George was a mulatto and former slave who came west from Georgia at the age of 11. His father, who worked as a barber in the mining camps, was able to purchase his freedom.
From a young age, Monroe developed a knack for training and driving horses and at the age of 22, he took a job as a stagecoach driver for A.H. Washburn and Company (later known as the Yosemite Stage and Turnpike Company), driving a route along Wawona Road, from Mariposa into the Yosemite Valley. Monroe quickly earned a reputation as one of the best stagecoach drivers for the company, expertly navigating treacherous cliff-side roads and never once causing injury to his passengers, horses, or coaches during his 20 years of service.
His main notoriety came from driving a number of presidents including Ulysses S. Grant and his family in 1879, and later visits from Presidents James A. Garfield and Rutherford B. Hayes; as well as other famous people of the time including journalists, artists, entertainers, and politicians. He was described as alert, mild-mannered, and well-dressed, always wearing white gauntlets embroidered in silk, an expensive hat, and boots that shined like mirrors. His boss, Henry Washburn, would say of him:
“I have never known another such as an all-round reinsman as George Monroe. He was a wonder in every way. He drove over my lines for nearly twenty years and never injured a person. I always put him on the box when there was a distinguished party to be driven, and fast and showy was expected or necessary, and he never disappointed me or exceeded the limit schedule or fell behind.”
His expertise garnered him the nickname of “Knight of the Sierras.” Ironically, he would die as a result of injuries sustained in a wagon crash on November 15, 1886. This time; however, Monroe was not the driver, but a passenger.
By Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated February 2020.