General Cobarrubias and the Electoral College

By Richard Duree (Col. Richard Dodge, SASS 1750 Life)


Ruth Levin Duree and Richard Duree

A great man was General Cobarrubias.

A Californio resident of Santa Barbara in those days before the gringo invasion, the general was a wealthy and respected citizen of California well after the 1850 absorption into the United States. Fluent in English and French, as well as his native Spanish, he was a natural and successful politician of the finest order.

The general was noted for two things: He cast California's first electoral vote in the election of 1852 and he could hold his liquor better than anyone before or since – and therein lies a tale.

The selection of a Californio, a Mexican of pure Castillian blood, a popular and respected native of the new state, was a stroke of wisdom by the Democratic National Party – or so it seemed.

Great pomp and ceremony attached to the general's journey from Los Angeles to Washington, D. C. He was berthed in the finest stateroom available both before and after the crossing of Panama and he entertained lavishly during the entire voyage, nearly emptying the ship's on-board store of wines and liquors. It is reported that upon departing from the ship at Panama on the first leg of his journey, he was presented by the ship's steward with a liquor bill amounting to some $3,000. Without blinking, the general wrote a check to the good steward, drawn on the account of the Democratic National Committee.

His arrival and stay in Washington were carried out in the finest Tammany Hall tradition, with the finest accommodations, impeccable service, sumptuous feasting, and unlimited beverages of the general's taste.

He rewarded the DNC with an eloquent speech, cast the lone California electoral vote as arranged, and departed for home in the same style in which he had arrived. In all, his voyage cost the DNC over $10,000 for his services.

The costly voyage only heightened the general's reputation at home and his successful return was celebrated by a great feast attended by Los Angeles' finest upstanding citizens. Those ebullient souls were not known for their abstinence from spirits, indeed, they were properly respected for their ability to consume, and they proceeded to attempt to drink the general to oblivion.

'Twas not to be, however, for it is recorded that by midnight most of the company were top heavy or horizontal, while Cobarrubias smilingly pulled the cork on a fresh bottle of wine, apparently still clear-headed and sober. By three o'clock in the morning, the women present had departed and when the maid came in the morning at seven, there sat the general, sipping a brandy and reading the newspaper.

"Madame," he spoke to her with an elegant wave at his supine dining companions, "what queer people these Americans are. They fight valiantly, but always fall early in the action. They have no bottom. You may bring me a bottle of cognac, after which I could stand three soft-boiled eggs and a cup of coffee."

A great man was General Cobarrubias.

Bell, Horace; Reminisces of a Ranger; Yarnell, Caystile & Mathes; Los Angeles, 1881