I - EXCERPT
evening, the twenty-seventh of November 1897, Mariposa,
California—More than a few old timers shaking open the Mariposa
Gazette were likely jolted into remembrance of their old
neighbor, Mary Monroe. Here was an unfitting end for someone of
her achievements, an African-American woman who had left her home
in antebellum Georgia, journeyed alone into the unruly chaos of
the California Gold Rush to rescue her husband from an unseemly
fate, and to top it all raised their son to become the most
celebrated stage driver at the dawn of Yosemite tourism.
Before catching the sad little blurb about Mary, readers would
first have scanned the local items: James McCauley stripped of
control of his hotel at Glacier Point in Yosemite. John
Tatum convicted of a Yosemite stage holdup. An advertisement
proclaiming, “Don't go to Klondike without taking along a
Winchester Repeating Rifle.” And then:
“Mrs. Mary A.
Monroe, an aged colored lady, who formerly lived in Mariposa but
recently a resident of San Diego, was killed by an electric car in
that city on the 14th of this month. Mrs. Monroe was
deaf and stepped directly in front of the approaching car without
noticing it. —Merced Star” [i]
over the news, older readers of the Gazette might have
pictured the Monroes on their ranch down at Pea Ridge
Their place was easy enough to find—just head south from town
along Mariposa Creek through Mormon Bar, then loop southeast
around the bulge of Lookout Mountain. It’s all typically
beautiful Sierra foothill scenery with plenty of grass, peppered
with oaks, pines, manzanita, and the like. A rough, narrow, rocky
wagon road wound through the hills, affording glimpses of Red
Mountain and the lower Sierra Nevada mountains, dipping along
creeks in cool shaded glens. About six miles from Mariposa you’d
arrive at Pea Ridge, also called the Red Mountain or Chowchilla
district, in reference to the Chowchilla River (west fork) and Red
Mountain, both within four miles to the east.
the setting sun and a sliver of moon outside the window on that
cool Saturday evening, long-time residents folding their
newspapers surely felt the passing of an extraordinary
family—their neighbors for over 35 years. [ii]
Road skirting Monroe Ranch site (Author photograph)
labors in building the family ranch were admired throughout the
district. Her husband had been a well-known barber in Mariposa and
a pillar of the local Black community. A few might have remembered
Mary’s brother, George Millen, a blacksmith who had lived and
worked for a few years at Pea Ridge. But Mary’s son, George, had
become a legend. His portrait graces the lobby of the Wawona
Hotel, where he picked up and delivered countless travelers.
Today, guests looking into Monroe’s quiet eyes are given to
wonder what stories they might tell.
Gazette, November 27, 1897, pg. 1, col. 1, 2, 4. James McCauley is reported as “quietly circulating around
Mariposa” after his ouster from Yosemite, which had been
reported two weeks earlier (Mariposa
November 13, 1897, pg. 1, col. 2).
[ii] My guess as to the moon’s phase and
position that evening derived from astropixels.com - this site
currently offers dates of moon phases in the 1800s.
Signal Peak (aka Devil Peak) is visible
on the horizon, in line vertically with the left side of the
dirt road. Also visible from Wawona, the mountain serves as a
geographical fulcrum between the Monroe Ranch and George
Monroe’s future base of employment.
very well written, carefully documented story."
– Dr. John Oliver Wilson, School of Social Welfare,
of California at Berkeley