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



Within forty-eight hours of her death, after the conclusion of the Coroner’s Inquest, Mary Monroe was buried on November 16, at Mount Hope Cemetery , two and a half miles from her last home. [i]

Mary A. Monroe had guided her family to a respected place in history. Her son, celebrity stage driver George Frazier Monroe, had died at the height of his and his family’s achievements. Her husband, barber, farmer, and civil rights activist Louis Monroe died amid diligent efforts to sell their ranch and secure their future. Mary ended up back with the brother she’d helped raise seventy years before, whose loyalty had in turn helped Mary and her family immeasurably. Of her ending, this much is true: had her brother not invited her to San Diego, had there been no municipal streetcar accident to prompt an inquest and press coverage, and had George not been there to testify, the Monroes’ story might have perished with her.

As she labored alongside those tracks, bundled against the cold and clutching her collar with her head down in the darkness, who can say what images were passing through the mind of that “smart old lady.” Surely her son was in her thoughts—the eleventh anniversary of his death was only a week away. Perhaps her eyes were closed as her footsteps faltered, slowly, over the street, over the tracks, her deafness blocking out all sounds but those of her memories: a hummed lullaby as she rocked her infant brother in Georgia, the firm chiff of pen on paper as her husband registered to vote, a cheering crowd in those shining hours when her own son shared his stage with General Grant.

A lone elderly blacksmith, who apparently had never married, George Millen was the sole remaining witness to the full arc of his family’s epic journey. He lived another fifteen years, saw the dawn of the automobile era, and at the venerable age of 86 died in San Diego on June 18, 1912. Two days later Millen was buried near his sister at Mount Hope Cemetery —fifty years after he and Louis Monroe left Georgia for the gold fields of California. [ii]

All through the nineteenth century, cultural barriers were cracked open through enormous effort, sacrifice, and bloodshed. In lockstep with those efforts, the tenacious Monroes strained through each new opening in pursuit of their dreams.

Wielding the power of those dreams, George Monroe carried forward his family’s indomitable spirit, rising through the maelstrom of his era to a place of triumph and hard-earned recognition as “the greatest of all.”

[i] Mount Hope Cemetery Burial Registry, 1868-1909 part 2, pg. 305: “Died November 14; Buried November 16; Mary Monroe; Race: White; Age 75; Sex: Female; Widow; Nativity: America; Where Buried: Lot 11; Row 7; Section 6; Division 5,” currently online at: sandiego.gov/digitalarchives/document/burial-registry (accessed 3/21/2023).  

[ii] Mount Hope Cemetery Burial Registry, 1909-1926 part 2, pg. 129: “Died: June 18, 1912; Buried: June 20, 1912; George Millen; Race: Colored; Age 86 years, 10 months, 9 days; Sex: Male; Single; Nativity: Georgia; Where Buried: Lot 39; Row 2; Section 8; Division 6,” currently online at: sandiego.gov/digitalarchives/document/burial-registry (accessed 3/21/2023). Not accounting for leap-years, this puts Millen’s birth date at August 9, 1825.  

Also Death Record of George Millen: California Death Index, 1905-1939, George Millen, 1912; citing 18490, Department of Health Services, Vital Statistics Department, Sacramento; FHL microfilm 1,686,046.





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