An 'Odd Couple'

An 'Odd Couple' and Twenty Mules

The Fortune of the Sterling Borax Company in California's Santa Clarita Valley

By Edward Keebler  

Three years later, in 1903, Mather had a nervous breakdown in Chicago. He was a high-strung individual, described as being full of energy and a workaholic. He was also caring, extremely personable, persuasive, made friends easily and maintained loyal friendships. The other side of his personality is that he was prone to periods of isolation, depression and moodiness that haunted him for life. His relief for these periods of his life was to escape into nature, thus laying the foundation of his passion and eventually establishing the National Park Service. During Mather’s breakdown, Smith refused to pay his wages. This resulted in Mather finally breaking away from Francis Smith and Pacific Coast Borax. In 1904 he left Chicago to join Thorkildsen at the Frazier Mountain mine.

Thorkildsen’s personality was quite the opposite of Mather. Thorkildsen was careless with money, drank too much, had horrible relationships with women and was quite egocentric. Stories abound regarding the lifestyle of Thorkildsen and the wild parties he hosted at his home in the Hollywood Hills. It was not uncommon for him to invite guests to dinner and after enjoying a meal and drinks, for him to take off all of his clothes and parade around in the buff. He was very prideful of his physique and loved to display it when the opportunity arose. At a later point in life he caught a man in bed with his wife and chased the naked man down the hill from his home. The naked man circled back to retrieve his clothes but slipped near the pool, fell in, and drowned. At another party, an intoxicated Hollywood starlet also fell into the pool and drowned but was not noticed until the following day. Mather and Thorkildsen could not have been more different.

When Mather joined Thorkildsen at Frazier Mountain in 1904, Thorkildsen had been running the day-to-day operations of the successful venture for six years. Mather was just at the end of recovering from the nervous breakdown he had in Chicago. It is unlikely that Mather, who had never actually worked in a mine, had any desire to spend time underground with pick and shovel in hand. Mather’s personal therapy was to be outdoors in nature, that’s what settled his spirit and calmed his mind. At the same time, the last thing Thorkildsen needed, was Mather looking over his shoulder and trying to help run the mine. It wasn’t long thereafter that Mather and his wife set out for an extended trip to Europe. There, he rekindled his passion and interest in nature and returned home with an acute awareness of America’s need to improve public access to the natural beauty the country offered.

In Spring, 1905 two gold prospectors, Louis Ebbenger and Henry Shepard, happened upon a rich deposit of borax in Tick Canyon. They lacked the resources to mine and process the mineral themselves and subsequently sold their claim to Thorkildsen for $80,000. Since the Frazier Mountain site was nearly mined out by this time, it couldn’t have happened at a better time. The Thorkildsen-Mather Borax Company was still in business but it was now being marketed under a different name; the Sterling Borax Company.Next Page

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The Mather Family | More Mather Family | Pacific Coast Borax | Thomas Thorkildsen | Mathers and Thorkildsen | More Mathers and Thorkildsen | Mather's Marketing Savy | Mather and National Parks | National Parks | Conclusion
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