The King of Cotton Didn’t Care If You Wrote About Him

When James G. Boswell became an adult, he was given 50,000 acres of cotton fields in California’s San Joaquin Valley. He lived until he turned 86, and turned the 50,000 acres into 200,000. His obituary ran in the NY Times on Friday, but he wouldn’t have cared much, say his biographers.

The owner of JG Boswell Company told two men who wrote a book about him to go away. “You don’t seem to understand, he said. It won’t bother me in the least if I die and this story never told.” But he had a big life, starting out working for that generous uncle, and buying up 60,000 acres in the outback of Australia to grow cotton. In Arizona, when the land he bought there no longer yielded cotton, he sold it to Del Webb development company and they built the retirement haven called Sun City.

He changed the landscape, the obit read, and not always for the better. Tulare Lake was once four times as big as Tahoe, and fed by four rivers. Boswell and other farmers engineered dams and diversions and eventually the lakebed became more cotton fields. The JG Boswell company sells cotton to mills all over the world, and grossed $150 million last year.

He had five grandchildren, golfed with Arnold Palmer, and was on the boards of many big companies, but he didn’t like to talk about himself. I read this obit again and again, wondering what JG Boswell liked to do, and what busied him in the years since he retired in 1984.