Monday, April 18, 2016

Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives by Sarah J. McNeal

Charley Parkhurst

Charley Parkhurst was a stagecoach driver. So, needless to say, Charley spent long days traveling through thunderstorms and other miserable weather and battled bandits determined to rob the passengers while hauling upwards of 18 people packed into the wobbly old wooden box.

Charley handled the reins with expertise despite missing one eye. Allegedly, Charley managed to cross a raging river just before the bridge collapsed, was able to halt a runaway coach while being dragged through the brush, and once shot an outlaw who tried to hold up the stage. Eventually, the rough life Charley led caused a bad case of rheumatism to set in and forced Charley to give up driving and take up a life of ranching and lumbering. Pankhurst’s last days were spent alone in a cabin before dying of cancer in 1879. Saddened, friends came to prepare the body for the funeral, and then Charley’s ordinary existence took on a strange turn.

As the doctor started to undress Charley’s body, he discovered that one of the best stagecoach drivers in California had an unusual secret—Charley was a woman. Documents show that Charley registered for the 1868 election. So, One-Eyed Charley might have been the first woman to vote in California.

Tom Smith

People may imagine the Old West was an anything goes place when it came to guns, but towns like Abilene, Kansas actually had very strict rules when it came to firearms. One of the man who enforced these laws was Marshal Tom Smith. Legend has it Tom was involved in the accidental death of a teen and turned in his badge and headed west. During his travels, Smith cleaned up towns like Kit Carson, Colorado and Bear River City, Wyoming, but it was when he showed up in Abilene that he really came to fame.
The town was full of disorderly Texas cowboys who enjoyed games like “Harass the Citizen” and “Burn Down the Jail.” Fed up with these unruly cattle-punching criminals, Abilene’s officials hired Smith and turned him loose on the cowpokes.

Riding out on his horse Silverheels, Smith enforced the town’s most unpopular law: No guns inside city limits. As one might imagine, many of the cowboys grew irritated with this regulation, and on two separate occasions, the obnoxious cowboys challenged Marshal Smith to take their pistols. Smith happily obliged them. When pistol-packing thugs got tough, Smith just knocked them out cold.

Despite his extraordinary fighting skills, Smith couldn’t manuver his way out of every situation. On November 2, 1870, he armed himself and went after the wanted murderer Andrew McConnell. When he showed up at McConnell’s house, the suspect shot the marshal in the chest. As Smith fired back, another outlaw named Moses Miles rushed Smith and almost completely decapitated him with an axe.

The killers were caught and sent to prison. Smith was buried in the local cemetery, leaving the town without a lawman—until a man named Wild Bill Hickok rode into town.

Orrin Porter Rockwell

Orrin Porter earned the name of the “Destroying Angel” because, it was said, he murdered 100 men. The body count was probably lower, but still, Orrin certainly knew how to fill a few graves. Born in Massachusetts, Rockwell traveled to Missouri where he became one of the first Mormon converts and founder Joseph Smith’s personal bodyguard. Rockwell was what you might call a “prayer warrior,” and when Gov. Lilburn Boggs ordered all Mormons out of Missouri, Rockwell allegedly tried to show him the light—the one at the end of the tunnel. Now I just want to say this reminds me of “the Swede” in the TV series “Hell On Wheels.” Just sayin’…

Anyway, Rockwell was jailed for his attempted “conversion” of Governor Boggs, but was released after a year behind bars. As soon as his boots hit the ground on the outside of that jail, he quickly made his way to Nauvoo, Illinois, where things took a Biblical turn. Like a scene taken from the Old Testament, Joseph Smith happy to see Rockwell again, gave him a special blessing. Smith declared no one could harm the gunman so long as he never cut his hair. Just like Samson, this Latter-day Saint disobeyed his boss—just once, supposedly to fashion his long hair into a wig for a woman who’d lost her hair.
Even though Rockwell may have had a soft side, but he wasn’t afraid to kill in the name of the Lord. After Smith’s arrest and assassination in 1844, Rockwell took revenge on Frank Worrell, the militiaman who was supposed to guard the prophet. Later, when Brigham Young moved the church to Salt Lake City, Rockwell was appointed the town’s marshal.

In 1857, President James Buchannan tried to forcibly replace Young as Utah’s governor with a non-Mormon. Infuriated, American Moses ordered Rockwell to torment incoming troops. Rockwell, obedient to the orders given, killed two men who were trying to supply them. It took 20 years before the gunman Rockwell was charged, but by then, it was of no consequence. The Destroying Angel had died an old man in his bed.

Sarah J. McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western and historical fiction. She is a retired ER and Critical Care nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Prairie Rose Publications and its imprints Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press. Some of her fantasy and paranormal books may also be found at Publishing by Rebecca Vickery and Victory Tales Press. She welcomes you to her website and social media:


  1. Wow! You have rounded up a wild bunch of intriguing Old West Characters.
    The Charley Parkhurst story was a surprise. And I bet many of her friends were shocked. I wonder why she was so alone all the time? Sure, to hide her secret...but why?
    Tom Smith--good grief..he did not deserve to die in such a gruesome manner.
    Orrin Porter--yes! He does resemble the character called The Swede" in Hell on Wheels. If he is not the creepiest character I've even seen. (I wonder is HOW will return this summer? Fall? Anytime? Tell me it's not over.
    Great post, Sarah. I enjoyed reading it, even though it was a bit gruesome.
    (And that Tom Smith was a handsome devil, wasn't he?)

    1. Ya know, Celia, I thought the same thing about Charlie. She seemed so alone and I felt sad for her. It took me by surprise, too. Who would have thought?
      Tom does look handsome like a movie star.
      I wanted to write something different so I Googled, "Weird characters in the old west", and this is what I got. LOL
      I haven't heard whether HOW is coming back or not. I hope it does. I certainly got a different view of Mormons from that show. The Swede just won't die, will he? He really creeps me out. I hope they at least have a final season so they can tie up loose ends and give those who deserve it a happy ending.
      Thank you for coming to visit and leaving a comment. I was wondering if anyone was going to visit. It seems I can always count on you.

  2. Interesting, Sarah. Seems I remember reading about Charley Parkhurst but I'd not heard of the other characters. History is so much fun!!!

    1. This was the first I ever heard of Charlie. The story took me completely by surprise.
      Digging up stories like this is so interesting. Who knew all this was going on back then? Yes. History and research are fun.
      Thank you for commenting, Linda. I appreciate it.

  3. I loved your post, Sarah J. What a fascinating insight into these people. Each one would be a great subject for a film. I did feel sorry for One-Eyed Charlie, and how she had to hide her true indentity then died alone. Wonder if there was anyone she confided in? And I love that she voted! Thanks for the history lesson.

    1. I loved the irony of her voting, too, Ashley. It was like a little payback for all the loneliness and hard work she must have gone through. So many questions come to mind. I guess we'll never get all the answers now.
      I really appreciate you coming to visit my blog and commenting. It was very kind of you.

  4. If you think I didn't see your disparaging remarks about Texas cowboys, missy, you're mistaken. What have you got against innocent little games of Harass the Citizen and Burn Down the Jail? Spoilsport.

    I've read about Charlie Parkhurst and Orrin Porter Rockwell, but if I've ever heard of Tom Smith, I've forgotten him. Wouldn't he make a great romance hero? Like Celia said, he was easy on the eyes, and that never hurts. ;-)

    From all I've read, Orrin Porter Rockwell had a soft spot for women and children, but otherwise he was a zealot of the worst kind. Reportedly, he was a loner, obsessive-compulsive, and utterly devoted to both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. Whenever Young wanted a "problem" solved he pointed Rockwell in that direction, and Rockwell made the problem go away...permanently. Scary dude.

    Thanks for this interesting post, Sarah! :-)

    1. Kathleen, I think we all know about those "disorderly Texas cowboys". Not exactly a state secret. Just sayin'...
      I dug deep to get these weird facts and, maybe because I'm a southeasterner, I didn't know any of these characters. When it comes to Orrin Rockwell, I cannot get the Swede out of my head. The creepiness with that guy just never ends. For the life of me, I cannot imagine women being interested in Orrin. Of course, some women want a guy with power no matter their looks or character, so maybe he attracted them. It seems to me that Joseph and Brigham were calling on the devil to do their work when they asked Orrin to take care of a problem.
      While researching into the weirdos of the west, I found some more crazy characters I saved for later. Seems the west was chock full of odd balls.
      It's always wonderful to hear from you, Kathleen. Thank you so much for coming.

  5. I've read about Charlie before but not the others. Thanks for adding to my historical info.

    That doctor must have been shocked out of his socks when he started to examine Charlie! :)

    1. Lyn, I should have known you would already know about Charlie. Now there's a real life character that should inspire a story--just not sure how it could be anything but a sad story.
      Thank you for coming and commenting. It's good to see you.

  6. I knew about Charley Parkhurst but not Tom Smith or Orrin Rockwell. What interesting characters. Life is stranger than fiction, isn't it?

  7. Oh yes, Caroline, life really is stranger than fiction. I like to find stories like these when I research. It's like little nuggets of gold that fills me with glee.
    Thank you very much for dropping in and commenting, Caroline.

  8. Charley Parkhurst is the person I fashioned my heroine in One-Eyed Charly after. She was an amazing person and definitely quite a character. Interesting post, Sarah.

    1. Wow Paisley, you actually wrote a story inspired by a real life person. Great work.
      Thank you so much for coming by.


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