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 Monroe family was experiencing what must have seemed a belle époque—a beautiful age—especially when they looked back upon their difficult past. George Monroe, now in his thirties, had distinguished himself as an expert teamster and achieved wide acclaim. His parents had established a secure income through their ranch in the pastoral Sierra foothills. George, too, was secure in his job and had joined the fortunate few who could call Yosemite Valley their home.

It is not surprising that George seems to have kept his youthful exuberance. Much of his time off the job was spent exercising his horse, a sorrel mare that he called Lady Lightfoot . Though his work hours were usually spent piloting stages at a measured pace amid clouds of dust, on his days off he and Lady Lightfoot could cut loose, roam the trails and roads, and feel the fresh, scented air in one of the most beautiful places on earth. At times, Monroe might be seen urging his mare into a full-out gallop, dashing along the meadows of Yosemite Valley.

Ed Washburn  and his brother, John, had returned to California in 1878 to join Henry in running the hotel business along with John Bruce. Interestingly, by 1881 Bruce’s uncle, Albert O. Bruce, was working for Moses Rodgers at the Washington Mine in Hornitos. Rodgers also had become a co-owner of the Eureka Mine that Washburn and John Bruce had leased back in 1865. [i]

Sixteen years had passed since Washburn left the mining business to pursue Yosemite tourism, and sixteen years since Rodgers was elected, under Louis Monroe’s chairmanship, to represent the Mariposa area at the 1865 “Colored Convention.” Much of the promise and optimism of that convention had come to pass— Moses Rodgers was now a highly successful mine engineer and owner, and Louis and Mary Monroe now owned and operated a large ranch. George Monroe had become the most famous employee of Washburn and Bruce, whose Yosemite Stage & Turnpike Company  now boasted an inventory of 173 horses, with 27 vehicles in their “rolling stock” that included nineteen stages. [ii]

In August 1881, a writer for the Mariposa Gazette described a personal tour of the Mariposa Grove  that was led by John Bruce:  

“ … The idea of a large stage-coach loaded with passengers, drawn by six horses, passing through one of the monster trees at its base or trunk, sounds like a fairy tale, but it’s a fact, nevertheless.

   … We were accompanied to the big trees by Mr. and Mrs. Bruce and their children, who, with our own force, made up a complement of thirteen, who took passage in a four-horse stage with Mr. Fred Brightman  as reinsman.

   … On our return Mr. Bruce directed the stage to the Fish Camp , a place of some note on the Madera road ….” [iii]  

Just seven months after the excursion, in March 1882, Johnny Bruce died unexpectedly at age 45, reportedly from a seizure. [iv]  

Though mourning the loss of his nephew and longtime partner, Henry and his two brothers soldiered ahead, continuing to invest and grow their business. At the same time, Mary and Louis Monroe were expanding and improving the family farm near Mariposa. In the 1880 census, Louis now gave his occupation as farmer and seems to have closed his tonsorial saloon around this time, and George, having moved to Yosemite Valley, is no longer listed as one of the household. Louis Monroe added acreage to Mary’s original land claim with new pre-emptions in 1880 and 1884, as did George in 1881, 1883, and early 1886, bringing their combined holdings to an impressive 480 acres. [v] Mary’s brother, George Millen , rejoined the family after twenty years of blacksmithing in Trinity County, setting up shop on the Monroe property by 1884. [vi]

[i] (Phillips 2001) . Ed and John Washburn’s return to Big Tree Station reported in a handwritten transcript of Bellows Falls Times 9/11/1874 (Yosemite Museum and Archives).  

[ii] “Yosemite Stage and Turnpike Co. Inventory of Stock taken Dec. 31st, 1882” (Yosemite Museum and Archives), listing:  

Two: Fourteen-Passenger Kimball Wagons $2,000

Three: Eleven-Passenger Kimball Wagons $2,700

Two: Eleven-Passenger Kimball Wagons $1,800

One: Eight-Passenger Kimball Wagon $700

Five: Eleven-Passenger Kimball Wagons $2,000

Four: Eight-Passenger Kimball Wagons $1,025

Two: Five-Passenger Kimball Wagons $600

Two: Buggies $575

Two: Two-seat Spring Wagons $300

Two: Freight Wagons $450

Two: Buckboards $150               Total $12,300

Listed under “Live Stock:”

Eighteen Horses $3,600 [$200 each]

One-hundred fifty-five Horses $15,500 [$100 each]  

The Kimball wagons were probably shipped by train from the C. P. Kimball Co. in Chicago. For more on the Kimball company currently online see: carriagemuseumlibrary.org/home/library-archives/carriage-manufacturers/kimballs-of-new-england/ (accessed 3/21/2023).  

[iii] Mariposa Gazette, August 20, 1881, pg. 3, col. 2. Archeological evidence (bedrock mortars, etc.) shows that the Fish Camp area had been inhabited over thousands of years. The 1879 Madera Road opened the area to new settlers employed at mining (at nearby Mt. Raymond), logging, and tourism, prompting construction of hotels, stores, and campgrounds. The name Fish Camp may be the alliterative offspring of its neighboring settlement, Ditch Camp, two miles away (see Mariposa Gazette January 14, 1882, pg. 3 col. 2), probably established to provide housing for the maintenance crew that tended an important utility ditch that diverted water from Big Creek to the Lewis Fork of the Fresno River.  

[iv] Mariposa Gazette, March 11, 1882, pg. 3, col. 2.  

[v] Records of Monroe family land acquisitions:   [get the book for a complete list of sources]

Description of Monroe ranch as 480 acres: Mariposa Gazette, December 25, 1886, pg. 3, col. 2; the ad was dated December 11, 1886.  

[vi] 1866-1898 Great Register, Mariposa County, p. 108 (8th Section dated 1884) entry #897: “Millen, George Richard, [age] 57, [born in] Georgia, [occupation] Blacksmith, [residence] Pea Ridge.  

An article in Mariposa Gazette, July 15, 1882, pg. 3, col. 1, refers to Louis Monroe’s barber shop in the past-tense, corroborating Monroe’s self-description as “rancher” in the 1880 census.  





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