National Park Service
Person of the Month


This article first appeared in the Vol. 4 No. 4 (Apr. 1981) edition of the Courier.

'Boss' Pinkley, pioneer in the National Park Service

Frank Pinkley and the national park concept had to have been made for each other!

Birthed half a continent and 11 years apart, the man from Missouri and the proposal made at that 1870 campfire in Yellowstone came together at Casa Grande Ruins, Arizona Territory, in 1901.

Casa Grande was not, and never became, a national park. But concern for its protection had begun in 1852 and President Benjamin Harrison had endorsed the recommendation of the Secretary of the Interior for a Government reservation to protect the Casa Grande ruin in 1892; a full-time "custodian" was appointed 9 years later. The National Park Service was still 15 years in the future; Pinkley's first reports were made to the "Commissioner, General Land Office, Washington, D.C." on the form for "abandoned military reservations"!

Frank "Boss" Pinkley
(NPS Photo, HPC-001702)

It is doubtful that the 20-year-old Frank Pinkley who moved into a tent near the Casa Grande had ever heard of the 1870 expedition to the Yellowstone. But his first acts as custodian were certainly in line with their philosophy of protection for the public good rather than for personal gain.

Nothing came easily to the early day custodian—not even the necessities of life. It was vital that the area be protected, especially from relic hunters, by someone in residence. To be in residence in the isolated Arizona desert meant an at-hand supply of water and food. So Pinkley dug a well at his own expense and furnished feed for his own team that hauled in supplies.

He didn't ask for help in those areas until 1918 when he requested a Government automobile, with the suggestion that he buy gasoline because "furnishing my own fuel would be an insurance against over-use of the machine."

In a letter to Stephen Mather, Director of the recently created National Park Service (who had offered reappointment with the suggestion that the custodian operate a concession to offset the low salary), he stated his position on private gain versus public good and the image of the Service in no uncertain terms. Under date of Jan. 24, 1918 Frank Pinkley wrote:

"I have your letter of January 16th in regard to the possible change of custodians at the Casa Grande Ruins. (Pinkley had resigned in 1915 and meanwhile served in the State Legislature.) The plan to allow the custodian to operate a concession does not appeal to me. Placing a custodian at the Casa Grande Ruins fulfills two objects from the viewpoint of the Government. First, prevention of vandalism, and 2nd having someone to act as host on the part of the Government and to stimulate interest and diffuse information about the Casa Grande Ruins in particular, and the ancient life of America in general. I think you will agree with me that the man who completely attains both these ends could hardly appear in the proper light, trying, after an hour lecture on archeology and ethnology, to extract a fee in the shape of profit on souvenirs. It is only one step removed from accepting gratuities, and that was something I never allowed. . . On the whole, I should not be inclined to stick at the salary with the 10 percent increase you speak of, making it $990 for the year.

"I am not looking at my reappointment entirely from my own standpoint. If I should go back I want to do some good."

(NPS Photo)

But if Pinkley was modest in personal requirements he was a tiger when it came to asking for what he viewed as necessities for his area. In his first reports to the new National Park Service he enumerated the needs for wall-hardening research to preserve the dirt walls of the Casa Grande; for a museum to display artifacts (rather than have them scattered to eastern museums); for adequate mapping of the area; for a long-range plan for development; for a library on archeology, ethnology, and history "for the use of visitors and the education of the custodian."

He was persistent—and, eventually, successful. But during the struggle to have the Casa Grande receive what he considered proper attention from authorities he used blunt tactics.

In his first four reports to the Park Service he wrote under the heading of "Finances: No income and no disbursements for the month." His first annual report, submitted Sept. 7, 1918, read as follows:

"Dear Mr. Mather:

"In reply to your letter of August 24 I am sending you an annual report on the Casa Grande Ruins. This may not be what you want. It is the best I can do.

"Your letter says: 'Bear in mind that we want you to tell the public, not us particularly, just what has transpired in the promotion, administration, protection, maintenance, and improvement of the Casa Grande Ruins.

"This can all be told in about one word—nothing. The explanation is nearly as simple—no funds and no records. Nothing has transpired in the protection, maintenence, and improvement of the Casa Grande because we had no money.

"I hope to be able to make a better report at the end of the present year for I hope to get something done."

This report brought an understanding, if wry, reply from Acting Director Horace M. Albright: "I have read this report over, and am very well pleased with it. Under the circumstances you could not have written a better report."

The phrase "under the circumstances" may have been a reference to earlier correspondence between Albright and Pinkley. On June 7, 1918 Mr. Albright had explained the difficulty in obtaining funds: "Casa Grande occupies a very peculiar position, because it is neither a national park nor a national monument, although we have for several years called it a national park. The jurisdiction of this reservation is assigned the National Park Service by order of the Secretary because it logically belongs to this bureau. Nevertheless as a matter of law the reservation belongs to the General Land Office. The only way to remedy the situation is to have the President declare the Casa Grande Ruins a "national monument or to have Congress make it a national park."

Frank Pinkley's reply was forthright: ". . . we are never going to get special appropriations out of Congress under present conditions. I realized that several years ago and it was the main reason for my quitting the Service in 1915. I would not advise trying to pass a park bill through Congress. Simply declare us a monument and let us get down to doing something."

August 3, 1918 Casa Grande became a national monument by Presidential Proclamation and by October of that year Pinkley was able to report receipt of the munificent sum of $500.

The next year Pinkley attended the park conference in Denver and Rocky Mountain National Park.

Following the conference he wrote in his next report, "I spent a most profitable four or five days getting acquainted with the men of the Service and gathering information which will be useful to me in the next year's work."

But he continued, "A thing I missed during the conference was a birds-eye view of the future. No park seemed to have its plans outlined further ahead than next year's estimates. I did not catch a single glimpse of the scope of the work of the National Park Service . . . it seems to me essential to lay down the ground work of a large plan as well as we can then block in the details as the years go by." And "I was rather surprised to find that while I knew something of the parks and park problems and was very interested in anything pertaining to them, the park men knew almost nothing about the monuments and . . . did not seem to think them worthwhile."

Top administrators evidently were not offended by this straight-forward criticism. Within the year they asked Pinkley to visit and report on the Tumacacori Mission and Montezuma Castle National Monument; in 1923 he was appointed "Superintendent of Southwestern Monuments," national monuments scattered throughout four States, totalling 18 by the end of 1924.

Original etching, "The Boss", Frank Pinkley
(NPS Photo, HPC-001107)

Out of these beginnings developed an "outfit" of dedicated National Park Service men—and women (Mr. Pinkley referred to the wives as Honorary Custodians Without Pay, asked their opinions on housing, insisted on team decisions regarding transfers, and praised their participation in monument affairs, thereby almost doubling the official manpower available.)

The Southwestern Monuments Monthly Reports, written by the men in the field to "Boss" or "Nahtahni" or "Pink," were duplicated at Headquarters and sent to all the areas under the Boss's jurisdiction, where they were great morale boosters, a sort of monthly get-together, for the isolated custodians dealing with problems of very lean finances and subsistence under pioneer conditions. Pinkley's comments and his later "ruminations" appended to the reports kept the larger goals of area protection and interpretation in sight and inspired that deep interest and unfailing courtesy to visitors that became the hallmark of the Southwestern National Monuments. Their influence, and Pinkley's, spread beyond the outfit; many of the most prestigious universities and institutions in the country asked to be put on the mailing list—and one top Government official was quoted as saying they were the only Government reports he actually enjoyed reading.

The fortuitous and productive unions of the national park concept and the man from Missouri came to a sudden end in February 1940 when the "Custodians School" was convened at Casa Grande and Frank Pinkley died as he finished his opening remarks:

"I think that you will all understand that this is one of the red letter days in my life. It was in December 1901, that I started down the lonesome trail which has finally led to today and this room and these co-workers. . . . We grew by leaps and bounds, always under-manned and praying for more help; always getting more work before we got men to do it; always thinking that in another six months, or another year, we would work our way out to where we could begin to look around us and take things easier. That time has not yet come. . . Always there has been before me the mirage or the dream of all the Southwestern Monuments personnel getting together and sitting down where we could talk over our problems and try to find out how to do our work in the best possible way . . . some of our mistakes may hurt not only ourselves but may go down through the years hurting those who come after us. Let us try hard to make ourselves worthy of these obligations which have been placed upon us.

"May we leave this meeting three days hence with a bigger and broader comprehension of our work and a fixed determination to do it better this next year than it has ever been done before."

Among the many messages of sorrow that came to the Casa Grande after the shock of that morning was Superintendent Scoyen's: "Frank Pinkley was the best loved man in the National Park Service." Some of his colleague's perceptions of his leadership and inspiration are shown in a letter to "Dear Boss" from "Your Outfit" in the Monthly Report following his death:

"We miss your friendly letters in reply to some gripe of ours, gently pushing over some mountain we had built from a mole-hill. We miss your everlasting sense of humor which always bubbled up when some emergency developed and which helped us so much to meet our problems in a sensible manner. . . . Through your persistent work, your determination, and your everlasting belief in and loyalty to the ideals of the National Park Service, you built up the strongest unit in that Service. . . . Largely through your example and your high ideals of both personal and professional conduct and service, our uniform commands honor and respect in the Southwest. Especially during the last few years, when a multitude of Government organizations clouded the identity of any one branch, the National Park Service has maintained its position of friendliness yet dignity in the minds of the people. It rests with us to keep your uniform and ours on this same high plane."

By Sallie Brewer Harris
Courier, Vol. 4 No. 4, Apr. 1981.

In Memoriam
(Region III Quarterly, Vol. 2 No. 2, April, 1940)

To read more about the life of Frank Pinkley, consider reading Sundipped Memories of Frank Pinkley by Dietmar Schneider-Hector.

Last Updated: 01-Sep-2013