[env-trinity] Another version of the King of California's Death
bwl3 at comcast.net
Wed Apr 8 11:02:26 PDT 2009
James G. Boswell II dies at 86; cotton magnate built family farm into
The Los Angeles Times - 4/7/09
By Jerry Hirsch
39,0,7149086,email.photo> Email Picture
Boswell built the state's first giant agribusiness, and played an
influential role in shaping the state's water and land policies.
Heralded as 'The King of California,' Boswell at one point oversaw an empire
spanning 200,000 acres in the San Joaquin Valley, transforming the industry
and influencing pivotal state water policies.
James G. Boswell II, the intensely private businessman who transformed his
family's cotton holdings into California's first giant agribusiness and one
of the nation's great farming empires, has died. He was 86.
Boswell died of natural causes Friday at his home in Indian Wells, Calif.,
according to a statement from the family.
As head of the family-owned J.G. Boswell Co., Boswell ran a company that has
dominated California cotton growing for generations and has used its clout
to influence land- and water-resource policy throughout much of the state.
He was just 29 when he inherited the company following the death of his
uncle J.G. Boswell, the family patriarch. Over the next half-century, he
transformed the business and more than tripled the size of the family farm,
which peaked about 200,000 acres and now spans 150,000 in the San Joaquin
Valley town of Corcoran. Boswell's labs created new, more productive seeds.
Technological improvements to his gins boosted their capacity to 400 bales
of cotton a day -- enough to produce 840,000 pairs of boxer shorts,
according to a 2003 Times article.
Historians and agriculture economists credit Boswell with creating the
template for large agribusiness concerns.
The Boswell business remains one of the world's top sellers of "the
extra-long staple cotton that goes into fabric blends and both soft and
high-end apparel," said Don Villarejo, director emeritus of the California
Institute for Rural Studies in Davis.
"His legacy is quite impressive," said Villarejo. "He was a brilliant
business leader beloved by many of his employees. At the same time, his
company was able to be ahead of and often acquire his chief farming
Boswell also was legendary for using a combination of political clout and
legal strategy "to outwit many of the environmental groups that have tried
to restrict water deliveries to California agriculture," Villarejo said.
He was an innovative water user, one of the first to employ lasers to level
fields so that water flowed evenly and efficiently, said Richard Howitt, an
agriculture economist at UC Davis.
Careful water management, including employing agronomists to determine when
and how to water, allowed Boswell's farms to produce more cotton with less
water than competitors, Howitt said. Many of his techniques were later
adopted by other farms.
But even during this period of growth and success for the enterprise, which
included diversification into tomatoes and other crops, real estate
development and farming in distant Australia, Boswell remained an intensely
private man at the head of an intensely private family business.
A <http://articles.latimes.com/2003/oct/27/entertainment/et-arax27> rare
1999 interview with two now-former Los Angeles Times writers gave outsiders
a sense of Boswell's character.
For years staff writer Mark Arax and business editor Rick Wartzman had
attempted to meet the cotton patriarch. But each letter and call was
rejected. The two were writing "The King of California: J.G. Boswell and the
Making of a Secret American Empire," a book about the family's cotton
business, and they needed to talk to him. Finally he agreed.
J.G., as Boswell liked to be called, wanted to meet them on his land rather
than in some sterile office. His intent was to show them that the business
was only as good as its earth.
Boswell, the pair wrote, "wore a Cal Poly Ag hat tucked low, frayed khaki
pants, a flannel shirt and Rockport shoes."
"It was all part of an image that Boswell loved to play up. He had earned an
economics degree at Stanford and sat on the board of General Electric and
other big corporations, but he fancied himself a cowboy," they wrote in a
2003 Times article.
Boswell attended the Thacher School, an exclusive private boarding school in
Ojai, graduating in 1941.
He served in the Army during World War II in the South Pacific before
graduating from Stanford in 1946. That's where he met his first wife,
Rosalind Murray. They raised their three children in Pasadena, far from the
farm. She died in 2000.
The company remains headquartered in Pasadena.
Fancying himself a cowboy and living like a city boy, J.G. proved to be a
complex figure. When he reached out to shake the writers' hands, they
noticed the missing fingers on his right hand, the result of a cattle-roping
They jumped into an aged Chevy truck for a tour of his holdings. The writers
said they traveled half a day and 150 miles but never left the farm. When
they asked Boswell how much land he really owned, he responded, "What are
you, a tax collector?"
"I'm the bad guy in agriculture because I'm big," he said later. "I'm not
going to try to fight it. I can't change an image and say, 'Well, I'm
righteous and good and all that.' But I'm telling you . . . I'm not going to
apologize for our size."
Wartzman, now director of the Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate
University, said he was sad to learn of Boswell's death.
"He was an immensely complicated guy, someone who knew every inch of his
land but whose company did some pretty awful things to the land," Wartzman
said. "It is just hard to farm in an environmentally sound manner at that
The company used its political clout to encourage the building of the Pine
Flat Dam to shut the flow of water to Tulare Lake, which at one point was
the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River. The drained lake
bed is now farmland, located at the heart of Boswell's sprawling enterprise.
Boswell was born March 10, 1923, in Greensboro, Ga., the son of William
Whittier Boswell Sr. and Kate Hall Boswell, and moved west with his parents
and his uncles.
He was named after his uncle J.G. Boswell, who married Ruth Chandler, the
daughter of Los Angeles Times Publisher and real estate baron Harry
With no children of his own, J.G. Boswell picked his nephew to take control
of the company he had founded in 1921 with the help of his brothers.
In the early 1980s, Boswell and the company would spend $1 million to defeat
the Peripheral Canal, a system proposed to move water to Southern
California. He thought it would hurt farming interests.
During the same period, Boswell helped farmers outflank state and game
regulators and pump water from excessive snowmelt into the north fork of the
Kings River. The move prevented farmland from flooding but also introduced
the nonnative predatory white bass into the Sacramento-San Joaquin River
At times profane, Boswell liked to be in control. For many years his company
extended its influence throughout the San Joaquin Valley by lending money to
He served as chairman, president and chief executive of the company from
1952 until his retirement in 1984. He remained on the company's board of
directors until his death. His son James W. Boswell now runs the business.
In addition to his son, he is survived by his wife, Barbara Wallace Boswell;
daughters Jody Hall and Lorraine Wilcox; and five grandchildren.
A memorial service is planned for April 22 at 1 p.m. at the Corcoran High
School Memorial Stadium.
Byron Leydecker, JcT
Chair, Friends of Trinity River
PO Box 2327
Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327
415 383 4810 land
415 519 4810 cell
<mailto:bwl3 at comcast.net> bwl3 at comcast.net
<mailto:bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org> bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org
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