Unlocking History: Stagecoach driver Charley Parkhurst blazed gender-nonconforming trails

Unlocking History: Stagecoach driver Charley Parkhurst blazed gender-nonconforming trails

Today’s CDCR transportation units rely on buses and cars traveling over paved roadways, but this wasn’t always the case. When transporting inmates in the 1850s, there were generally two methods – ship or stagecoach. One of the state’s early stagecoach “whips,” as drivers were called, was “Six-Horse Charley” Parkhurst. The cigar-smoking, tobacco-chewing whip drove stages in northern California, Nevada and sometimes across multiple states. He was ranked among the best drivers in California, alongside Henry J. “Hank” Monk and Clark Foss. He helped transport inmates to the state asylums as well as the state prison at San Quentin, making him a sort of early contracted Transportation Officer. Parkhurst’s stage driving career ended when trains began to crisscross the state. He retired from the road, occasionally hauling something for neighbors, but got into the lumber and ranching business. Decades of hard living finally caught up to Parkhurst, who succumbed to cancer in 1879. It was only then friends discovered Charley’s given name was Charlotte and he’d been born female. This is the story of a person who migrated west during the Gold Rush to blaze new trails, break stereotypes and live life on his own terms.

Unlocking History: Gender-questioning forger Artie Baker made headlines in 1916

Unlocking History: Gender-questioning forger Artie Baker made headlines in 1916

Artie “Art” Baker, already three years into a 10-year sentence at San Quentin, had a desperate request for the prison doctor in 1916. Convicted of swindling southern Californians via the U.S. Postal Service, the nearly 40-year-old convict reported increasing harassment by the other inmates and sought relief. Baker requested reassignment to the Women’s Ward, revealing he was actually female. Dr. Leo Stanley immediately set about trying to improve her situation but the commitment orders were clear – Baker committed crimes as a man, was convicted as a man and sentenced as a man. It wasn’t going to be as easy as reassigning her to the Women’s Ward especially a century ago. This is the story of a young person who struggled with gender identity, employment, love, crime and incarceration. Baker is one of the many early inmates whose influence on the state prison system is still felt today.

Unlocking History: Prison staff, offenders honored fallen soldiers in memorial ceremonies

Unlocking History: Prison staff, offenders honored fallen soldiers in memorial ceremonies

The bloody Civil War pit family against family. Some border states’ volunteer companies fought on both sides, depending on the attitudes of that region. After the war, Decoration Day was established to honor those who gave their lives. Eventually, the day became known as Memorial Day. California prison staff members, inmates and the public would often come together to pay their respects in local cemeteries – including those on prison grounds.

Unlocking History: LA’s Griffith Park, Observatory bear name of early 1900s San Quentin inmate

Unlocking History: LA’s Griffith Park, Observatory bear name of early 1900s San Quentin inmate

In 1910, a former inmate wrote words being echoed today regarding the purpose of the state prison system:  “The business of the state should be to see that when a convict is restored to society it shall be under conditions that give him at least a fair chance of becoming a useful member of the community.” Those words were written by Col. Griffith Jenkins Griffith who served two years at San Quentin for shooting his wife in a booze-fueled fury. When he was paroled in 1906, he immediately set about improving the prison system.

Unlocking History: Custody and rehabilitative staff unite to redeem offenders

Unlocking History: Custody and rehabilitative staff unite to redeem offenders

In California’s early years, jails were scarce and prisons non-existent. Prior to 1849, there were only six jails in the entire state. That all changed with the influx of gold seekers headed for the mines, followed by a drastic increase in crime. To address the issue, the state passed a series of laws and established a state prison at San Quentin. Inmate reform has proven a collaborative effort between custody and rehabilitative staff. The following are just a few of the examples of such cooperation through the history of the state prison system.

Unlocking History: Meet Alfred Taliaferro, California’s first prison doctor

Unlocking History: Meet Alfred Taliaferro, California’s first prison doctor

A Gold Rush-era doctor became the first prison physician at San Quentin when offenders were still kept on ships. It was because of Dr. Alfred W. Taliaferro’s recommendations that the first prison hospital was built. He served at a critical juncture in the formation of what would become the modern correctional system in California. Along with a few other prison staff members, he and also rode with Kibbe’s Rangers. Inside CDCR takes a closer look at the career of this pioneering prison physician.