Having made their fortunes, the odd couple continued to be friends and partners but their lifestyles swung at opposite ends of the pendulum. Even prior to selling out to Smith, Thorkildsen purchased six acres of land and built a hilltop mansion on Alpine Drive in up and coming Beverly Hills. He was known for lavish parties and speedy women. His home became a watering hole for many in the Hollywood industry and Thorkildsen’s personal life and antics were a constant source of controversy. He was once chided by a judge who stated that the details of Thorkildsen’s case were so vulgar, he had difficulty even mentioning them in court.
Thorkildsen’s spending habits became increasingly more reckless and his debts continued to build. This did not deter him from taking extravagant hunting trips and buying a yacht to entertain a handful of beautiful women on a world cruise. Only twelve years after selling Out to Pacific Coast Borax, Thorkildsen’s fortune had dwindled to nearly nothing. The borax of the Sterling mine had become exhausted, Lang became a ghost town and he was left with only his existing home and a small pension. By the time of the Great Depression, he lost that as well. Thorkildsen died broke and alone in a La Crescenta, California nursing home in 1950.
Stephen Mather, on the other hand, took his fortune in hand and set out to change the way America valued and viewed its natural parklands. He stated that America possessed spectacular scenery that rivaled anything in Europe. Unfortunately his experience was to note that the parklands were in a horrible state of repair and access to them was extremely difficult. As a member of the Sierra Club, Mather gained exposure to the thoughts and environmental views held by John Muir. Although it is uncertain as to whether Mather met with Muir while on a hike in the Sierra Mountains in 1912 or met him at a later time, he was certainly very motivated by him. His exposure to Muir’s passion for nature challenged Mather to take up the banner of preserving, protecting and expanding the national park system. Mather never looked back. From 1912 to 1914 he was in Washington D.C. on several occasions as an advocate of the national parks.
In 1914 Mather wrote a letter the Secretary of the Interior, Franklin K. Lane, describing the horrible conditions of the national parks. Although Lane attended the University of California Berkeley, he never graduated and he did not know Mather at that time. Regardless, Lane was moved by Mather’s letter and obvious passion for nature so he replied by stating, “Dear Steve, If you don’t like the way the national parks are being run, come on down to Washington and run them yourself.” With the challenge made, Mather responded and after crossing a few hurdles, Mather was sworn in as assistant to the Secretary of the Interior on January 2, 1915.
Unlike the great majority of government bureaucrats, Mather had no interest in career advancement, salary or self-promotion. He was independently wealthy and was willing to pull out his checkbook to advance the cause. He supplemented the salary of his assistant, Horace Albright, while paying the entire salary for his former best man, Robert Sterling Yard. Together they publicized the plight of the national parks, cut red tape and got the job done. When there were no funds allowed for projects, Mather either raised the money on his own or in many instances, paid out of his pocket. Mather had to fight off those who attempted to use the national parks for their own gain, some of whom even demanded the slaughter of nearly extinct species. He fought off ranchers, miners and lumber companies in order to preserve the beauty of our national parks. During World War I Mather had to fight to protect the buffalo herds from being killed as cleaver opponents used the ploy that buffalo meat was needed to feed the hungry troops.