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The Dons and Doñas

Dressed in the groups’ Spanish-inspired costumes, make President Harry S. Truman an honorary member of the organization in 1946.

Dressed in the groups’ Spanish-inspired costumes, make President Harry S. Truman an honorary member of the organization in 1946.

Barry Goldwater, Carl Hayden and Ernest McFarland were members. So was President Harry S. Truman. Members of this group, the “Dons of Arizona,” are dedicated to exploring and preserving the history, legends and lore of Arizona and the Southwest.

One popular activity of the group is searching for an Arizona legend — the Lost Dutchman’s Mine — which history has revealed to be an un-findable cavern supposedly loaded with riches hidden in the Superstition Mountains.

To prepare for their quest, called “the Trek,” the Dons, which was founded in the early 1930s, and the Doñas — an auxiliary group composed of members’ wives founded shortly thereafter, would meet the evening before the trip to pack lunches and supplies for the outing. On the Sunday morning of the Trek, they would meet at the Fox Theater in Phoenix to begin the trip. The group was escorted to the mountain by a detail from the Arizona Highways Department.

Capitalizing on the popularity of the Trek, the Dons added Old West-themed entertainment around the event including Mexican singers and dancers, cowboy musicians and Indian arts and crafts.
As the Trek’s popularity continued to increase, they added a second hike in 1936 to accommodate adventure seekers outside the group who wanted to join in the hunt.

The Trek’s popularity began to wane at the outset of World War II.

In 1946, however, a group decided to revive the once-popular hike. A group in full Spanish-inspired Dons costumes traveled to Washington D. C. with 30 scheduled stops along the way. The group even visited with President Harry S. Truman and made him an honorary Don.

The club began in 1931 as an adjunct of the Phoenix Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). Arthur Weber, physical education director of the Phoenix YMCA and a founder of the Dons, had explored the Superstitions for many years, collecting an impressive array of rocks and gem stones from the area.

In October 1931, the Dons split from the YMCA and changed its name to the Dons Club to reflect members’ interest in the lore and history of the Southwest. The Doñas were also formed around this time. In 1979, the club’s name was changed to the Dons of Arizona to reflect a broader scope of operations and functions.

Membership of the group has included: Bob Corbin, former Arizona attorney general; Eugene Pulliam, publisher and civic leader; Don Dedera, Arizona author; Harry H. Gilleland, historian on dams and water usage; Hal Gras, wildlife teacher and conservationist and Reg Manning, Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist.

In 2000, club members voted to merge the Dons and Doñas into a single organization. Today the Dons remain a nonprofit service group.

— Jane Eppinga. Source: Superstition Mountain Historical Society

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