George Frazier Monroe



The Life and Times of George Monroe and His Family


By Tom Bopp




“Just as there are the greatest of soldiers and sailors, artists and mechanics at times
 so there are greater stage drivers than their fellows and George Monroe was the greatest of all.”

– A.H. Washburn, Supt., Yosemite Stage & Turnpike Company


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One glorious week in Yosemite, stage driver George Monroe shared his bench with Ulysses S. Grant. The backstory, told here for the first time, reveals a family’s epic journey from the Antebellum South, through the California Gold Rush and on to Yosemite, ending in Southern California at the dawn of the automobile era. The story follows Monroe’s rise to the top of his profession, his mother’s heroic fight for her family, his father’s role in civil rights, and how they built a 480-acre ranch near Yosemite.  

Weaving rare artifacts of Monroe’s life story with a rich trove of primary sources, this history paints the backdrop of George Monroe’s career and the beginnings of Yosemite tourism.  

With new research on Yosemite’s Wawona Hotel, and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, Monroe’s story gives a kaleidoscopic glimpse into the rich history of the American West.


Musician/Historian Tom Bopp has educated and entertained Yosemite’s guests since 1983. His decades of primary source research form the bedrock for illuminating Yosemite’s history.  


"A very well written, carefully documented story."
  – Dr. John Oliver Wilson, School of Social Welfare,
University of California at Berkeley


FOREWORD                        ix
INTRODUCTION                xi
PREFACE                              xiii  

Chapter I                              1

THE MILLENS—George Monroe’s mother; Pennsylvania to Georgia.

THE CORONER’S INQUEST—George Millen reveals the family history.

THE MONROES—An intriguing theory about Louis Monroe escaping enslavement to a British colony in Nova Scotia. Mary Millen and Louis Monroe wed.

LEAVING GEORGIA—George Monroe’s father, uncle, and later his mother, join the Gold Rush to California, while George attends school in Washington, D.C., after which they reunite with Louis and Mary in California.  

Chapter II            33

MARIPOSA—The Monroes settle in Mariposa, California. Yosemite draws increasing tourism.

EMANCIPATION—Slavery in post-war California. Reconstruction brings new opportunities to the Monroes. Louis Monroe becomes a pillar of the local Black community, and George shows an affinity for horses.  

Chapter III           57

SETTING THE STAGE—Galen Clark, Henry Washburn, and the travel industry.  

Chapter IV           77

THE ROAD TO YOSEMITE—Monroe Ranch. Washburn builds a transportation empire. George Monroe gains stature as a stage-driver.  


Chapter V            97

CELEBRITY—George Monroe’s famous passengers. Washburn grows his business while George’s parents perfect the Monroe Ranch.

FIRE—Fire at Big Tree Station.  

Chapter VI           117

GRANT—Ulysses S. Grant and George Monroe—a detailed account.  

Chapter VII         147

TRIUMPH—George Monroe’s fame as a stage-driver, his parents lauded by the press, and Washburn dominates Yosemite tourism.  

Chapter VIII        159

ADVERSITY—Death of George Monroe. Louis and Mary list their ranch for sale. Mary wins a real-estate lawsuit. Louis dies from a carriage accident.

SAN DIEGO—Mary joins her brother in San Diego. The death of Mary Monroe. George Millen testifies at the Coroner’s inquest.  

Epilogue               185

NOTES  197
INDEX   271