Shady Ladies is the story of early American rebels and a fascinating view of the lives of seventeen notorious and notable women. Suzann Ledbetter chronicles the exploits of feminist pioneers, bringing them to life with humor, empathy, and meticulous research.
More LGBT History at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Gay Classics
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