|Charley Parkhurst - from Wikipedia
Charley Darkey Parkhurst, often Charlie/Charlene/Charlotte
or Parkhurst, born Mary Parkhurst (1812–1879), was an American stagecoach
driver and early California settler. Assigned female at birth, Parkhurst
lived as a man for most of his life and may have been the first female-assigned
person to vote in California.
Life and career
Parkhurst, also known as One Eyed Charley or Six-Horse
Charley, was born Mary Parkhurst in 1812 in Sharon, Vermont, to Mary (Morehouse)
Parkhurst. (father unknown) Some reports say his first name was Charles.
Parkhurst had two siblings, Charles D. and Maria. Charles D. was born in
1811 and died in 1813. Mary the mother died in 1812. Some time after Charley
D. died and prior to Ebenezer's re-marriage to Lucy Cushing in 1817, the
two surviving children were taken to an orphanage in Lebanon, New Hampshire,
where they were raised by a man named Mr. Millshark. Upon leaving the orphanage,
Parkhurst adopted the name Charley Darkey Parkhurst and dressed and lived
as a male for the rest of his/her life. An exhibit detailing these events
can be seen at the Women's Museum of California in San Diego.
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 (entrepreneur) 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. Parkhurst
died there on December 18, 1879, due to tongue cancer.
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 assigned female at birth person to vote in California.
Local legend and Parkhurst's gravestone claims that Parkhurst
was the first "female" in the United States to vote. This is incorrect
as 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) 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
When Parkhurst died in 1879, neighbors came to the cabin
to lay out the body for burial and discovered that Parkhurst's body looked
unexpectedly 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 January 9, 1880, the New York Times obituary read "Thirty
Years in Disguise: A Noted Old Californian State-Driver Discovered. After
Death. To be a Woman":
...(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 his tongue. He knew that death was approaching,
but he did not relax the reticence of his later years other than to express
a few wishes as to certain things to be done at his death. Then, when the
hands of the kind friends who had ministered to his 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, a perfectly
formed, fully developed woman...
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 Agenc oversaw
the completion of the Parkhurst Terrace Apartments, located a mile along
the old stage route from the place of his death.
Actress Karen Kondazian wrote a historical fiction novel
The Whip based on the true story of Charley Parkhurst, published by Hansen
Publishing Group (2012).
Children's book author Pam Muñoz Ryan wrote a fictionalized
biography of Charley Parkhurst's life titled Riding Freedom.