Surprises in the Wild West of Los Gatos

When people hear the phrase “the wild west”, Los Gatos doesn’t tend to be the first thing to pop to mind. But truth be told, this was the wild west, complete with horse thieving, bandits of every kind, grizzly bear attacks, scary stagecoach rides, the danger of fire with only a bucket brigade, and every other advantage and disadvantage you can imagine in the 1800s.

Transportation was a challenge back then. The road to Santa Cruz was dirt, narrow, and fraught with danger. Hairpin turns could be lethal if another stagecoach was coming your way and you didn’t hear it in time. Just as now you might toot your horn on a narrow, blind mountain turn, the stagecoach drivers would use a loud whistle to announce their presence to avoid catastrophe.

Lynda Dydo as Charley Parkhurst in Los Gatos History Walk on May 6, 2007
Lynda Dydo as Charley Parkhurst in Los Gatos History Walk on May 6, 2007

One of the teamsters who ran the stage between Los Gatos and Santa Cruz was a character named Charley Parkhurst (“Parkie”). Initially hailing from the east coast, Charley was an exceptionally adept driver. Charley lost an eye due to an injury (I’ve read both due to a bear attack and a kick from a horse), Charley sported a black patch over the empty socket. For about 20 years, Parkie or “one eyed Charley”, traversed the hill (from about 1854 to about 1874). Charley eventually had to slow down and retire to his home in Aptos. There he died on Dec 18, 1879.

Charley Parkhurst’s surprise

That’s when the surprise came: it was discovered that he was actually a born biologically female. From what I’ve found online, it appears that Charley ran away from an orphanage at age 12, dressed as a male and continued that way the rest of his life.

You can find Charley’s tombstone in Watsonville at the Pioneer Cemetery.

Interesting fact about this Charley Parkhurst:

Charley Parkhurst voted on November 3, 1868 when Ulysses Grant was running for president of the United States. This makes Charley the first biological woman to have voted both in the state of California or anywhere in the US.

Charley Parkhurst is sometimes confused with “Mountain Charley” (Charles McKiernan), who also suffered the wrath of a grizzly. But they are not the same people – they just happened to both live and work nearby during the same timeframe.

Want to learn more? There are many resources and links about Charley on the Wikipedia page.