Extraordinary Charley Parkhurst

stagecoach sketchSo many legends surround the 19th century stage driver known as Charley Parkhurst that it’s difficult now to separate fact from fiction.  It was only after his death at age 67, toward the end of December 1879, that “he” was discovered to be a biological woman by friends who were preparing the body for burial–and stunned reports flashed across America. Some say her given name at birth was Charlotte, and that she ran away from an orphanage dressed in boy’s clothes.  For obvious reasons, Charley herself said little about her past; yet the fact remains that she had not only taken a man’s name, but had lived her life as one in one of the most physically punishing occupations possible. Charles D. Parkhurst, as she called herself, was about forty when she came to California in the early 1850s where she drove many stage routes, including Sacramento to Placerville, Stockton to Mariposa, Oakland to San Jose, and San Juan Bautista to Santa Cruz. She got away with her masquerade by acting and looking the part, described as being a stout, compact figure 5’7’’ tall, with wide hips and blue-grey eyes, and a sun-baked, weathered skin. That she was said to be inherently ugly also added to a masculine image–and Charley smoked cigars and swilled whisky with the best of them.

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