This Gold Rush-Era Stagecoach Driver Withheld a Secret Identity

She successfully disguised her gender until after her death.

Considered the “best whip in California,” Charley Parkhurst successfully steered six-horse stagecoaches though treacherous terrain during the state’s booming Gold Rush. But what the employers and admirers of this whisky-drinking, tobacco-chewing, eyepatch-wearing driver didn’t know would astound them upon her death in 1879. She was born Charlotte.

As part of their Overlooked series on remarkable people whose deaths were not reported in the paper, The New York Times shares this California legend’s unexpected story.

According to The Times, “In California, she quickly became known for her ability to move passengers and gold safely over important routes between gold-mining outposts and major towns like San Francisco or Sacramento. ‘Only a rare breed of men (and women),’ wrote the historian Ed Sams in his 2014 book The Real Mountain Charley, ‘could be depended upon to ignore the gold fever of the 1850s and hold down a steady job of grueling travel over narrow one-way dirt roads that swerved around mountain curves, plummeting into deep canyons and often forded swollen, icy streams.’

“Parkhurst wore ‘long-fingered, beaded gloves,’ Sams wrote, to hide her feminine hands. She was considered one of the safest stagecoach drivers — not a daredevil, like so many of her contemporaries — and had a special rapport with the horses. She drove for Wells Fargo, at least once moving a large cargo of gold across the country.”

Read more about Charley’s incredible life and how she acquired that eyepatch here.

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