Every history teacher wants to pretend to be someone in history, I think. I had my shot at it for a fourth grade event called Butterfield Stage Days in Porterville, CA. Most of the kids never guessed my secret. They just wondered how I could be dead and still be there. Whatever happened to fear of ghosts? They never even said I looked WAY too young to be 200 years old! What’s up with THAT?
This is the monologue I wrote and acted out. It is almost that time again, so I thought someone else might want to use it.
Name’s Parkhurst, Charles D. Parkhurst. The other stage coach drivers call me Charley. You might be wondering why I’ve got this black patch on my eye. Well, that’s part of my story, but my story’s got a secret, that I never told anyone – in all my days. Maybe you can guess, but none of my friends ever suspected. But my eye, well, I wasn’t born like this, with just one eye. No siree. When I was borned in 1812 back in New Hampshire, I had 2 good eyes, same as you. Got kicked by a horse, by George. Now you may be wonderin’ how I got way out here in Californie if I was borned way back east in New Hampshire. It ain’t a pretty picture. No siree. See, back in 1812, not that I remember it much, fact is I don’t remember my parents at all. You all got parents? Seems like everybody does. I guess I had them, but I grew up in an orphanage.
You might ask, what’s it like in an orphanage? Well, I don’t remember too much, but we was always broke. We worked hard, but didn’t have much. All looked pretty much the same, too. The house parents just came around gave us all the same hair cuts, and the few clothes we had, but tweren’t no love lost between us kids and them, I’ll tell ya. We had nothing, so when I was 15 I ran away. I figured that life couldn’t get much worse. And I was right.
Life got much more interesting once I ran away. Course, I had to work to live. My first job was in Worchester, Massachusetts working for Ebenezer Blach. He was a good man, ole Mr. Blach. My job was cleaning the stables and caring for the horses. I love horses, but then you probably already guessed that, me being a stage coach driver and all that. One of the best they tell me, but I don’t like to talk about that too much. Why I got a $20 tip from one customer when my team veered off the road, and I was throwed from the coach. I hung on to them reins for dear life. Oh sure it hurt being drug along by them horses through the bushes, but I finally managed to turn them horses right into the bushes, and stopped them cold, it did. I think my passengers thought I was a goner, and on a mountain trail, they probably thought they was a gonna be gonners too, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
So working for ole Mr. Blach tweren’t so bad. I musta did alright cause when he moved his business he took me with him. Guess I must have been a pretty hard worker. That’s where people started calling me Whip. It was probably that name that landed me my next job with a couple of wealthy gold transporters who were headin’ out to Californie. Those gentlemen asked me to move west. Let’s see, that was in the early 1850’s. I weren’t no whipper snapper then, nigh on to 40 years old. Bout the age of some of your folks.
I drove with some of the best. I remember that ole whip, Hank Monk, and Charlie Crowell, not to mention Jared Crandall. I tell you it was wild back in them days. Guess you can tell by my old weather beaten face – all that sun and wind – can’t get enough of the feel of that freedom, riding those trails with the wind a blowin’ us along.
Ah yes, the adventures, I tell you it was fast moving. Like nothing you could imagine. We took our passengers 60 miles a day most days, even if it meant going through mud that twer knee high. Then we had to turn around and come right back home, too – 120 miles. Dog tired, that’s what we were those days. Dog tired, and proud of it. Never lost one night’s sleep over nothin’ You ain’t experienced nothing unless you’ve rode in one of them thar buggies for 120 miles through the slush we drove em through.
Did I ever meet up with gangsters, you ask me? Darn tootin’ I did, and they knew better than to stop me. Always carried a six-shooter right there on the seat besides me. Killed me one of them highway men dead on the spot. Guess them other robbers musta gotten wind of it, ‘cause I never had no more problems with em. But yeah, I got robbed once, but only once. You don’t mess with Charlie Parkhurst more than once.
You heard about my drivin’? Yeah that ole Jared Crandall probably told you ‘bout the time I ran over the quarter with both wheels. Dead on that quarter, too, goin’ top speed. I even surprised myself, but Jared, he never could get over it, me bein’ half blind an all that. The way that man goes on and on, no wonder I was such a busy driver. I keep tellin’ ole Jared, ya just gotta listen to those wheels. You know if you kin hear them rattle, you knows yous on solid ground. The second they don’t rattle – well in these mountains, you just better keep hearing them rattles. No rattlin’ it ain’t a good thing I’m a tellin’ ya.
So where’d I sleep. Well I didn’t rightly need a home bein’ gone so much. I could sleep anywhere, so I just mostly slept with my horses. I get along best with horses. They don’t go spreadin’ stories about you. Them other Jehu – that’s another word for driver – Them Jehu, they tried to get me to go in with them to the bar and spend all my hard earned cash on booze. I tell them guys, “You guys nuts. Who wants to spend all this money on booze, and just go ‘round spilling your guts to whomever. No siree. I need my guts to keep them wagon wheels hugging that solid ground.
Did I ever marry, you ask? Well not for the lack of tryin’ Women, they could be such a bother, though I feel sorry for them out in these here parts. It ain’t easy for the womenfolk to be living out here in Californie? I mean there tweren’t always doctors when them ladies needed a doctor. I set many broke bones, and even delivered many a baby into this world cause there tweren’t no doctor. Yeah those ladies called me “Prince of Ribbons” cause I really knew how to handle those reins up there in the ole box. They even called me “Silent Charlie”, and I never minded that. If I had somethin’ to say, I’d say it, but why waste words. They just get you into trouble. Better to stay silent and have folks think you’re a fool, than to start a yapping and talking, and prove it!
One more thing before I get back to my normal silent self. I hear there’s an election comin’ up in your parts. You all are too young to vote, but you know, it’s always been my passion that you vote or you done lost your chance to complain about anything. I tell you I’m passionate about the right to vote. You k now I was the first one of my kind to cast a vote in this great country of the United States.
You know, I’m startin to get me a sore throat here. It’s been hangin’ on for some time now. I’ve been a doctorin’ myself, and I’m still feeling kind of rough. I think I’d better stop talkin’ here pretty soon. Sometimes I just get to coughing. Must be all that smoking I done over the years. Don’t let them kid you that chewin’s alright either. I’m afraid the cancer’s a takin over my tongue. And here I go again – losing my voice so I can barely talk over a whisper.
So great talking to you all. Did anyone figure out my secret – the one that I told you at the beginnin’? Well, I’ll whisper my secret, though when I died in December, 1879, everyone found out – even that nice young Harmon boy that was livin’ with me for a time. Nice young kid. I left him my estate. That’s when he found my red dress, and a pair of my baby shoes, but you didn’t get it from me. I never told no one.
Primary Source Documents News articles from the 1880s just after Parkhurst died December 29, 1879.