“One-Eyed” Charley Parkhurst, The Wild West Hero Who Took A Big Secret To Their Grave
The highly respected stage coach driver surprised many when a secret about them was uncovered after they died
To survive in the Wild West was an endeavor difficult in and of itself reserved for a small number of people. The ability to thrive was something an even smaller fraction could claim with a straight face. One of those was stagecoach driver “One-Eyed” Charley Parkhurst, who was so adept at their job that they gained legendary status. However, after they passed away, their friends were shocked to discover that they had gone to their grave with a huge secret that nobody knew about.
Stage coaches connected the country, particularly in the West where settlements could be many miles apart. The ability to transport people, goods and mail both safely and quickly across the rough and often dangerous terrain was an invaluable talent. One of the best was Parkhurst, who gained a glowing reputation as a hard-driving man who got his coach where it needed to go for the years they drove various routes through California. Also nicknamed, “Six-Horse Charley,” they eventually reached a well-earned retirement and spent their later years quietly farming. However, upon their death, their friends and neighbors discovered that Charley was born a woman and had spent most of their adult life living as a man.
Charlotte Darkey Parkhurst was born in Sharon, Vermont in 1812. Raised as a female, Parkhurst’s parents both passed when they were still young, leading to a stint in a local orphanage. At the age of 12, they ran away, assumed the name of Charley and began presenting and identifying themselves as male.
Parkhurst fell into working with horses and driving coaches. This proved to be a sustainable career, but it really took off when they went West during the California Gold Rush in the late 1840s. Unfortunately, shortly after arriving, they lost an eye after being kicked in the head by a horse, thus earning the nickname of “One-Eyed Charley.”
Driving a stagecoach was dangerous work in general, let alone the frontiers of California. Carrying payroll, mail and other valuables, the dangers ranged from mechanical to potential…