Flints and Bixbys: California Beginnings

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Flints and Bixbys: California Beginnings

Those familiar with Long Beach know of Bixby Park, Bixby Knolls, and Bixby Elementary School.  Many are also acquainted with the Bixby family connections to the Rancho Los Cerritos and Alamitos Rancho.  But have you ever wondered about the family’s beginnings in California?  My husband and I recently bought a second home in Amador County, California. We were lured there by wineries, open spaces and small historic towns, including the town of Volcano, where the Flint/Bixby legacy began. Let me take you back to when they first set their roots down in California.


Volcano, California

Volcano, where the Flints and Bixbys first settled, was originally called Soldier’s Gulch when soldiers of Jonathan Stevenson’s New York 7th Regiment arrived and found a few flakes of gold. The regiment decided to winter there in 1848 until spring when finding gold would be easier. They found stream beds so rich they were able to mine $1000 ($383,000 in 2023) a day in gold! The following year, gold-seekers began pouring in from everywhere, including a 22-year-old native of Maine named Benjamin Flint.

Benjamin Flint.

Voting records indicate Ben arrived in time to be one of 46 miners in Volcano on November 13, 1849, who voted to approve the proposed state constitution and elect legislative candidates. There wasn’t much of a town then. The previous month the first houses had been bult — just two of them, and a brush and pole shanty, covered with dirt, was not far away.  But things quickly changed, by 1852 there were 5000 inhabitants, 300 houses, 11 stores, six hotels, three bakeries and three saloons.

In January 1851, after a year and a half panning for gold, Ben decided more money was to be made being a businessman than in mining. When his 27-year-old brother Tom and his cousins, 24-year-old Amasa and 26-year-old Llewellyn Bixby, joined Ben in July 1851, they erected a hotel — the National — which opened in the fall of 1851. In February 1852, Bixby brothers Marcellus (age 28) and Jotham (age 21) traveled around the Horn to join the others in their enterprises. Their arrival allowed the families to pursue another venture — bringing livestock to Northern California and their Buena Vista Rancho, situated about 20 miles from Volcano, along today’s Highway 88.

From Buena Vista (which they made their headquarters), they would travel 300 or 400 miles south every four weeks and buy 200 head of cattle, driving them to their ranch. From here they would herd them to Volcano and their butcher shop (which still stands), and sell meat to the miners.

Bixby butcher shop in Volcano.

One story, told in the 1880 History of Amador County, recounts how some of the cattle escaped while being driven to Volcano. They were found by miners who tried to sell them. The Flints and Bixbys when hearing of this showed proof of ownership, but the miners refused to give up the cattle. A lawyer advised Tom Flint that a lawsuit would be costly and it would be better if they just took the cattle back by force and if the miners protested, they would have to pay the cost of a lawsuit which Tom would surely win.  Tom Flint decided to take the advice and what resulted was Wild West justice. A gunfight ensued in which a man was wounded and made a cripple for life, another two men were gravely injured, and one man almost hung. The Flint/Bixbys got their cattle back.

In 1853 Tom, Ben and Llewellyn returned home to Maine and enlisted more relatives to join them in California. The three had become so prosperous that by Christmas 1852 each had $3,500 ($137,000 in 2022) in gold. They decided to unite their fortunes into the Flint, Bixby & Company. In May 1853 the three began their trek back to California with 2000 sheep, 100 head of cattle, 11 yoke of oxen, 2 cows, 4 horses, 2 wagons and 3 sheep dogs. Ultimately the rest of the Bixby clan made their way to California – Amos, Henry, Solomon, George, Francina and Nancy, making in all eight brothers and two sisters. Amos, who was the last to arrive, was a lawyer and editor of the first newspaper in Long Beach.

Tom, Ben and Llewellyn left Amador County in 1855 for land in San Benito County, where they settled and eventually married. However, they saw opportunities in Southern California. The Flint, Bixby and Company first purchased 50,000 acres of the Rancho San Joaquin, in present day Orange County, with James Irvine in 1864. Other purchases followed — the Rancho Los Cerritos in 1866; half of the Sepulveda 32,000-acre Rancho Palos Verdes in 1872; the Rancho Los Alamitos in 1881; the Huer Huero Rancho in San Luis Obispo County around 1882.

            There is much more to the family’s history, but I hope this article will clear up questions about where the Bixby and Flint wealth in California originated.  By the way, before placer gold became harder to find (around 1857) and miners turned to quartz mining, Volcano produced nearly $100 million ( $3.5 billion in 2022) in gold.