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B&C Member Spotlight — Horace Albright

Sidekicks never get the accolades they deserve. Boone and Crockett member Horace Albright is one of them. As the second director of the National Park Service (NPS) and assistant to the agency’s first director, Stephen Mather, Albright was an honest and devoted employee of the newly created agency. When he reluctantly took the reins of the NPS in 1929, Albright continued to improve the young agency that still protects America’s most awe-inspiring public lands. 

By PJ DelHomme

The same year Congress established Yosemite National Park (1890), Horace Albright was born in remote Bishop, California. His family was poor, but by Albright’s admission, they didn’t know it. No one in Bishop had a car, indoor plumbing, or electricity. That never seemed to bother anyone in town, recalled Albright.  

His father was an engineer and incredibly kind. His mother made sure that Horace and his brothers did not neglect their studies, making them recite poetry at breakfast. “When I was about thirteen, my parents probably went into debt to buy the Encyclopaedia Britannica from the Sears & Roebuck catalogue,” Albright wrote in Creating the National Park Service: The Missing Years. “What a feast of reading that was!” The reading paid off for Albright as he graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1912. When Woodrow Wilson was elected president in 1912, he appointed Californian Franklin K. Lane as secretary of the interior. Thanks to influential friends, Albright was offered a job as an assistant to the assistant of the secretary of the interior. He agreed to give up law school and head to Washington D.C. at 23. 

Albright (right) is pictured here with an unkonwn fisherman and Stephen Mather (left) in this undated photograph from the National Park Service..

The Ever-loyal Sidekick (1914-1919)

Albright spent his time in D.C. assisting various personalities in the Department of the Interior. In 1914, one of those personalities was fellow Boone and Crockett member Stephen Mather. An incredibly wealthy man from Chicago, Mather accepted a role as assistant to the secretary of the interior under two conditions: that the job would only last one year, and Albright would be his assistant. Secretary Lane agreed to the terms. 

Together, Mather and Albright worked diligently to create the National Park Service, which they accomplished in 1916. As Mather courted politicians, writers, publishers, and influential members of the industrial establishment to create the NPS, Albright served as the anchor (and meticulous notetaker) for Mather’s extraordinary ideas. Albright was there when Mather hosted his elaborate 10-day camping trip known as the Mather Mountain Party. Most importantly, Albright took the reins as director of the NPS when Mather’s severe bipolar disorder forced him to seek treatment. 

While Albright served as acting director, his knowledge of public lands helped him navigate the politics of Washington. It helped him designate Utah’s first national park. Zion in southern Utah is one of the gems of the National Park Service, and in 1918, Zion was a national monument. Albright wrote that he strolled into Utah Senator Reed Smoot’s office and “...mentioned how good it would be for his state and the Park Service to have a national park in Utah.” Smoot agreed, wrote the legislation, and one year later, an act of Congress created Utah’s first national park. Albright also played a leading role in the creation of Maine’s Acadia National Park. 

In Mather’s absence, Albright worked on issues threatening Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite. As for Yosemite, the threat of 50,000 “hoofed locusts” (sheep) allowed to graze on the floor of Yosemite Valley forced Albright’s hand. “Then, Mr. Secretary [Lane], with deep regret, I tender my resignation,” Albright wrote of the discussion. “I simply couldn't oversee the ruination of park lands that belong to all the American people just for the simple greed of a few.” Albright wasn’t bluffing. Lane sought a compromise. After much political maneuvering, Albright returned with another option that included no sheep at all. Albright won. 

A panoramic view of Zion National Park at sunset. Albright was instrumental in getting Zion designated as Utah's first national park while he served as acting director.

When Mather returned to his post as director in 1918, Albright tried to find work at a law firm in California. Mather wouldn’t let him go. Albright had wanted to be superintendent of Yellowstone National Park for years, and Mather offered him the job. Albright served as superintendent from July 1919 to January 1929—and he loved it. 

The Yellowstone Years (1919-1929) 

Albright in 1919 when he assumed his role as superintendent of Yellowstone National Park.

At 29, Albright had two roles. During the summers, he ran the world’s first national park. In the winter months, Mather had Albright working as his “field assistant,” where he supervised field operations in all national parks and monuments west of the Mississippi. The role also required numerous trips back to Washington, D.C. For the summer months, though, Albright was all about Yellowstone. 

“Solemnly staring at the camera for my first official photograph as superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, I felt a surge of happiness go through me,” Albright wrote. “All the doubts, depression, and fears were gone. There was nothing but opportunity to make this land, the size of Rhode Island and Delaware, into a shining example of what a national park could be. I was filled with anticipation of work to be done, goals to be reached, and years of sunshine ahead in this strange and beautiful wilderness. I always remembered this day as one of the proudest moments of my entire life.”

While Albright wrote of his passion for his new role, his actions spoke louder than words. When Albright donned his uniform for the first time, he was in charge of 25 full-time rangers, a few engineers, and maintenance personnel. In the summer months, those employees grew to 258, including a buffalo herder. One of his first orders of business was reorganizing staff housing, which was a suggestion from his wife, Grace. Large families, regardless of position or salary, were given bigger houses. 

Albright changed the look and feel of the park ranger. He wanted to “raise the standards” of park rangers and began recruiting more college students on summer break in the hopes that they would become permanent rangers. One evening, Albright was walking through Mammoth Hotel in Yellowstone. He overheard Isobel Bassett, who was visiting with her parents, speak about Yellowstone's geysers and how they compared to New Zealand’s and Iceland’s geysers. Albright invited her back the following summer and hired her as Yellowstone’s first female ranger. It also was the genesis of the interpretive ranger program, which is still in place today.

As Yellowstone’s popularity grew, Albright’s role as park ambassador became an ever-important role. In 1923 alone, Yellowstone was visited by seven senators, 25 members of Congress, and two governors. When U.S. President Warren G. Harding visited, Albright lobbied him on pressing issues, such as the expansion of Grand Teton National Park. He hosted dignitaries from around the world, like Crown Prince Gustav of Sweden. And when wealthy tourists like John D. Rockefeller Jr. showed an interest in expanding protection to land south of Yellowstone, Albright was all in. Albright helped Rockefeller devise a plan to buy private land around the Snake River, which Rockefeller then donated back to the American people. In 1943, President Franklin Roosevelt used the Antiquities Act to create Jackson Hole National Monument, which was added to Grand Teton National Park in 1950.

Superintendent Horace Albright, eating pancakes with bears at Lake Lodge, Yellowstone National Park, in 1922.

Life as the superintendent was not all dignitaries and horseback rides. Just as the hoofed locusts threatened Yosemite, western governors hoped to begin four water projects inside Yellowstone, including constructing dams on Yellowstone Lake. Lawmakers used an extended drought from 1919-1920 to provide an excuse for damming areas in Yellowstone like the southwest Fall River-Bechler area. At the same time, lawmakers were working on the Federal Water Power Act, which was a move “...to include in it a provision that would make all national parks and monuments subject to water-power projects.” Thanks to Mather, Albright, and others, Yellowstone was spared a fate similar to Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley. 

NPS Director  (1929-1933)

After NPS director Stephen Mather suffered a debilitating stroke in 1928, Albright left his post in Yellowstone to serve as the agency’s director. For the next four years, Albright worked to expand the park system, primarily east of the Mississippi. Albright’s powers of presidential persuasion also helped expand NPS’ management of historical sites and memorials. 

Director Albright on top of Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the U.S. in 1930.

Only Grand Teton and Carlsbad Caverns National Park passed Congressional approval during Albright's tenure, but that doesn’t mean Albright wasn’t doing his job. When hotel concessioners within Yosemite tried to build a tram to whisk visitors from Yosemite Valley to Glacier Point, Albright shut it down. To the east, Albright organized tours of the Everglades for lawmakers in 1930. The push for a park there culminated in a wild hearing of the full House public lands committee. One speaker pulled a live, five-foot-long king snake from his bag of tricks and tossed it on the table. “There was instant pandemonium,” Albright wrote. A woman fainted. The court reporter flipped out over backward. Four years later, legislation was passed, establishing Everglades National Park. 

Everglades wasn’t Albright’s only project east of the Mississippi River. He hosted lawmakers for the proposed Great Smoky Mountain National Park when he needed money to secure private inholdings within the proposed area. While there, he got lost with two others and would “end up spending the night in a tree with a cold rain coming down.” The local reporters took the story and ran with it. Albright took it all in stride, and the publicity only helped his cause. 

Albright worked to improve park infrastructure as well. Thanks to Roosevelt’s New Deal and the creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Albright put them to work building campgrounds, ranger stations, and hiking trails. In 1931 alone, he secured $6 million for road and trail improvements within the parks, including completing Glacier National Park’s Going-to-the-Sun Road. Albright also initiated the construction of the Beartooth Highway at Yellowstone's northeast entrance, which Charles Kuralt named America’s most beautiful road. 

Albright had a distinct advantage over other agency chiefs. Namely, he had one-on-one time with various U.S. presidents, typically in the middle of nowhere. In April 1933, on a backroad auto tour with President Franklin Roosevelt, Albright pitched the idea of transferring military parks and historic sites from the War Department to the NPS. Two months later, President Roosevelt signed an executive order reorganizing the executive branch and government administrative agencies. Because of the order, 64 national monuments, military parks, battlefields, cemeteries, and memorials were placed under NPS management. This order added millions of acres to the National Park Service. Granted, this wasn’t entirely Albright, but his political savvy certainly didn’t hurt. 

Albright had the opportunity to meet with several dignitaries in his role at Yellowstone National Park and as the director of the NPS. He's pictured here with Herbert Hoover in 1929 prior to his presidency.

Albright tried numerous times to leave the NPS, but Mather always talked him out of leaving. But in the summer of 1933, Albright finally hung up his government uniform. By his request, he left the agency on August 9 without ceremony or fanfare. The next day, he became vice-president, general manager, and chief operating officer of the U.S. Potash Company. He worked there until 1956. While not in any official capacity, Albright continued to advocate for national parks until his death in 1987. 

 During his lifetime, Albright was recognized with dozens of awards, honorary degrees, and even the designation of a 10-acre tract of redwoods in California called “The Horace and Grace Albright Grove.” In 1980, President Jimmy Carter awarded Albright the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the citation accompanying the medal only scratches the surface in describing Albright’s devotion to conservation: 

The President of the United States of America Awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Horace M. Albright, a living monument like the Grand Tetons he has fought so hard to preserve. Horace Albright has been a driving force for conservation in this country during most of the 20th century. A founding father of the National Park Service, he is a champion of nature's causes and a defender of America's most precious inheritance.

Member Spotlights

Boone and Crockett Club members have come from a cross-section of famous accomplished people whose lives and careers have written and recorded the history of this country since the late 19th Century. They have been naturalists, scientists, explorers and sportsmen, writers and academicians, artists, statesmen and politicians, generals, bankers, financiers, philanthropists, and industrialists. Their diversity of ideas and activities during their careers have made the Boone and Crockett Club rich in its fellowship and achievements. To read more member spotlights, just click here

PJ DelHomme writes and edits content from his home in western Montana. He runs Crazy Canyon Media and Crazy Canyon Journal

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"The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak. So we must and we will."

-Theodore Roosevelt