The Beet Sugar Gazette was a monthly publication covering the entire sugar beet industry around the world.  With offices in Chicago, it was published on the 5th day of each month.  Each month its pages featured articles on sugar beet cultivation and the sugar manufacturing process, and reports from correspondents in sugar producing areas or re-prints of local newspaper articles on local sugar factories.  As such it often printed information giving us valuable information on life in early Los Alamitos and the surrounding area.  This report is from the November 1900 issue of the Sugar Beet.

It is historically significant to some degree in that it specifically states that the Clarks entered into the sugar factory agreement with Lewellyn Bixby and not his younger brother Jotham.  Lewellyn and cousin Thomas Flint owned Flint, Bixby & Company and as such owned 50% of the J. Bixby Company, which owned the Rancho Los Cerritos, and became  33% owners of the Rancho Los Alamitos, when they helped finance it for their cousin John W. Bixby.  With the latter’s death, and the division of the rancho, they assumed the northern third of the Los Alamitos rancho adjacent to their Cerritos properties.  It was on some of this land that the new town of Los Alamitos was formed.

 

The Los Alamitos Sugar Company has begun suit for $1,000,000 damages against Jonathan [ref. should be Jotham[ref] Bixby and Thomas Flint. It is an action to compel the defendants to procure a right of way for the drainage from the Alamitos sugar factory, as per alleged agreement, over the lands now owned by Mrs. J. W. Bixby, Fred H. and Susan Bixby, to the Pacific Ocean, or, in case of failure to do so, to pay $1,000,000 damages.  In June, 1896, W. A. and J. Ross Clark entered into an agreement with the late Llewelyn Bixby, owner of the Alamitos ranch situated in the southern part of Los Angeles and the northern part of Orange counties, one of the conditions of which was that there should be a right of way over the lands lying between the factory and the ocean, a distance of about four miles, for the drainage of the tract. The Messrs. Clark transferred their agreement to the Alamitos Sugar Company and the factory was built and has been in operation for the past three seasons. In the meantime Llewelyn Bixby died and the right of way has not been procured. On the contrary, suit has been brought against the sugar company for heavy damages, alleged to have been caused by the ditch over the land in question. As it is practically impossible to conduct the factory without means of disposing of the drainage, suit was instituted to compel the fulfillment of the contract or the payment of the value of the improvements made by the company.

 

The above article lays out certain facts, but omits some family dynamics which were definitely at play here.

It would seem that after the death of her husband, Susan had developed some resentment against the Jotham Bixby side of the family.   This could have been due to Jotham’s actions, or a sibling rivalry between Susan and her sister Margaret (Jotham’s wife), or perhaps a sense of entitlement or condescension by her nephew George who lived at the Alamitos rancho for awhile.  It could have been a combination of the above.

What is clear is that after the death of her husband, Susan Bixby abdicated the Rancho and had lived in Northern California where her children were attending school.  She did not take a very active role in the business affairs of the Alamitos Land Company, nor was she offered a seat on the Alamitos Land Company Board of Directors.

 

While Susan was up north she often sought the advice of banker I.W. Hellman who also had a 33% interest in the Alamitos Rancho. [ref]Hellman, who had started the very successful Farmers & Merchants Bank in Los Angeles and had become Southern California’s most successful banker, had invested in J.W. Bixby’s Rancho Los Alamitos purchase.  By 1900 he had moved to San Francisco and had become the President of Wells Fargo, and became the most influential banker west of the Mississippi.[/ref] It would appear that Hellman took close interest in Fred Bixby’s development.  Susan enrolled the shy lad with the stutter in the Belmont military Academy (where Hellman’s own son had just attended.) Bixby then enrolled at UC Berekeley, where Hellman was a regent.

Here is the September 30, LA Times story on the lawsuit

With Fred’s graduation for UC Berkeley in 1898 Susan returned to the rancho while Fred and his new bride Florence lived in a house in Long Beach.  Fred managed the Rancho under a lease from his mother.  They had both agreed to an easement that would permit the sugar factory to discharge waste water from the factory into Coyote Creek and make its way past the Rancho Los Alamitos adobe and to the ocean.

Unfortunately, the almost flat surrounding terrain provide very little gravitational flow and soon the Susan Bixby claimed the once clear waterbeds were now “blue-black like indelible ink.  She ordered the discharged blocked and the Clarks would file suit.

Susan’s lawsuit did not attract much public sympathy.  The factory put on the stand numerous witnesses who stated the odors were no worse than any large scale cattle operation.  Fred Bixby was reportedly handled pretty roughly on the witness stand.

In the end the jury found for neither side.  Rather than a second suit, both sides backed off.  Prior to this the beet factory had been a closed shop with most of the beets coming from the Clark 8,000 acres, now called the Montana Ranch,  to the northwest of the sugar factory.  Los Alamitos Sugar Company Company correspondence shows J. Ross now offered Fred Bixby favorable terms for beets raised on his lands, and the factory continued to process beets until 1926 when it became more efficient to ship the beets to the Holly Factory in Santa Ana.

And Susan was also now a Director of the Alamitos Land Company, as I.W. Hellman asked her to attend a meeting or give him her proxy.

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