The Late Nathan Coombs

1848_CoombsFor more than a year past the friends of Hon. Nathan Coombs have been under constant apprehension concerning his physical condition. For several years it has been known that consumption has fastened upon him, and was slowly but surely sapping his vitality, inch by inch leading him to the grave. It was hoped by many that the disease might partially relax its grasp, as often happens in persons of advanced years, and spare him for many years; and this might have been the case but for an attack of acute pneumonia, about two years since, which made an impression that could never be overcome. Since then he has been pretty constantly in the hands of the physicians and nurses, who did everything possible to rescue him from his enemy; but their efforts were vain. He spent part of last Summer with Mr. Andrew Wester, of Berryessa, the uniform warmth and dryness of that valley seeming to be beneficial. Returning home in the early Fall, he took to his bed to rise no more. Unlike most consumptives, he was fully conscious for many weeks that his end was drawing night, and spoke of it with the same coolness and deliberation he was wont to bestow upon ordinary affairs. He gave minute instructions concerning the details of his funeral as though he were planning a pic-nic party, always speaking of the matter with the utmost cheerfulness and unconcern. He was somewhat fearful that he would pass away by suffocation, and thus die a hard and painful death. From that, however, he was mercifully spared. His son Nathan was watching by him at six o’clock in the evening of Wednesday. Mr. Coombs, growing a little uneasy, asked his son to raise him up in bed, and as the body became partially erect the breath passed away – the spirit of Nathan Coombs had quitted the frail tenement of clay – the machine had run down. There was not a pang nor paroxysm. He fell back quietly and softly in the arms of his son to begin his long slumber. The countenance was calm and composed, a gentle smile of pleasure and comfort stealing over the features as they settled in death.

Nathan Coombs was born in Bridgewater, Mass., in February, 1825, and consequently was but 51 years and 10 months old at the time of his death. This seems almost incredible when we think that for more than thirty years past he has been a prominent actor in all important affairs in this county and for more than twenty years past has exercised a large influence in the State. When but thirteen years of age Mr. Coombs commenced the battle of life on his own account. He went, or was carried, to Iowa in 1833, from thence went to Oregon in 1841, where he remained but two years, and then came to California, arriving here in 1843, a the age of 17 years. His residence was on Russian river where he lived a year or more with Mr. Alexander, certainly for a year, as he often related the fact that on the 4th of July, 1844, there occurred a rain at Mr. Alexander’s which was so heavy that it destroyed a yard of adobes and raised the streams. He came from the Russian river country to Napa Valley probably in 1846, working and trading but always noted as a youth of energy and uncommon good sense. In 1848 he appears before us in his first prominent public transaction. In partnership with Captain John Grigsby he agreed to build a house for Nicholas Higuerra [ed. note: Californio Nicolas Higuera was the owner of Ranchos Entré Napa and Rincón de los Carneros], in payment for which they were to receive the tract of land which comprised the original town site of Napa City. Before the job was completed, Mr. Coombs bought Captain Grigsby’s interest in the contract, and became the sole owner of the town. In the same year the town was surveyed and marked out [1847] with Nathan Coombs, then but twenty-two years old, as owner. Since that time he has been constantly accumulating property and at the time of his death he was possessed of a very fine estate; his home place – “The Willows” – a mile and a half northwesterly from Napa City, being one of the finest country seats in the State.

In 1855 Mr. Coombs was elected a member of the Assembly, and succeeded himself in the same office in the year following. Since that time he has been constantly identified with politics, taking a deep interest in the intentions of parties, and the rise and fall of leaders. Possessed of a cool judgment, a silent tongue, and extraordinary acuteness, it is not to be wondered at that he became a man of great influence in his party. In his friendships he was unfaltering and his energy was untiring, which made up for his lack of ability as a speaker and publicist. In politics he was a Republican and strict party man. His every effort was for the greatness and glory of his party, thinking, no doubt honestly, that in servicing his party he was also serving his country. Therefore it can truthfully be said that he was a patriot.

Mr. Coombs had a great fancy for fine horses, and no man in the State has done more to improve the stock of the State. He imported “Billy Cheatham” at an early day, and afterwards “Ashland,” and at the time of his death was the owner of “Lodi,” one of the best thoroughbred stallions in the state. Hundreds of thoroughbred colts have been bred his property, and at the time of his death he was the owner of a great many blooded mares and colts. On the turf his efforts were always in the direction which would secure honesty and fair dealing, and encourage gentlemen to patronize the noble sport.

That Nathan Coombs had enemies is evidence that he was a man of point and character. He had also friends who clung to him with hooks of steel. He was unsparing to those whom he opposed – he was nurturing to those he loved. But he has gone. The Chieftain has laid him down to rest, the bugles are silent, the drams are muffled, his banners are furled and his lance is reversed. No more will his followers hear his rallying cry, no more will the enemies feel the shock of his charge. His campaigning is over, his account is closed, and he has gone the way we must all travel – dust to dust and the spirit to the God that gave it.

*This is a transcription of an obituary of Nathan Coombs, published in the Napa County Record December 28, 1877.