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  


In February 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment  to the United States Constitution was ratified under the administration of Ulysses S.  Grant, establishing that the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” [i]

One month later, Louis Monroe made local history:

“Several colored citizens during the past week have placed their names on the Great Register of Mariposa county. L. A. Monroe, an old resident of this place, being the first to enter his name. Our County Clerk will place the names of all colored men, entitled to vote, on the Register when they present themselves for that purpose at his office.” [ii]

The famous illustration in Harper’s Weekly later that year depicted the universality of this historic moment so fittingly that it could almost have been Monroe himself in the image, though he may have been better-dressed than the craftsman first in line (with a hammer in his left pocket and a patched pant-leg), more like the businessman second in line. The businessman is followed by a Union Army veteran, analogous to a Mariposa area African American veteran named Alexander Pelton . Behind him appears to be a farmer who, curiously, is looking toward a light-complexioned, possibly feminine face, perhaps included as a reminder that women, of any color, had been excluded from the legislation.

The 1870 census reveals that Mary Monroe was “Keeping house,” listing the value of her real estate at $350 with Mary as the property owner. The listing also shows George living at home with his parents in or near the town of Mariposa. But by this time the Monroes were also the proud new owners of farmland, well outside of town, with Mary in charge. Having learned of a state law authorizing married women to operate their own businesses, in two years she would announce:

“… I, MARY ANN MONROE, wife of L.A. Monroe … shall apply … for an order of said Court permitting me to carry on the business of farming and stock raising in my own name and on my own account, in said Township and County, as sole trader. Dated Mariposa, December 23d, 1871.” [iii]  

Though Louis still listed his profession as “Barber,” he was now experimenting with a new career. In June 1871 Louis walked into the office of the Gazette with a small treasure:  

“Mountain Wheat.—L. A. Monroe has left at this office this week a hand full of wheat heads which he says are about a fair sample of a field of 30 acres on his ranch a few miles from town. The heads average six inches in length, are well filled with grains generally plump, though in some of the heads the grains show the effect of deficient moisture. Monroe says the straw is from three to four feet in length. Such a crop this dry season indicates that the hill lands are most reliable and valuable wheat lands. If that is the case it is certain such lands are not utilized to one hundredth part of the extent they ought to be.” [iv]

So, while Louis was juggling two careers, barbering in town and then, most likely with Mary, heading out to work on developing the new ranch, George could remain in their Mariposa home while working at the Washburn & McCready stables.

Washburn & McCready  were also busy showing off their energy and ingenuity, which in one instance led to a brush with history:

“Yosemite Items.— … The first carriage in the valley arrived here July 24th [1871], packed in on mules by Washburn & McCready, livery men of the Mariposa route, for the use of the public. Tourists who have an objection to horseback riding can enjoy the sights and wonders of this remarkable valley, combined with the pleasures of a carriage ride. … Mrs. [Elizabeth] Cady Stanton  and Susan B. Anthony  are at Yo Semite, visiting the different points of interest in Washburn & McCready’s carriage, being the first to enjoy a carriage ride in Yo Semite valley.” [v]

1871 finds Washburn & McCready angling to create a transportation empire. Railroad workers edged southward through central California, their freshly laid tracks bringing Yosemite tourists into closer range of Washburn & McCready’s stage lines. In anticipation, the firm appears to have established a connection with the railroad to the north in Modesto, and built a stable farther south where the railroad would soon reach a settlement called Bear Creek :

“We understand that it is the intention of Washburn & McCready to erect a large livery stable this Winter at Bear Creek, and stock it with plenty of horses, carriages, stages, &c., for the accommodation of Yo Semite tourists next season. This firm has already a large amount of capital invested in this business. The above firm have recently purchased Boomershine’s stage line running from Modesto to Coulterville .”[vi]

[i] The 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution; currently online at:  loc.gov/rr/program/bib/ourdocs/15thamendment.html (accessed 3/21/2023).  

[ii] Mariposa Gazette, April 22, 1870, pg. 2, col. 3.  

[iii] Mariposa Gazette, January 12, 1872, pg. 3, col. 1, so far the only occurrence of Mary Monroe’s middle name, Ann.  

[iv] Mariposa Gazette, June 23, 1871, pg. 3, col. 1. U.S. Census Bureau (1870) lists all three of the Monroe family on the same page as J.B. Cook and John Bruce, among others, all inhabiting the same district that included the town of Mariposa. Voter registrations show that Louis took up residence at the ranch by 1873.  

[v] Mariposa Gazette, August 4, 1871, pg. 2, col. 4. This account, along with a photograph from four years previous, currently stand as the earliest primary sources regarding carriages in Yosemite Valley. Photographic evidence shows the presence of a wheeled vehicle in Yosemite Valley as early as 1867 (see Carleton Watkins, The Sentinel, 3270 Feet. Hutching's Hotel, Yosemite Valley, Mariposa Co., 1867, mammoth-plate albumen print, 20 1/2 by 15 3/4 in.). Currently online at: carletonwatkins.org/Gallery/igallery_pages.php?page_id=11&m=d


sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2007/photographs-n08349/lot.116.html (accessed 3/21/2023).

According to historian Shirley Sargent (Sargent, Galen Clark - Yosemite Guardian 1964) p. 48, Galen Clark packed in and assembled the first carriage in Yosemite Valley in 1870, and James Hutchings  repeated the feat in August, 1871. The Hutchings story is confirmed in Mariposa Gazette, August 11, 1871, pg. 2, col. 3: “Yesterday J. M. Hutchings’ new stage, the ‘Pioneer,’ was packed down the mountains on mules and made its first trip up the valley ….” But regarding the origin of the Clark story, there is only one early source which, rather than providing corroboration, instead throws the Clark story into question: Mrs. H. J. Taylor quotes “Charles Tuttle,” oddly omitting his last name, his full name being Charles Tuttle Leidig (b. March 8, 1869, d. December 2, 1956; see California Death Index, 1940-1997, Charles Tuttle Leidig, 02 Dec 1956; Department of Public Health Services, Sacramento).  

According to Taylor’s book:  

“[Clark] brought the first wagon into Yosemite Valley. Charles Tuttle, the first white boy born in Yosemite, rehearsed the sensation created by this event: ‘I was a boy of eight or nine years when the first wagon was brought into the Valley. Galen Clark had it packed in on mule back. I had never been out of the Valley and had never seen a wagon. Everybody was interested to see it assembled. When all was in readiness three or four days were given to celebrate the event and everybody living in the Valley had a free ride; I will never forget those days!’” (M. H. Taylor 1936)

This appears to be the problematic origin of the Clark story. If Leidig was “eight or nine years when the first wagon was brought into the Valley,” that would put the year as 1877three years after stage travel had become common in Yosemite. Conversely, if Clark brought the first wagon in 1870, Leidig at one year old would not have remembered the event.

A possible explanation is that in 1871, Washburn and McCready, returning to their business in Mariposa, left their wagon with Clark. The quoted section of Taylor’s book is currently online here: yosemite.ca.us/library/yosemite_indians_and_other_sketches/galen_clark.html (accessed 3/21/2023).  

[vi] Mariposa Gazette, October 13, 1871, pg. 3, col. 1.  





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