Publisher: Hansen Publishing Group, 2012
My Source: Amazon for Kindle
This book is a historical novel about triumph in the face of adversity, loosely based on the true life story of Charlotte "Charley" Parkhurst (1812-1879), a woman who lived most of her life as a man to get a job as a whip (a stagecoach driver.)
Charlotte grows up in an orphanage in New England where she meets a boy named Lee. They form a friendly childhood bond that turns sour when they become adults. Due to their friendship, Charlotte gets into a lot of trouble. Her punishment is to live in the barn and learn how to care for horses and drive a stagecoach with Jonas, the man who cares for the animals on the property. Jonas teaches her everything he knows and becomes like a father to her.
Fresh from her beating, Charlotte was led across the yard by the iron clasp of her headmistress at a great pace. The stable yard at night might have been nightmarish--all those long shadows, the soughing in the branches, the sudden mad motion of the underbrush shagging the margins; but strange though it might be, Charlotte felts at peace. Being led at all by someone felt good.
In her 30's, Charlotte meets and falls in love with an African American man despite the prejudices of the time. They have a baby together and then tragedy strikes at the hands of Lee and Charlotte is determined to seek revenge on him.
Charlotte finds out that Lee is living out west. She sees an advertisement for a position as a whip that would take her out west and decides to apply for it. The only problem is that they don't hire women, so she disguises herself as a man, changes her name to Charley, and gets the job.
Charlotte has many adventures as a whip. She conducts a secret love affair, kills a famous outlaw, and lives with a female housekeeper who, not knowing Charlotte's true sex, falls in love with her.
I was fascinated by the description of this book, especially knowing that it was based on a true story. I was not disappointed as the book lived up to its engaging description despite a slow beginning. Given the fact that Charlotte, like all women of the time, was raised to be submissive, it was amazing that she was able to bridge the gap between the sexes and convincingly pass as a man. She kept her secret safe until her death. It almost wouldn't be believable if I didn't already know that it was true.
Although this story is one of the wild wild west and will certainly appeal to fans of that time period, it is much more than that. It is an emotional human interest story that transcends its time and place and offers a little something for everyone.
Rating: 4 out of 5 high fives