politics

The California governor who lassoed a grizzly bear

As part of Hispanic Heritage Month, CNN Politics took a look at one of the most influential Hispanics in US political history

By Brenna Williams

Published September 15, 2018

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Romualdo Pacheco was the first Hispanic governor of California (and the state's only Hispanic governor to date). He was also the first Hispanic member of the House with full voting rights.

Pacheco was born to a prominent family in Santa Barbara, California, when the land was still held by Mexico. He was sent to Hawaii for school (he had to re-learn Spanish upon his return home).

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He worked as a sailor, a miner and a rancher.

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Multiple sources credit him -- in an oddly specific way -- as the only California governor known to have lassoed a grizzly bear.

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Pacheco became a US citizen in 1848 and got to work as a public servant. He began as a judge before serving as a state senator beginning in 1857.

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He did time in three parties, starting as a Democrat, then becoming a member of the Union Party before settling down as a Republican in 1863.

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He continued checking off important state-level positions, serving as the state treasurer and lieutenant governor. When Gov. Newton Booth left to serve in the US Senate, Pacheco took over, serving as governor from February-December 1875.

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Washington first called Pacheco's name in 1876, when he appeared to win his US House race by one vote -- a reminder that every vote counts.

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His opponent contested the results, but with the help of future President James Garfield, Pacheco served in the House for a few months before he was unseated in February 1878. He ran for the seat, winning and serving two terms.

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Pacheco's House biography notes both that he was "one of the first prominent Hispanic Americans to speak out against African-American slavery" and that he supported stemming Chinese immigration, saying that Chinese immigrants were taking jobs from native Californians.

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After his House career, Pacheco was appointed by President Benjamin Harrison to serve as a diplomat in Central America.

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Pacheco died in his native California in 1899.

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