January 21, 2013 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.
Don Donnelly was a nationally known cowboy and desert conservationist. The Sonoran Desert and Superstition Mountains were a part of his domain, a region he loved. Don brought to this area a special meaning to the word Cowboy. He told stories about cowboys, horses, cattle, wranglers, and dude strings. He always found some humor or mettle in cowboy stories.
In this community no individual has personified Marion Morrison as much as Don Donnelly. Yes, for those of you who didn’t know Marion Morrison, he was John Wayne. Don was a big man with an enormously big heart of which he extended to his fellow man. He had a special place in his heart for helping children.
He reached out to help others and he was loved for his caring disposition. Harold Christ introduced me to Don when he first arrived in Apache Junction in 1980. Don looked me in the eye and said, “Tell me friend, what do these mountain mean to you?” He accomplished two things that first day I held dear to my heart. I hadn’t known Don Donnelly more than five minutes when he addressed me as “friend.” He followed that by inquiring about what the mountain meant to me, not how much I knew about it. He was a true cowboy diplomat with wonderful tact. I never forgot that first meeting.
Our trails crossed at Chamber of Commerce meetings, at the wilderness trailheads, in different camps and on the trails for the next twenty years. Often we visited about the Superstition Mountains, its legends and lure. Don was a lot like Will Rogers in that he never met a man he didn’t like if given half a chance and always had some wonderfully humorous or witty remark to make about cowboys, horses or life on the trail. It was always a pleasure to talk to Don Donnelly. He always had time for a friend, visitor or stranger.
I rode along with Don on one of his rides to Roger’s Canyon in March of 1999. I believe it was his Crow Canyon Institute group. It was on this ride I really got to know the Don Donnelly of Gold Canyon. He talked about his love for the desert, his love for horses and how much he loved working with his people. He certainly was a natural when it came to soothing the soul of his riders. He had the right thing to say and knew when to say it. Don rode along talking to this rider and that rider assuring those that needed it and complementing those who were doing fine on the long trail into Roger’s Canyon from the trailhead.
Don was a natural teacher with an enormous amount of patience. Don made it a point to let me know how important it was for young people know about cowboys and the good they represented. As Don would say, “The cowboy is the good spirit of the West.” I learned a lot about a man who loved his work on that two-day ride to Roger’s Canyon Cliff Dwellings.
Sometime in the early 1980’s Don and I rode across Bluff Springs Mountain. He was overwhelmed by beauty of the Superstition Mountains. On this occasion we talked about the old characters of Superstition Mountain. Don absorbed the history of the area and carried it on to others. Don became an exceptional storyteller of cowboy tales and stories about Superstition Mountain.
Don and Shelly Donnelly moved down from Estes Park, Colorado to Gold Canyon in 1980. Harold Christ, General Manager of Dinomount Corporation, believed a stable would add a lot to the Gold Canyon area. Christ eventually recruited Donnelly to move here and open the Gold Canyon Stables that eventually became the Don Donnelly Stables at Gold Canyon. Don enjoyed horses, animals, the outdoors, and meeting people. His business certainly suited his life style.
His comments and demeanor will be remembered for a long time in the Gold Canyon area and Arizona. His comments like, “Our mission is to be the best neighbor anybody has ever had,” or “We want to be the best riding stable in the Southwest,” attest to his method of conducting business. He and his business was a wonderful asset to our community.
Our community lost a great friend when Don passed away from a heart attack on December 27, 1999, at the age of 54. Yes, Don Donnelly is part of the history, legend and lore of Superstition Mountain and will be remembered for his contributions to the area.