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  


Through the mid-'70s, Washburn was assigning George Monroe to carry high-profile travelers into Big Tree Station and Yosemite Valley. Monroe must have developed his talents to a considerable level, not only as an expert stage driver but as a tourist guide interacting with an often highly elite company of international travelers. Journalist Ben C. Truman , who wrote about Monroe in a couple of articles from 1898 and 1903, observed, “Probably no man, living or dead, has ever driven so many illustrious people” including Presidents, Senators, Congressmen, eminent journalists, and artists. Truman provided a sample of luminaries to whom Monroe introduced the wonders of Yosemite: [i]  

Political figures  

The 18th, 19th, and 20th U. S. Presidents, respectively: Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, and James A. Garfield

William T. Sherman, General of the Union Army in the American Civil War

James G. Blaine, Congressman and later Senator from Maine (he lost his presidential bid by a narrow margin to Grover Cleveland)  

Senators William M. Stewart (Nevada) and John Tyler Morgan (Alabama)

John Russell Young, journalist, author, diplomat, and Librarian of the United States Congress. Young accompanied U.S. Grant to document his two-year world tour

Other famous journalists  

George Augustus Sala, English author, and journalist (wrote a travelogue of North America); Charles Anderson Dana (author, senior government official, and friend of Ulysses S. Grant); Carl Schurz (German revolutionary, American statesman); William Howard “Bull Run” Russell (Irish war correspondent); George Alfred Townsend (war correspondent); Charles Nordhoff (German-American journalist)

Royalty, Aristocracy, Gentry, Society  

Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, Louisa Caroline Alberta, 4th daughter of Queen Victoria.  

The Duke of Cumberland, aka Prince Ernest Augustus, Crown Prince of Hanover Marquis of Salisbury, aka Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury. He was the British Prime Minister three times for a total of over thirteen years

Lady Franklin, aka Jane Franklin, second wife of the English explorer Sir John Franklin  

Sir Arthur Sullivan, English composer of “The Lost Chord” and “Onward Christian Soldiers” as well as many operettas (with W. S. Gilbert)  

Lillie Langtry, aka Emilie Charlotte Langtry, British-American socialite, actress, and producer  


Albert Bierstadt, German-American painter  

Thomas Moran, American painter  

Thomas Hill, American painter  

Charles Dorman Robinson, American painter  

Truman gave this description of Monroe:  

“His dress was a combination of Old Mexican and the newest American adaptation; his hat a creamy-white, half-stiff, half-limp ….

He never had an accident; always made time, either way, to a minute; knew every peak and tree and rock and canon and clearing and hut and streamlet by the wayside. He was of medium stature, and weighed 165 pounds; he dressed neatly and wore the whitest and handsomest gauntlets of any driver in the Sierra. He was of a melancholy nature, oft times driving the entire distance from Wawona to Inspiration Point without uttering a word or relaxing a feature. But if he had a jolly crowd behind, he would watch his team carefully and listen radiantly to the jokes, stories, conundrums, and conversation, of those in his charge.”  

Truman then quotes Henry Washburn, who praises Monroe as having risen to the top among his many peers:  

“After an experience of nearly forty years, and having had as many as fifty regular drivers some seasons, I have never known another such an all-round reinsman as George Monroe. 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."

[i] The list of celebrities and all subsequent quotes from Ben C. Truman  are from his articles: (Truman, Knights of the Lash: Old Time Stage Drivers of the West Coast March 1898) , and (Truman, The Passing of a Sierra Knight July 1903) . These articles and others by Truman are reprinted in: (Kurutz 2005) .  

Peculiar to Truman’s 1898 article is his use of the name “Alfred” as a sort of nickname for George Monroeso far, this appellation for Monroe has not been found in any other documents.  

Of the names provided by Truman (except for Grant), I have found no additional sources to corroborate whether Monroe carried them; however, at least five are known to have visited Yosemite through Wawona. According to the Mariposa Gazette (MG): Sherman (MG 4/22/1882), Dana (MG 4/21/1883), Langtry (MG 7/12/1884), Sullivan (MG 6/20/1885). Rutherford B. Hayes’ visit was covered in: Fresno Weekly Expositor, December 22, 1880. Garfield’s visit (when he was still a member of Congress) is documented in his own diary entries for May 12 – 21, 1875, currently online at: loc.gov/resource/mss21956.mss21956-002_0015_1135/?sp=271 (accessed 3/21/2023).  

[ii] Monroe’s card employes the same stagecoach graphic used on the Yosemite Stage & Turnpike Company letterhead image (c. 1900) reproduced at the beginning of Chapter I (letterhead image courtesy Yosemite Museum and Archives)  





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