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  


As a teenager, George ranged through the local foothills, fishing, hunting, exploring, and evidently keeping a sharp eye out for the very specific element that had brought his family to California—gold. 1862 started off with ten feet of snow blanketing the mountains just east of Mariposa, promising a brisk spring runoff. George may have known to monitor the local ephemeral streams as they began to swell in late winter, washing away silt and rocks and occasionally revealing an overlooked treasure. That March found George on a ramble south of Mariposa, about four-hundred yards north-east of Mariposa Creek. He was, maybe not by chance, in the vicinity of perhaps the oldest stamp mill in California, erected in 1849 to pulverize gold-bearing quartz. While George may have been hunting or fishing for that evening’s family dinner, something must have caught his eye, prompting him to reach into an icy rushing creek to pull out a bit of rock. Heading home, instead of merely bringing in fish or quail, George handed the family a windfall, meriting a blurb in the papers:

“Last week George Monroe picked up in Quartz gulch near town, a piece of quartz and gold which yielded on pounding up, $273, as is stated.” [i]

Online calculators estimate George’s find in current dollars (2023) to be over $8,000.[ii]

Spring of 1863 brought new optimism for the Union; Grant, after repeated successes in battle, was formally promoted by Lincoln to the exalted rank of Lieutenant General. The Monroes had further cause for optimism: seven years after their tenuous arrival in Mariposa, they were now well-known, established residents, and it appears that part of Mary’s program to rehabilitate her family had included some effective financial planning. With the funds she had brought from Georgia, and the success of Louis’ Tonsorial Saloon (and George’s newfound gold), the Monroes conceived a plan to establish their own ranch, or farm, outside of town.

In September 1863, Louis applied for a homestead claim about six miles to the southeast. It was good farmland, but after filing the claim they made no move to develop or live on the property, so the claim eventually expired. With the Civil War still raging, the Monroes’ aspirations to land ownership may have been premature. The federal government had not yet recognized African Americans as equal citizens, and even though the Homestead Act of 1862 had no racial restrictions, the Monroes’ homestead claim may have struck officials as too radically progressive. [iii]

Change was coming, though, and whatever the reason for their inaction, seven years later the Monroes will have homesteaded and developed a 160-acre farm-ranch adjacent to the claim they’d previously abandoned. During those seven years, Ulysses S. Grant would carry the Union Army to victory in the American Civil War, ascend to the presidency, and pave the way for many of the Monroe family’s future achievements through his energetic backing of constitutional rights for African Americans. [iv] 

[i] Mariposa Gazette, March 18, 1862, pg. 2, col. 1. Quartz Gulch was by Mariposa Creek, just south of Mariposa, and featured the first steam-powered quartz-mill brought in by James Duff in 1849 (Mariposa Gazette, January 17, 1873, pg. 2, col. 2). The ruins of the mill were mentioned in connection with the place-name “Quartz Gulch” (Chamberlain 1936) , introduction, pg. x. The location is shown as “Fremont’s first Mill” in “Quartz Mill Gulch” on the southern perimeter of Mariposa, in an 1861 map: “Las Mariposas Estate Mariposas County California” (1861, Pub. New York, Sarony, Major & Knapp); David Rumsey Historical Map Collection: davidrumsey.com/luna/servlet/detail/RUMSEY~8~1~1821~180008:Las-Mariposas-Estate-Mariposas-Coun (accessed 3/21/2023).

The snow-depth that winter was reported by Galen Clark in Mariposa Gazette, December 17, 1861, pg. 2, col. 1.  

[ii] A couple of sites for calculating current monetary values: in2013dollars.com; westegg.com/inflation (accessed 3/21/2023).  

[iii] Monroe’s 1863 homestead claim of September 10, 1863 was revealed in testimony during the 1888 court case (Mary A. Monroe, Plaintiff vs. Wm. G. Grove and D. P. Allen, Defendants 1887) .  

[iv] (Chernow 2018) p. 858.





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