• Cheryl Anne Stapp

Best Reinsman in the West


Driving a stagecoach required superlative skills: a quick eye, a steady nerve, a skillful hand on the reins, and a thorough knowledge of horses. George Frazier Monroe, a black man born in Georgia, was one of the best reinsmen in the West. His father, Louis Monroe, a barber, came to California with the Gold Rush. Mr. Monroe first settled in Calaveras County, relocating to Mariposa in 1854. George’s mother, Mary Monroe, followed a year later, but George stayed behind in Washington, D.C. to complete his school year. In 1856, when he was about twelve, he traveled west with an uncle to join his parents.


Growing up in Mariposa, young George became skilled at horse breaking, riding, and driving teams. At age twenty-two he hired on as a tourist guide at Yosemite, with A. H. Washburn & Company’s lavish resort hotel, Big Tree Station. Two years later, according to one source—six according to another—he began driving stage for the same outfit. George’s stage route was the twisty Wawona Road from Mariposa to Yosemite Valley.


During his twenty years of driving Monroe expertly navigated the treacherous cliff-side road, never once causing injury to his passengers or coaches. Hundreds of tourists, including journalists, entertainers, and politicians, requested him as their driver, many sending complimentary letters and tokens of esteem afterward. He drove three U.S. presidents through Yosemite Valley: Ulysses Grant, James Garfield, & Rutherford Hayes. He was kind, obliging, and attentive to all, who invariably described him as alert, mild-mannered and well-dressed. George always wore expensive hats, polished boots, and white gloves.

George Monroe died November 22, 1886, as a result of injuries suffered when a stage he was a passenger in overturned, although he was instantly on his feet, helping the driver with the horses and righting the stage. The hearse taking his remains from the Methodist Church to the graveyard was accompanied by a large number of friends and acquaintances. He was forty-two.

Said his employer Henry Washburn: “He was the best all-around reinsman in the West. Whenever George was on the box we knew everything was all right.”

© 2019 by Cheryl Anne Stapp. 

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