Charley Parkhurst Facts and Legends

1812 Charlotte (Charley) Darkey Parkhurst was born in Lebanon, NH, (though her middle name may have been Durkey). (Documented)
1824 Charley runs away from an orphanage. She reaches Worcester, MA and gets a job with Ebenezer Balch who promises to make a man out of Charley. (MacDonald)

Boys and girls were often dressed in shirts and overalls and had the same haircut. Short hair was easier to keep clean and vermin-free. (Leonetti)

Eb Balch purchased the Franklin House and What Cheer Stables and took Charley with him to Providence, RI. (MacDonald)  There is no mention of a Mrs. Balch. Tilly is a purely fictional character.

Upon leaving a dance in Pawtucket one freezing night in January, Charley had to turn the reins over to “proud” Liberty Childs because her fingers were stiff with cold. (MacDonald)
Mid-Late 1940’s Charley leaves Providence, RI for Georgia with one other driver. Her exact whereabouts during that time are unclear. (The author assumed this situation would have been the most logical time and place to have a child without drawing attention to the fact. Pineywood, GA is a fictional place. Mattie is also a figment of the author’s imagination. Although Charley did gave birth, there are no records to indicate the time, place or gender of the child (though MacDonald says the red dress in Charley’s trunk was that of a baby, other reports the author read, did not.))
1849 Upon her return to Providence, RI, from Georgia, Charley worked for William Hayden and Charles H. Child. Mr. Child owned the team of beautiful, matched grays.

Charley meets Jim Birch and Frank Stevens who leave Providence to start the California Stage Company.
1851 Charley leaves Boston aboard the R. B. Forbes for Panama on her way to California.

In Panama, Charley meets John Morton, President of Morton Draying and Warehouse Co. Morton says of her: “an agreeable ‘compaignon de voyage.’”

Fifth great fire almost destroyed San Francisco. In less than 10 hours, 18 blocks, with 2000 buildings burned. May 4, 1851.  (San Francisco 1)

Sixth great fire in San Francisco destroyed 14 blocks in 4 hours. June 22, 1851.  (San Francisco 1)

465 vessels moored in San Francisco bay.  July 24, 1851.  (San Francisco 1)

Charley arrives in California on the Golden Gate from the Isthmus of Panama.

Lee Lan’s kidnapping in Canton, China and ultimate sale into prostitution in San Francisco is based on fact:
  Lee Lan had, it was believed, gone to visit relatives in Canton and there been kidnapped, then shipped to San Francisco and sold into prostitution. She died in San Francisco in 1859 and, because of her high caste, was accorded an elaborate funeral, rare for most Chinese women. She was twenty. (Levy, 153)
  Charley keeps candy in her pockets for children. (MacDonald, Curtis)

Charley was known to do double duty on occasion driving both ways on the San Jose to Santa Cruz run, driving through the night and earning double pay.

Charley rolled an empty coach once and “busted in” his sides (probably broke a few ribs), but never saw a doctor about it.

Charley drove her passengers over the rain-swollen Tuolumne River reaching solid ground just before the bridge collapsed.

An incident with hogs scaring the horses so they “jumped grade” happened on the Santa Cruz Stage. Five deaths occurred. (MacDonald)
1856 While on a run from San Francisco to San Jose, in the town of Redwood City, Charley was kicked in the eye by an unhappy horse, and became known as “Cockeyed Charley.”

“While driving at a fast clip, he [Charley] could, some claimed, run over a half dollar that was lying in the road, with the front and rear wheels of his stage. Some found his proficiency with a whip “downright spooky”; Parkhurst could, the stories went, “cut the end off an envelope held at arm’s length at 15 paces, or cut the cigar from a man’s mouth at the same distance without hurting anyone.” (Leonetti)
1858 Sugarfoot held up Charley’s coach for the first time in June. When Sugarfoot held Charley up a second time six months later, she shot and killed him. (Billy Todd is a fictional character and was not Sugarfoot’s real name.)
1859 New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley got the noggin-bumping ride of his life from Hank Monk of the California Stage Co.

Charley’s did almost walk out on the interview with Ben Holladay in Council Bluffs, IA, stating, “No; I won’t suit you, Mr. Holliday, for I would keep as far from that cliff as the hubs would let me.” And Holliday replied, “... You are just the man I want.” (Judd) Charley did not have to prove her skill to Holladay, for by that time, she had been wearing an eye patch for a number of years.

Charley did have to change her stage run because of the “interest” of some Mormon women. (Judd)

While in the employ of Wells Fargo, Charley was entrusted with a large sum of money to messenger to New York at which time she went to Providence, RI. (Harmon) Yes, the Georgie Harmon of the book’s afterword. Nothing was mentioned of seeing Ed Balch while she was in Providence.
1860’s The following event was reported to Mabel Rowe Curtis by Mrs. Clark’s granddaughter, Helen T. Tarr:
  Charley did logging in the Santa Cruz mountains and worked for Andy Jackson Clark in Hungry Hollow. One night he came home stone drunk and Mrs. Clark told her 17-year old son to put Charley to bed. A few moments later, the boy dashed into his mother’s room bug-eyed and said, “Maw, Charley ain’t no man, he’s a woman!”
  The Clarks did not mention the event until after Charley’s death. (Curtis)

During the winter, Charley was often paid top-dollar as a logger at the rate of $5.00 per day when many men were paid only $3.00. (MacDonald)
1866 Parkhurst’s filing of a land dispute with Frederick A. Hihn — The suit having been unresolved at her death, and the court renumbering cases in 1880, her filing remains on the records and is now number 1 of over 100,000. “According to handwritten court documents of the day, Parkhurst physically kicked Hihn off the property, and filed suit in the old District Court to protect her $30.00-a-year lease on a small portion of the ranch.” (Stroth 13)
1867 Registered to vote at the Santa Cruz County Hall of Records on April 25, 1867, #1039, age 55, resident of Soquel. (Documents)

When a widow neighbor and her pretty daughter were about to lose their home through foreclosure, kind-hearted Charley stepped in and bought the place and returned it to them. (Brennan)
1868 Charley was known to have voted in the federal election between Ulysses S. Grant and Horatio Seymour fifty-two years before women won the right to vote through the 19th amendment to the U. S. Constitution in 1920. (Curtis)
1870’s Retired from driving stage due to “sciatic rheumatism” from being pounded and bounced in the box of a stagecoach for so many years. Whenever she was away from home driving stage, Frank Woodward looked after Charley’s farm. They were friends for 20 years.

She opened a depot (horse-changing station) and saloon on the old Santa Cruz Road between Santa Cruz and Watsonville.
1873 Charley retired from the small cattle business she and Frank Woodward ran. (Harmon)
1879 Frank Woodward kept vigil at Charley’s side when she was dying and was very upset when he found out Charley was a woman.

Charley Parkhurst died of cancer of the mouth and throat in Watsonville, CA. December 28, 1879. Charley’s grave in the Pioneer Cemetery was donated by Otto A. Stoesser, Sr.

In her will, Charley left $600.00 to a neighbor boy by the name of George Harmon (12-years old). The money was deposited with Otto Stoesser in Watsonville.

Charley’s locked tin trunk contained a red dress and a pair of baby shoes.
1880 George Harmon’s father put a small headstone on Charley’s grave. (Harmon)

“Charley Parkhurst used to be with Hank Monk a good deal in early days and when Hank heard the report that Charley had turned out to be a woman, he was so overcome for several minutes the he gasped for breath, and drawled out: “Je—hosaphat! I camped out with Parkie once for over a week, and we slept on the same buffalo robe right along; wonder if Curley Bill’s playing me the same way.” (Santa Cruz Sentinel 1 October 1880)
1955 Pajaro Valley Historical Association erected a monument on Charley’s grave in Watsonville’s Pioneer Cemetery. The inscription reads: 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 Charley” a woman. The first woman to vote in the U. S. Nov. 3, 1868. (Charley was not the first woman to vote in the U. S. but in the state of California.) (picture below)
1979 A bronze plaque marking Charlotte (Charlie) Parkhurst’s voting coup was erected on the Soquel fire station wall. Charley voted in Tom Mann’s hotel where the fire station now stands.

(Dates may be approximate)


A truly courageous woman that was born in the wrong century....

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by Kate Beckett

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