Arthur C. Pillsbury
                          Foundation

Protecting and Preserving All Life -- By Extending Human Vision

Stephen T. Mather & Horace Albright

Steven Mather thought nothing of stealing what others had earned.  He, with a partner, stole their way to wealth, taking advantage of the trust invested in them by their employer.  Mather's partner: Thomas Thorkildsen.  

Mather remained as an employee of Pacific Coast Borax while covertly acting as President of the company started by his friend, Thorkildsen-Mather Borax Company, later the Sterling Borax Company.  The two men made the equivalent of $500,000,000 through this underhanded enterprise.   According to an article, "'Borax King' Cleaned Up, but Died Washed Up,"  published in the Los Angeles Times, March 12, 2000, written by Cecilia Rasmussen, Thorkildsen engaged in criminal business practices, from which Mather, as his partner, immediately profited.  They were acting in conspiracy to enrich themselves. 

Mather then went on to increase his power and wealth through government and saw an opportunity for enriching this through the National Park Service.  The method he chose had striking similarities to his previous activities.  

As with most self-appointed elites, his life-goals included augmenting his status.  As is obvious to most of us, being treated as a member of the elite opens doors and creates opportunities.  To accomplish this he needed to reposition himself.  Discussion on 'conserving' lands held in trust for the American people was a perfect entre for self-dealing.  Hie behavior, once he had power, clearly demonstrates this was a rhetorical pretense with no relationship to reality.  

Mather paid for the PR campaign carried out by  Robert Sterling Yard.   The beautiful photos of Yosemite and elsewhere helped create the false face Mather presented to the world.   

His intention from the first was to build elite resorts, and he did so, mandating these around the country.  In Yosemite he built a golf course, since removed.  This was a lucky placement for him because the monied interests in San Francisco had been hungering for the pristine water from Hetch Hetchy for a quarter of a century.  Wealth would flood into the city when the Federal government was persuaded to allow this to take place.  

Yes, San Francisco's elite was entirely invested in seeing the waters of the Sierras flow into their pockets, so to speak.  Now, just for a moment, glance over the Charter Membership of the Sierra Club.  Remember, the idea of starting the Sierra Club was not John Muir's idea.  It was floated by Gifford Pinchot, a conservationist whose wealth was made through logging.  The Club's organizing meeting was held  Saturday, May 28th in the law offices offices of Warren Olney at First National Bank Building at 101 Sansome Street. 

But there was more money to be made through self-dealing for Mather.  So, as Director, he covertly bought stock in the Desmond Company and began a plot to force out the concessionaires, such as David Curry, who had capitalized and publicized Yosemite, making it financially viable.  The Federal government had put concessionaires in a difficult position.  Until multi-year concessions were granted in 1924 to Park business people, their right to do business in the Valley was limited to one year at a time.  Therefore, it was not possible to advance capital for improvements which relied on an income to be spread over longer periods.  

Other restrictions and requirements were often absurd or bizarre.  For instance, photographers paid a hefty fee for doing business already.  When cars were permitted to enter the Valley they were charged for the privilege of taking pictures of people in their cars who wanted this done.  It was rather like a group of bureaucrats gone crazy, making up ways to make money with no notion of the impact on the business person who would have to endure these demands.  All of these abuses have continued unabated up to today.  

Stephen Mather found his opportunity in more colossal ways in these conditions, in place when he was appointed Director in 1915.  He decided to award a concession to The Desmond Park Service Company, in which he had purchased stock.    

Official sources, for instance the  Yosemite: the Park and its Resources (1987) by Linda W. Greene, ignore the conditions faced by the business people who had carried out the far more difficult start-up capitalization.  Citing these conditions as a problem, they prepared to steal the businesses to whom they owed the existence of the tourist amenities then in place. This attitude is typical of those who are receiving government salaries, guaranteed no matter how badly they fail.  And fail they did.  Despite the opining of Linda W. Greene, who blandly declaims,  " Stephen Mather began to worry by early 1915 that the park would be completely incapable of handling the increased tourist trade as a result of the California expositions of that year. To remedy the situation, he persuaded California busnessmen in San Francisco and Los Angeles to put up capital resulting in formation of the D. J. Desmond Company. In 1915 the Department of the Interior granted the D. J. Desmond Company a one-year lease to operate a hotel and camp, under the name of Camp Yosemite, and to operate an auto sightseeing service on the floor of the valley. The permit stipulated that if the season’s operation were successful and satisfactory to the Department of the Interior, it would grant Desmond a twenty-year contract. The permit allowed him to occupy 4-1/2 acres that held two large remodeled barracks buildings with attached cottages, two bath and lavatory buildings, and 156 canvas bungalows.
Dick Shaffer, an early partner in the enterprise, recalled that the Desmond Company had first held meetings in the San Joaquin Valley to interest people in its concession project for Yosemite and to sell stock. Joe Desmond, whose name was used for the company, had been a caterer in Los Angeles. When the Owens Valley Aqueduct project got underway, Desmond managed the construction messhalls. He gained much publicity through that job and became well known. A. B. C. Dohrmann and Larry Harris, who were pushing the Yosemite concession project, subsequently decided to bring him in on their plans.
     “Some Historical Facts Regarding the Desmond Company,” C. P. Russell interview with Dick Shaffer, 2 July 1951, in Separates File, Yosemite-Concessions, Y-16c, Yosemite Research Library and Records Center.]
    The Interior Department ultimately adopted the policy of preferential contracts favored by Stephen Mather because of the large investments required to provide the quality and extent of services and facilities needed for the ever-increasing tourist trade. That type of contract reduced investment risks and thereby gave concessioners some financial protection. This policy of having one strongly favored public utility operator in each park also enabled the government to more easily control and supervise their activities so that tourists would not be constantly subjected to competitive selling efforts by rival concessioners. By giving the Desmond Company this one-year lease, the Interior Department hoped that it would prove responsible and efficient and eventually absorb all other concession operations......
and then offer to any responsible company a lease for twenty, or even fifty years, of the whole Valley, subject to such conditions as might be prescribed in the law or agreement to be drawn up by Mr. Olmsted. . . . a corporation with a lease of twenty or thirty years could very well afford to put up large and commodious hotels, and spend a hundred or even two hundred thousand dollars in beautifying this “National Park;” because their profit would be certain, and the sale of their improvements to a successor, at the end of the lease, sure. The value of their improvements would be permanent and constantly increasing. It would be only necessary for the State to guard sufficiently their character."
And today this same policy, still in place, is responsible for the lack of any knowledge of Yosemite's history and the deterioration of services.  

​The Park Service, and Horace Albright, an attorney are Mather's right hand man, knew from at least 1916 that Mather's reason for demanding Desmond be given an exclusive over Curry, in effect stealing the capitalization they had built, was because Mather and his friends were prime investors in the Desmond Company.  Albright openly confessed this in his book, publication delayed for over ten years after his death.  Read "Creating the National Parks - The Missing Years."

And today Space-X Falcon Heavy took off, a private enterprise which cost American taxpayers nothing, except the cost of issuing the licenses, which are meaningless.  In alignment with their own 'business plan," government ignores the issue of liability insurance commenserate with the risks presented by an enterprise.  Note that government is now underwriting the potential trillions of dollars in risk presented by terrorist damage to the reinsurance industry, to oil refineries which are frighteningly underinsured and hope the threat of death to 27-Million Americans from Hydrofluoric Acid used for producing gasoline will not crack a tank in any of 19 US cities and 24 towns. 

The Desmond Park Service Company went bankrupt, despite Mather's grant of the right to serve alcohol, and have every possible advantage competing with the beleaguered original concessionaires.  But, as we see from Horace Albright's book, " Creating the Nation Park System- The Missing Years,"  1999: 

From Chapter 14 - Collapse, 1917:  " He even worried about Lane. With the election over, he felt Lane would probably be replaced by a new secretary[of the Interior], who would not be interested in national parks, or, worse, be antagonistic to them—"probably be some citified easterner who wouldn't care a tinker's damn about anything west of the Hudson unless it would be to develop the resources."

There was no use in arguing that some of the ideas seemed pretty pessimistic, so I remained silent and listened to these downbeat troubles.

For the first time, Mather told me in some detail about his financial involvement with the Desmond Company and the serious trouble it was in, especially since Desmond himself had disassociated himself from it. He confessed that he, along with a few others, was committed to bailing the company out. Of course, I had long known that the whole matter had been kept under wraps, but he seemed unaware that there were possible illegal elements involved. Apparently innocent of the law, the participants had gone along with their plans and agreements until circumstances had forced them into a box.

Alarmed and apprehensive, I asked if he would fill me in on details. After all, I was an attorney and had spent some time investigating the legal angles of their problem. I honored this man, and in his present condition I was fearful that he could bring disgrace on himself, his partners, and the new National Park Service. The more I turned it over in my mind, the more worried I became, and the more questions I asked.


He suddenly clammed up. He instructed me to forget our meeting and everything that we had talked about. Instead, my concern for him made me press for details, offering any help I could give him. He became very nervous, his voice rising. Suddenly he refused to discuss the matter any further, and he switched to the question of who would run the new service.

Mather knew that Lane wanted him to be confirmed as director, but he was indecisive. He seesawed back and forth. First he felt his job wasn't finished until the bureau was set up, with proper appropriations and an organization to provide smooth operations. Then he lapsed into this black hole of depression, talking about his inability to solve the vast assortment of problems.

"I'm not an organization man. I like to do things in the field, not fiddle-faddle around an office, pushing papers and digging around in details. When you leave, I would have nobody to take care of these things, and I simply cannot tackle them by myself."


Well, now we were getting down to the nuts and bolts of the conversation. He had to know whether I was going back to California, whether I was going to leave the service as planned after the superintendents' conference and appearing before congressional committees for appropriations to start up the Park Service. He probed and probed without coming directly to the point.

Although I had been offered opportunities in several fine San Francisco law firms and a teaching position at the University of California, I really had been too busy and concerned with national park affairs to think beyond the conference and the appropriation problems. Looking across the room at this worried, disturbed man, whom I had learned to admire so deeply, I made a fast decision.

"Mr. Mather, let's not concern ourselves with these problems today. You know I'm always with you and will not walk away until we have an opportunity to assess our future. We're like parents to this new National Park Service. We created it, we gave birth to it, and we'll always take its interests to heart. Let's just tackle one thing at a time. Let's make this superintendents' conference, into which you've put so much of yourself, a great success. That's the prime consideration right now."

Well, he instantly brightened up, jumped to his feet, and began his pacing, which always meant furious thinking, a problem of his feet keeping up with his mind. He switched moods completely as he began rattling off details and instructions about tomorrow's meeting. I left him with a feeling of relief."


The relief did not last long.  The chapter continues with, "I honestly don't recall whether it was the evening of January 7 or 8 that my world seemed to collapse. I suppose it's the old saying that we don't remember what we don't want to. My memory comes back in strong with a telephone call about ten o'clock on one of those two evenings. It was E. O. McCormick. He talked rapidly and with a sense of extreme urgency. "Horace, get over here to the Cosmos Club as fast as you can. Something terrible is going on with Steve. For God's sakes, hurry! Run!"

I raced up the stairs, repeated to Grace what McCormick had said, and then literally ran all the way to the club. Hough was waiting for me by the front door. "Steve has totally come apart. He's raving, absolutely insane." I didn't waste time, just told him to take me to Mather.

I wasn't prepared for what I saw a few minutes later. His friends had taken Mather into a small reception room and closed the door against curious onlookers. Though loosely held by McCormick, he was rocking back and forth, alternately crying, moaning, and hoarsely trying to get something said. I couldn't understand a thing. He was incoherent. His movements became more agitated while his voice rose. I feared he might possibly hurt himself. As I was younger and stronger, I replaced McCormick, holding him with both arms. Several of us talked quietly to him, trying to soothe his wild mood, but to no avail. Suddenly he broke out of my hold, rushed for the door, and, with an anguished cry, proclaimed he couldn't live any longer feeling as he did. We all understood what he said that time."


Mather collapsed and spent a year being comforted by family and his associates and with Albright continuing to cover for him.  

Mather's ill-gotten wealth was viewed as a sign of ability and honor.  No one questioned how he had acquired his wealth though the behavior and habits of his 'partner,' Thomas Thorkildsen were causing scandals in Los Angeles.  Mather should have been fired, prosecuted and jailed.  Instead, he had learned he would be protected no matter what he did.  This included the death of David Curry, who was forced to ignore his health to save his business from Mather's attempted theft.  Albright was obligated by his oath, as an employee of the American people, to uphold the law and the Constitution, to report Mather.  His failure to do so should have cost him his job, his lisence to practice law, and jail time.  

Mather would be back in the saddle in time to continue his career in crime soon, thanks to Horace whose focus was, with Mather, on building an agency, the National Park Service, which would operate outside of the law and without oversight.  It is doubtful that Albright could have carried this out alone and a public relations campaign had been launched  to augment and direct credit to the Park Service, ignoring the efforts of Pillsbury and other concessionaires and individuals who loved the beauties of nature and wanted these to be available to all Americans.   

For Stephen T. Mather the motive was money and the prestige of being a wealthy member of the elite.  These goals were at the core of who he was.  Characteristics of Psychopathy 

Those who are psychopathic need people to help them carry out large enterprises, which this was.  Albright fit neatly into the role, accepting the rationalizations fed to him by Mather and assisting him in every way possible.  

Stephen T. Mather

Time Line

Biography
1. Official
2. Factual


Creating the National Park System
- The Missing Years
 

by Horace M. Albright and Marian Albright Schenck, 1999

forward by
Robert M. Utley


1926 Brochure
quoting both Mather and Sec. of the Interior
Herbert Work
on Pillsbury's work.


The story continues below:

Stephen Mather  -  Horace Albright  -  Ansel Adams