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Books:

As you can imagine, there are several. "Charley's Choice," by Fern Hill, is available on Kindle. There's a list of 10 others at Amazon, too, including some out-of-print used ones.

The rest of the story:

SanJose.com's "metroactive" archive has an excellent long-form version of the Charley Parkhurst story.

Also, the Maracon Productions Website is very informative on this story.

epitaPH

Mental Floss, the on-line magazine, has a great photo of Charley's tombstone at Miss Cellania's blog -- click the thumbnail above to go there.

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Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

The surprising secret
of One-Eyed Charley

There was something most folks didn't know about One-Eyed Charley, the tough, taciturn, tobacco-chewing character who was the best stage driver on the West Coast. But the horses knew the truth.

Concord stagecoach
A reproduction stagecoach of the type One-Eyed Charley would have
driven on display in Kanab, Utah. (Photo courtesy PRA) (EDITOR'S
NOTE: Thanks to readers Gerald Ahnert and Jim Spainhower for
catching the error in this caption (coach was ID'd as an original vintage
Concord coach).)

If you’ve been down toward the southern end of Interstate 5, you’ve probably seen the Wolf Creek Tavern. It’s an old pioneer stagecoach inn, in which the state today operates a restaurant and guests can stay in smallish, tallish, Spartan guest rooms with quilts on the beds and no TVs -- although, no, you can’t stay in the room Jack London rented for a summer (it’s about the size of a small walk-in closet) and no, you can’t stay in the room Clark Gable used to reserve either (it’s set up with wax figures as a historical tableau).

Going to the gold fields

The inn itself was built in 1883, to serve the people riding stagecoaches south to California’s gold country. The stages, though, had been making the run since just before the Civil War. Remember, gold was found down there in 1848, and most of the male population of Oregon wanted to go down there and strike it rich. At first, they crossed the Siskiyous on foot; later, they took the coach. They took the coach back, too — broke and disappointed, most of them — although they did better than the '49ers who arrived the following year by ship from the East Coast, since they'd gotten to the gold fields first.

The best stage driver

When they got on that coach, if they were lucky, they got to ride with a famous driver named “One-Eyed Charley” Parkhurst. One-Eyed Charley had been driving a coach since gold was discovered -- at first from San Jose to Santa Cruz, later over the pass. He drove his team hard, spat his tobacco juice harder, and cussed like Sam Clemens; the only time he missed work was the day after payday, when he’d be too hung over to drive. He was curt and ornery, hell on wheels in a game of cards or dice and possibly the best handler of horse teams in the west. One source passes on a rumor that he shot and killed at least one bandit who’d hoped to rob the stage.

But he was not without a sense of civic duty. In 1868, he went and got himself registered to vote so he could help Ulysses S. Grant clinch the election.

Finally, in 1879, all that hard living caught up with One-Eyed Charley, and he died at the age of 67.

The big discovery

At the funeral home, the mortician made an unexpected discovery: The “Charley” part of One-Eyed Charley’s name was actually short for “Charlotte.” Orphaned at an early age, Charlotte dressed as a boy to escape her orphanage, and found the masquerade opened a lot of doors that were closed to girls and women in early 19th-century America. It became a way of life for her, from that day forward.

In denial

Naturally, the newspapers made much of this scandalous news, and many who had ridden with tough old Charley opined that s/he must have been a hermaphrodite or something -- born with nonfunctional female anatomy, but really male. This appears to have been a desperate attempt on the part of some men to avoid having to face the fact that the most accomplished member of the most macho “boys’ club” in the state -- stagecoach drivers -- was a woman.

Not only that, she’d up and voted in a Presidential election in 1868, possibly the first woman in America to do so.

There's another mystery, too. Some sources say the medical examiner found she'd given birth at some point. Other sources say this is an unconfirmable rumor. No one seems to know for sure.

 (Sources: Beal, Richard. Highway 17: The Road to Santa Cruz. Aptos, CA: Pacific Group, 1990; Sullivan, William. Hiking Oregon’s History. Eugene: Navillus, 2007; Maracon Productions History-Onyx website)

NOTE: In its original version, this article spelled One-Eyed Charley's name wrong -- it was spelled "One-Eyed Charlie." It's been fixed in this file, but it's still "Charlie" in the name of the file because changing that would corrupt hyperlinks. I apologize for the error and for any confusion.

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