One Eyed Charley
March 7, 2008 Leave a comment
The wonderful time my wife and I had in Mexico was almost ruined before we got there. On the plane one of her contacts broke in her eye. No damage was done to the eye but she is fairly blind without some form of vision correction. Since nothing like this had happened in all her years of wearing contacts she had not brought a backup pair. While on the plane she was not even positive that she had packed glasses.
The prospect of seeing only with one eye for four days was a bit terrifying. Being me I was barely able to abstain from offering to buy her a cane and dark glasses. I suspect she would not have seen the humor in that. As soon as we got our checked bags we found her glasses. At least she could see.
To play tennis during the trip she tried to go with one contact and sunglasses. Didn’t work. My wife is fluent in Italian–this becomes relevant in a moment. She speaks perfectly in that language I am told. Yet in her native English she has trouble with most idioms. Something in her head (I think it is because she is translating from the Italian, but what do I know) causes typical American idioms to come out wrong. She might say take the bull by the tail or spill the peas. After tennis that day she declared that she was just a One Eyed Charlie. I am guessing that is some combination of idioms I cannot even imagine.
One Eyed Charlie became the joke for the rest of the weekend. One of the last days there we went with a group on a hike up a dry river bed. The trail was uphill and over rocks. Ol’ One Eyed decided to do this with her one contact. Others in that state might hang back in the group. Not her. She leads. There she went picking out the trail never stopping or second guessing her choice of direction. Even though seeing was not her strong suit in that condition.
Who would have thunk that I married One Eyed Charlie Trailblazer? Every day with her is a new adventure.
Just for fun I Googled “one Eyed Charlie” Sure enough I found this:
One-Eyed Charlie was a stagecoach driver, a job that commanded considerable respect back in 19th century Oregon. A look at the roadbeds of such wagon route remnants as I-5 between Grants Pass and Roseburg and OR-28 north of Jacksonville might help you to understand why. Hostile Indians, ruthless highwaymen, and inclement weather plagued these frontier thoroughfares. Even without such hazards, bouncing along for days on end on a buckboard carriage, minus shock absorbers and air conditioning required considerable fortitude.
Of all the drivers on the Oregon-to-California line, One-Eyed Charlie, who lost an eye shoeing a horse (The American Woman’s Gazetteer, Bantam Books 1976, p. 22) was the driver of choice whenever Wells Fargo needed to send a valuable cargo. Despite a salty vocabulary, an opinionated demeanor, and a rough appearance, all of which might have rankled some passengers, no one was better at handling the horses or dealing with adversity.
When the stage would roll into Portland or Sacramento, One-Eyed Charlie would collect a paycheck and disappear for a few days. It was said Charlie was a heavy drinker and gambler during sojourns deep into the seamy frontier underworld. When it came time to make the next trip through, however, Charlie would be back at the helm, sober and cantankerous as ever. Parkhurst’s reputation as a heavy drinker was disputed in a recent letter to the authors from Elizabeth Levy of Soquel, California who wrote: “She was not ‘hard drinking’ but drank moderately, played cards, chewed and smoked tobacco, leading to cancer of the tongue.”
One day, One-Eyed Charlie’s hard-drivin’ hard-drinkin’ life came to a climax. When the coroner was preparing the body for burial, he made a surprising discovery. One-Eyed Charlie was really Charlotte Darkey Parkhurst (1812-1879)! (Oregon Handbook,Moon Publications 1998, p. 396) Orphaned at birth, Parkhurst first donned male clothing to escape an orphanage in Massachusetts. She learned how to drive a six-horse team in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, (The American Woman’s Gazetteer, p. 21) and after working in stables until about 1851, she moved to California and settled in Santa Cruz County. She began driving stagecoachesand is reputed to have killed at least one bandit. The advent of the railroad forced her to turn to ranching and lumberjacking. (Completely Queer, Henry Holt & Company 1998, p. 431)
Shock waves reverberated up and down the West Coast at the realization that a woman had been best at what was considered exclusively a man’s domain. The discovery of Parkhurst’s true identity made much newspaper copy. The San Francisco Call remarked that “No doubt he was not like other men, indeed, it was generally said among his acquaintances that he was a hermaphrodite” and that “the discoveries of the successful concealment for protracted periods of the female sex are not infrequent.” (Out In All Directions, p. 166) Elizabeth Levy, disputing the claims of the Call, advised the authors that “the ‘hermaphrodite’ comment is ludicrous. A medical exam found her to be a well endowed female, who had at one time in her life given birth.”
Levy further claims that Parkhurst “lived her final days with a male bachelor friend named Frank Woodward, who may or may not have known her true identity. Several local historians think there may have been several people who knew Charlie’s secret, even up to ten years before her death, but that the newspapers were inclined to make a big deal about it after her death.”
But the real kicker was that Parkhurst had voted in a presidential election, over half a century before a woman could legally vote! As the voting records have been lost, legal scholars have been unable to prove or debunk the persistent legend of One-Eyed Charlie (Oregon Handbook, Moon Publications 1998, p. 396) but Soquel, California honors Charlotte Darkey Parkhurst as “…the first woman in the world to vote in a presidential election (November 4, 1868). Although it might well be true that this woman who lived as a man all her life voted here for or against Ulysses S. Grant, she is more a legend for her daring exploits as a stagecoach driver…” (The American Woman’s Gazetteer, p. 21)