It was September 1900. The train shuddering to a stop at the Phoenix
railway station carried a young passenger from Missouri. Excited by his
new surroundings, 19-year-old Frank Pinkley almost forgot that he had
been sent to the Arizona Territory at the order of his doctor to
recuperate from a mild case of tuberculosis. He was scheduled to stay in
Arizona for only six months, but this was to be the beginning of an
adventure that would last a lifetime.
Little more than a year after his arrival in Arizona, Pinkley eagerly
accepted the offer of a government position as caretaker of a
prehistoric ruin in the desert of the Gila River valley. He lived in a
tent, dug his own well, and wrote his reports to the General Land Office
at a desk he had made. Sensing something very special about Casa Grande
ruin, he became committed to unearthing its mysteries and communicating
them to the growing number of curious visitors.
The years that followed brought a rapid succession of significant
events, including an excavation program by famed archaeologist J.W.
Fewkes of the Smithsonian Institution at Casa Grande between 1906 and
1908; Statehood for Arizona in 1912; Pinkley's election to the state
legislature for the 1915-1916 term; and the formation of the National
Park Service in 1916. When Casa Grande was designated a national
monument in 1918, the fledgling National Park Service offered Pinkley
the job as resident custodian, but there was a catch: he would also be
expected to take charge of Tumacacori National Monument and several
In 1924 the Southwestern National Monuments Office was formed, and
Pinkley found himself superintendent in charge of 14 monuments! As his
flock of monuments grew, Pinkley was continually frustrated that funding
for their protection lagged behind their needs. Lacking the name
recognition of national parks, the monuments appeared to be the
stepchildren of the National Park Service, clothed in hand-me-downs. In
1927 Pinkley's monuments drew more visitors than Yellowstone on less
than 58 percent of Yellowstone's budget. Frequently, Pinkley paid for
his own travel or went without salary at the end of the fiscal year to
provide much needed repairs.
But Pinkley developed and grew as a park manager through good times
and bad, always staying one step ahead of the new monuments being thrust
under his care. At the time of his death in 1940, Pinkley administered
27 national monuments in four states, and was excitedly planning the
development of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.
"The Boss," as Pinkley was affectionately known to his cohorts and
employees, left a singular legacy. Ruminations from The Boss was
a collection of topical, often humorous essays by Pinkley which
punctuated the monthly reports compiled by his staff. In his
Ruminations, Pinkley revealed an uncanny ability to explain,
instruct, and cajole in a fatherly way. In 1932 Pinkley wrote
prophetically. "In all this rushing and roaring around and growing
into a bigger organization, let us watch carefully that the Park Service
spirit, the spirit of service, doesn't evaporate."