By Nancy Gutierrez
Close to 400 people piled into the Memorial Building Sunday for the Tulare Historical Society's monthly meeting or at least to listen to the society's special guests, Mark Arax and Rick Wartzman, the writers of a book that has been on the New York Times Best-Sellers List for eights weeks in a row, "The King of California: J.G. Boswell and the Making of a Secret American Empire."
News crews from KFSN ABC 30 and KMPH FOX 26 and a crew from C-SPAN hurriedly set up microphones and cameras for the book signing and readings by Arax and Wartzman, a duo whose popularity has ever increased since the release of their epic historical narrative.
For those who thought the book was an attempt by reporters to defame a successful landowner, the event shed light on the book's lessons in history as well as economics. The King of California spotlights the rise of the Valley company and California's most prosperous family, the Boswells, as well as the effect of the progressive and inventive farming practices implemented in Corcoran.
"This is an agricultural miracle that no other man has created with the same speed or intensity," Arax said. "I don't think we set out to support the small guy or do damage to the big guy. We set out to tell a story."
Many who attended had read the entire book and eagerly waited through a short historical society business meeting that was preceded by the pledge of allegiance and a prayer.
"This is an extraordinary turnout and speaks to the tight sense of community," Arax said. "We've been up and down the state and this by far is the most heartening."
The two authors traded positions at the mic reading from different chapters that, out of context, seemed to come from separate unrelated books. There are stories of black field workers from southern plantations recounting their journey that brought them to the San Joaquin Valley. Police officers and citizens retell the story of political controversy in the town of Corcoran. These details are the streams and rivers that feed in to the larger story about the mammoth cotton ranch built on the Tulare Lake.
Arax and Wartzman answered questions about their encounters with Boswell and what they new of the intricacies of a company that managed to slip past federally mandated acreage limits and acquire so many water rights.
For six years the pair met with family members, employees, friends and enemies of Boswell's. After two years they were able to meet with Boswell himself. They told the audience of their surprise at his amiable personality and that they left their meetings, "liking him."
The line of readers waiting for a signature from the authors was evidence that attendants liked the book. People came from Visalia, Tulare and many other towns to meet the creators of a book about their valley and history.
Exeter Union High School Teacher Chuck Knox came to visit with and listen to an old student.
"Mark was a student of mine at Tenaya Junior High in Fresno," he said. "He was always a wonderful writer and it's exciting to come here and get his autograph."
Visalia resident Fred Odle was interviewed by Arax and Wartzman and came to show his support and get an autograph as well.
"I was a cop in Corcoran for four years and they were interested in what went on in the red light district," he said.
Odle came from Oklahoma with his parents as a child. His father worked on the dredgers that slowly reduced the scope of the Tulare Lake and expanded the land holdings of the Boswell company.
The entire meeting was recorded by C-Span and will air at 8 p.m. on Jan. 31 and at 11 a.m. on Feb. 1. Copies of the book can be bought at The Book garden in Exeter.