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  


The pinnacle of George Monroe’s career came in 1879 when Ulysses S. Grant, returning home from a two-year-long world tour, came to visit Yosemite. It would also represent a pinnacle of achievement for George’s father and especially for his mother, Mary. Up to that time, Mary’s and her family’s travels seem to have had a synchronistic, almost numinous interconnection with Grant’s, like the braided rivulets in a streambed. In the late 1840s, Mary’s brother had traveled to Mexico, perhaps seeking a better life for his family, where at the same time Grant was reluctantly participating in the U.S. war of annexation that would bring slavery to the territory. In 1852, Mary’s husband and brother were shadowed by Grant on their respective journeys to California, and could conceivably have even taken the same ship. Mary’s route had intersected with Grant’s when she journeyed through San Francisco to the gold fields in search of her husband.

These recurring coincidences punctuate a far more significant, ideological connection. Fifty-seven years had passed since the births of Mary Monroe and Ulysses S. Grant in Ohio. Both had fought for civil rights—Grant on a national level, and Mary on a very personal level, and their hard-won successes complimented one another. Grant could measure his success through stories like the Monroes,’ and Mary’s efforts were in part enabled by Grant. Now, carrying the weight of those difficult years, their separate but long, intertwined paths, would finally merge.

Four months before the President’s visit, anticipation was already starting to grow:

“The Yo Semite travel is becoming immense. If the stage proprietors, hotel-keepers, saddle-trains, guides, etc., don’t get rich, or make a good thing this season, it won’t be a fault of the tourist, or effects of the new Constitution, or Grant’s return from Europe.” [i]

The same issue of the Gazette (May 31, 1879) began covering a developing story that not only would tie into Grant’s visit but could also have served nicely as the basis for a certain 1962 Broadway musical—The Music Man. Louis Monroe, having located his “tonsorial parlor” in J. H. Miller’s saloon five years earlier, had a front-row seat to the unfolding saga:  

“Brass Band.—For some time past a brass band has been in embryo in this village of Mariposa, which has resulted in a partial success. The project was first gotten up and put into motion by Jos. H. Miller ….” [ii]  

Around the same time that Grant was traveling from China to Japan, far away on the opposite side of the Pacific a good portion of the town of Mariposa turned out to greet a freight wagon bearing a supply of sparkling new musical instruments to furnish the proposed brass band. Thomas H. DeVall , an English musician, had recently visited Mariposa with his two young sons en route to Yosemite, and Joseph Miller persuaded DeVall to become the new band director, with his musical sons as tutors. The three of them were soon performing for dances in town. The Gazette also reported that DeVall’s wife accompanied them, and many months would pass before her real identity would be uncovered. [iii] 

[i] Mariposa Gazette, May 31, 1879, pg. 3, col. 3. The reference to the “new constitution” refers to the recent ratification of a newly amended version of the California Constitution.  

[ii] Mariposa Gazette, April 5, 1879, pg. 3, col. 2 and May 31, 1879, pg. 3, col. 2.  

[iii] Grant arrived in Nagasaki on the 21st of June: (Grant 1885-1886) excerpt from Chronology, pp. 1155–1156.  

Article about the band: Mariposa Gazette, June 7, 1879, pg. 3, col. 2.  





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