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Charley Parkhurst

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Charley Darkey Parkhurst, often Parkurst, (1812 – 1879) was an American stagecoach driver and early California settler. Posing as a man for most of her life, Parkhurst may have been the first woman in the U.S. to vote.[1]

Life and careerEdit

Parkhurst, also known as One Eyed Charley or Six-Horse Charley, was born as Charlotte Darkey Parkhurst in Lebanon, New Hampshire and grew up in an orphanage there owned by a man named Millshark.

He worked as a stable boy for Ebeneezer Balch located first in Worcester, Massachusetts,[2] and later in Providence, Rhode Island; then in the "What Cheer Stables" at the back of the Franklin House Inn in Providence for the next couple of years.

About 1849 two friends, James E. Birch and Frank Stevens, went to California and consolidated several small stage lines into the California Stage Company. Charley 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. Charles Darkey Parkurst is listed in the Santa Cruz Sentinel on October 17, 1868 under the official poll list, making Parkhurst the first woman to vote in the United States.

Parkhurst then ran a way station between Watsonville and Santa Cruz for some years.

After trying lumbering, cattle ranching and raising chickens in Aptos, California for a while, he finally moved into a small cabin near Watsonville again. There he died on December 18, 1879 of cancer of the tongue.

Posthumous outingEdit

When Parkhurst died in 1879, the neighbors came to the cabin to lay out the body for burial, and they discovered that the renowned stagecoach driver was a woman. Rheumatism and cancer of the tongue were listed as causes of death, but the examining doctor, called in by the astounded neighbors, definitely established that Charlie had been a mother; a trunk in the house contained a baby's dress.[3]

After Parkhurst's death, the secret of his identity was revealed, but it traveled somewhat slower than the news of his death. So the San Francisco Morning Call wrote on December 28, 1879:

"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 on Parkhurst's grave site 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."[4]

References Edit

  1. Jones, Donna (July 17, 2005), “Infamous P.V. pioneer’s name to grace new housing complex”, Santa Cruz Sentinel, <>. Retrieved on 2007-11-25 
  2. Pryor, Alton (2003), Fascinating Women in California History, p. 86, ISBN 0966005392 
  3. Thrapp, Dan L. (1991), Encyclopedia of Frontier Biography: P-Z, University of Nebraska Press, p. 1115, ISBN 0803294204 
  4. Beal, Richard A. (1991), p. 71-2, ISBN 0962997404 

External links Edit

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