The Exciting Times of Charley Parkhurst – Stagecoach Driver
Thanks to Kim Harris, a local historian and historical re-enactor, we get to learn more about this legendary stagecoach whip. Print out the puzzles linked below and follow along with the video to find the answers. There are additional resource links at the end of the blog to dig deeper into Carson Valley history. *Edit: This post was updated March, 2020*
“One time I was brakin’ down Carson Pass, when my lead horse stumbled off the road. Well, I bit down hard on my cigar and held on to those ribbons with all my might. Then the wheels hit an embankment and over I went! Somehow I never lost my grip on those ribbons and I managed (as the poor frightened beasts were draggin’ me along on my stomach) to steer my team back onto the road. Why the passengers were so grateful to be alive, they took up a collection and presented me with $20! I put that towards a new suit of clothes, as my favorite ones was now in shreds!
Now ole Charley here was only robbed once in his life. And I decided right then, there’d be no second time. So one evenin’ when the notorious road agent “Sugarfoot” (called that on account of puttin’ burlap sacks over his boots to disguise his tracks…) stopped my team and hollered for the box. I was havin’ none of it! I cracked my whip and sent my team of six a boltin’! Then I pulled out my .44 and fired all six shots. That was the last time ole “Sugarfoot” ever attempted to rob a stage. He now resides in a local Boot Hill pushin’ up daisies!
Well, after so many years of driving in the cold and the rain, rheumatism caught up with me as it does with most drivers. So I decided at the age of 54, I’d slow down a bit and retired to my farm near Watsonville, California. I did some lumberjackin’ and raised some cattle and chickens. I even became involved in the local community and joined the I.O.O.F. Lodge #137. Stellar group! We met above D.J. Cummins’ grocery store. That Cummins…weighed about 375lbs and sat by the door for every meetin’. We was the only lodge I know of with a bouncer!
I’d never been much on politics, but it was my lodge brothers who convinced me of the importance of voting in the 1868 Presidential Election between that New Yorker – Seymour and General Ulysses S. Grant. Glad I did it too. I feel as if I helped the right man to win. Yes, I felt very fortunate to have such good friends lookin’ out for me.
Therefore, in 1879 along about Christmas when I’d not been seen at the lodge for a few days, a couple of the members came a lookin’ for me. They knocked on my cabin door, but there was no answer. I was gone… gone to meet my Maker! It was cancer of the throat and tongue which got me in the end. Well, bein’ the good folks these men were, they wanted to give me real nice funeral and called on the local undertaker to prepare my body for this auspicious occasion!
That’s when they found out the secret that I had kept nearly all my life. You see, ole’ Charley here is really a woman! That’s right, Charlotte is my given name. Well, after recoverin’ from what must have been the shock of their lives, everyone started lookin’ around for some answers. They found the red trunk filled with baby clothes. That’s a deep sorrow I never discussed with a livin’ soul and I ain’t about to start now! Anyway, they gave me the grandest send-off any lodge member could have hoped for. But everyone still wondered who I really was and why I done it?
Alright then, I’ll tell you… I grew up in an orphanage and the only good thing that came from it was my love for horses. Loved horses better than I Ioved most people. So when I ran away, I disguised myself as a boy to be hired at a livery stable. If they’d a known I was a girl, they would have never hired me. Eventually, I became an excellent driver and left the East Coast for California in 1851. I continued to live as a man in order to do what I had to do, and the only thing I could do which was drive stages. And I didn’t want to do nothin’ else neither!”
Charley Darkey Parkhurst, also known as “One-Eyed Charley”, was one of the fastest and safest Whips here in the Sierra and a contemporary of the famous Hank Monk who was known as the Jehu of the Sierras. Charley arrived in Sacramento Town, California during the great Gold Rush and drove the Sierras and later the Central California Coast when stage drivers were “Kings”. She represented many women, unbeknownst to much of our nation, who found a way to serve their country in ways that were forbidden to their sex.
Story by Kim Harris, a local historian and historical re-enactor, who passionately shares her love of Carson Valley history at every opportunity afforded to her. Find out more at Western History ALIVE!