Dear readers, in this edition I know I promised to tell you about how towns were named during the westward expansion, and I promise you that tale is still on it’s way, but I had the rare opportunity to interview a stagecoach driver from yester-year, and I thought you’d be interested in this driver’s experiences while employed here in Northern Nevada and California.
Here is my interview with One-eyed Charley Parkhurst – stagecoach driver. Now be patient as Charley tells his tales in the only manner he knows how…
“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 tight to them ribbons with all my might. Then my wheel hit an embankment and over I went! Somehow I never lost my grip on them ribbons and I managed (as the poor frightened beasts were draggin’ me along on my stomach) to steer my team back onta the road. Why them passengers were so grateful to be alive, they took up a collection and presented me with $20 which I put towards a new suit of clothes, as my favorite ones was all in shreds!
Now ole Charley here was only ever robbed once in his life. And I decided right then an there, there’d be no second time. So one evenin’ when the notorious road agent name a “Sugarfoot” (called that on account of puttin’ burlap sacks over his boots to disguise his tracks…) stopped my team and hollered fer the box, why I was havin’ none of it! I cracked my whip over my team 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! An my company was grateful enough to reward me with a gold watch on account of my bravery.
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 me some cattle and chickens. I even became involved in the local community and joined the I.O.O.F. Lodge #137. Stellar group of fellars! We met above D.J. Cummins’ grocery store. That Cummins…weighed about 375lbs and sat by the door for every meetin’. I believe we was the only lodge I know of with a bouncer!
I’d never been much on politics, jus listen’d ta the fellars jawin’ about it up in the seat next ta me. But it was my lodge brothers who convinced me of the importance of voitin’ in the 1868 U.S. Presidential election between that yahoo from New York name a Seymour and General Ulysses S. Grant. Glad I did it too. I feel as if my vote helped to elect the right man. Yes, I felt very fortunate to have such good friends lookin’ out for me.
Therefore, in 1879 along about Christmastime when I’d not been seen at the lodge for a few days, a couple of the members came a lookin’ fer 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. Suppose it was smokin’ them cigars, drinkin’ whisky an chewin’ tobacca. 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 the secret I’d kept nearly all my life. Ya 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 a their lives, everyone started lookin’ aroun’ for some answers. They found the red trunk filled with baby clothes. That’s a deep sorrow I never discussed with another livin’ soul and I ain’t about to start now! Anyway, they gave me the grandest send-off any lodge member could have ever hoped for. But still, they 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 ever come from it was my love of horses. Loved horses better than I Ioved most people. So when I ran away, I disguised myself as a boy so as I could get hired at a livery stable. They’d a never hired me if they knowd I was a girl.
Eventually I became an excellent driver and left Rhode Island for California in 1851 when Jim Birch of the California Stage Line come from Sacramento, back to his home state, a lookin’ fer excellent drivers and horses. Of course I hired on… do ya think I was crazy? So many folks was leavin’ the old states headin’ fer a better life on the Pacific Coast, whether it be gold panin’ or what have ya.
Now, I’m no slow-poke in the head, an I know yer wonderin’ how I could drive a six-up stage with the sight in just the one eye. Allright, since yer curious, I’ll indulge ya. One day I was bendin’ over shoe’n my horse and the next thing I knowd I woke up in Doc Lee’s office with a brass band goin’ off in ma head. When I made my way over ta the lookin’ glass, I realized I’d have to wear a patch over my left eye if I didn’t want ta be called “Cockeyed Charley” the rest a m’ life.
Jim Birch was the kinda man who stood by his word and assured me I’d always have a job with him, but no longer drivin’ a stage. All I ever wanted to do was drive a stage, it was tha only thing I knew how ta do! So I bidid’ my time and taught m’self to drive again. First using a carriage and a two-up team, then a four-up and finally a six-up. When I could complete my old route without an upset, ten times complete, I approached Jim once again. He was reluctant, but agreed to give me a chance. Next day in the pourin’ rain I completed my old run in record time and ole’ Jim handed me back ma reins.
So, folks, I continued to live as a man in order to do what I had to do, the only thing I could do which was drive stages. And I didn’t want to do nothin’ else neither!
Here’s what I want ta leave ya with; do whatever you want to do. There’ll be sacrifices aplenty. But if you are determined enough, you will find a way. And here’s somethin’ else fer ya to chew on…I am very blessed to be alikes of that Melissa Coray who was the first white woman to cross the Sierra. What was my first you ask? Well I was the first woman to cast a vote in a U.S. Presidential election, 52 years before women was given the right to do so! Know this, history is made every moment, every hour and every day, by every one of us. So make our history count – keep it ALIVE!”
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 Sierra 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.
Alright pardners…next edition I promise to tell you about the exciting, weird and sometimes obvious ways towns received their names as the westward expansion claimed land along the way.
Western History ALIVE!