Local Historian Tom Kollenborn Passes at 80

Chronicler of people and lore of Superstitions was also a legend

By Bill Van Nimwegen

Our community’s local historian and real-deal cowboy, Tom Kollenborn, passed away on Thursday, September 27 at age 80.

Tom was the author of the weekly column, “Kollenborn’s Chronicles” in this newspaper and has been a friend to all who have gathered in wonder of the majesty and mystery of the Superstition Mountains.

One of Tom’s favorite subjects was the legends surrounding the Lost Dutchman gold mine. He met, interviewed and wrote stories about many prospectors’ quests for gold.

Tom did not believe that there was a Lost Dutchman’s Mine in the Superstitions. He regularly wrote of nearby sites he visited with placer gold present, but not the riches many proclaimed. “I will never find a lost gold mine, because I just don’t believe in them.” Tom wrote in his story “A Point of Reference.” “My real gold is gathering and recording history, and I hope some day it will be valuable to others.”

His readers and his friends knew that the real bonanza had already been found—Tom Kollenborn is the true mother lode of the Superstitions.

In his nearly 70 years living in the Superstition Mountain area, Tom was a working cowboy with the Barkley Cattle Company, a teacher in local schools, a lecturer for civic groups and colleges, a writer and a volunteer for conservation and veterans’ groups.

Tom was born in 1938, the same year that the Don’s Club dedicated the “Dutchman’s Monument” that is now located in the heart of Apache Junction. The city’s mayor, Jeff Serdy said, “The Apache Junction area has lost a local legend with the passing of Tom Kollenborn. He leaves behind a void that cannot be filled by another person, but thankfully we will always have his written word that is larger than life.”

Tom graduated from Phoenix Union High School in 1956 and attended Arizona State Teacher’s College (now Arizona State University). He served in the United States Air Force and received his Master’s Degree in 1977 from ASU.

He and his wife Sharon were early investors in Apache Land, where many familiar western legends were produced as movies and TV shows.

Based on a handshake, The News began publishing “Kollenborn’s Chronicles” more than 15 years ago and will continue to rotate the thousands of stories Tom has bequeathed.

The outpouring of support for his family from his friends and neighbors attest to the lasting impression he’s made. “We have lost a piece of our history,” said Robin Barker, AJ Councilwoman and publisher of The News. “We will mourn the man, but his memories of the history of our area will go on.”

A memorial service at Lost Dutchman State Park is being planned, but details have yet to be finalized. The News will publish the time and date when available.

2 Comments

  1. So sorry to hear of Mr Kollenborn’s passing. We first started reading his wonderful articles in 2008 when we arrived as Winter visitors – from England. We found the stories and information fascinating, and also realised that we were somewhat naive about the desert. We had visited annually from 1995, but only 3 weeks at a time. We didn’t know about snakes and scorpions, etc. Mr Kollenborn’s writings gave us lessons on the important things we needed to know to survive our hikes in the desert.

    I am with Mr Kollenborn’s opinion of the gold. The true gold of the Superstitions is its stunning beauty – its geology, its flora and fauna, its views, its peace.

    I look forwards to continuing to read Mr Kollenborn’s written work and believe it should be used as a resource for teaching newcomers to the area, in order to help them enjoy the Supes and to keep safe.

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