Historical society honors Montell Seely
Emery County Historical Society met for their December meeting at the Museum of the San Rafael. This meeting was in memory of Montell Seely who died Aug. 12, 2008 while re-enacting a pioneer trek on Utah State Road 31 near Fairview. Montell, a descendent of the Mackelprangs (Hole-in-the-Rock pioneers), had a great love and respect for pioneers. Montell was a descendant of the pioneers that settled the Castle Valley and Emery County.
Kathryn Seely the wife of Montell, and her daughter Janell Beagley were in attendance and were honored by the group.
This meeting was also about The History of the Historical Society and Christmas Eve in Castle Dale. Dottie Grimes, Historical Society President opened the meeting and introduced her daughter Lindsey who would assist her with the slide show and presentation about Montell.
In 2009, the Utah State History Department asked Grimes to give an oral history about Montell Seely and Emery County at the State History Conference. Grimes said, "Montell Seely was a legend in his own time. He was a very unique individual. He was a 19th century pioneer." She then showed slides of a covered wagon he built and his hand cart. This hand cart he pulled from Winter Quarters to the Salt Lake Valley. After starting a month late he passed the rest of the pioneer re-enactment company and arrived two weeks early.
Montell may have been born 100 years too late. It seems as though he may have been scheduled to be born in 1834 instead of 1934. He lived in the modern 20th century and enjoyed it, but he enjoyed the challenge of doing things the way his ancestors lived and worked. He found living in our age too simple and a little boring.
Montell seemed to be very close to his ancestors. He knew all about them, he knew how they lived, how they worked and how they felt about a lot of things. He felt the unique story of these pioneers, their sacrifice, courage and determination had to be told.
The call from Brigham Young to settle Emery County came mostly to the people in Sanpete valley and Emery County shares this history. They call it the Wasatch Plateau and we call it the mountains. On their side they have plenty of water, very green and farming is fairly easy there as compared to Emery County. You all know why it is different to farm here than it is anyplace else. When the call from Brigham Young came some of them left their brick homes and came over the mountain to live in dugout homes until houses could be built.
Early explorers of the Emery County area said no one will ever live here, it is uninhabitable. Grandfather Julius Nottingham's aunt Karen said, "Damn the man who would bring a woman to such a God forsaken place."
Montell wanted to own the property that his grandfather owned. Now looking off of Montell's back deck you can see part of the 160 acres his grandfather owned. Montell moved many historic buildings on to his property, because he wanted to preserve history. Montell had two brothers Jim and Thomas (Guy). For a time Montell when he was young herded sheep with his brothers. This was a sheep business started by his grandfather and his father.
When Montell was a young boy, his older brother and some of his friends decided they did not want to go to school and they would run away. So they decided that they would go into the mountain to a sheep camp, that they knew about. They would live there and live off of the food in the sheep camp.
Montell was too young to go to school, but because he was all for the adventure he followed. They hiked through Castle Dale, through Orangeville and up to the mountain. It took all day. When they found the place where they wanted to camp and settle down it started to get dark. They suddenly realized that there would be consequences. Their parents would kill them.
They decided it would be better to go home. Montell wanted to wait and go home in the morning. He wasn't listened to and had to follow them back down the mountain. They finally got a ride when they were down in the foot hills and arrived home safely.
That was probably the last time in his life that he ever followed the crowd. He was just not a follower.
When Montell went to the ninth school grade in South Emery he saw a handicapped child named Dale that others were picking on. Montell befriended the boy and became the protector of Dale.
When Montell was a senior in High School, he started school late in the year because of farm work. When he got to school, he saw signs asking the students to vote for Montell for class president. He did not know who had nominated him. He did not want to be class president so he campaigned for the other candidate against himself. He was elected and said he would stick up for the other students.
Montell in his 20s, had his own sheep business and when he was 29 he decided he needed a wife. He was very shy around girls so he decided that he would go to Brigham Young University to find a wife and take classes to become a farmer. He was taking animal science classes from a professor that was a cattle man who did not know much about starting a sheep business. He asked Montell if he would write the lab manual for his class. Montell wrote the manual while taking the classes. Many years later the professor told Montell that they were still using the lab manual. He tried out for the Modern Dance Team. Montell loved to dance. He then danced for a couple of years while at BYU.
He met Kathryn Pincock from Idaho at BYU and they got married after they both graduated with a bachelors degree. Later he went back for his Masters degree. Before he married Kathryn he decided he needed to test her to see if she would be able to fit into his life style. Kathryn was a farm girl from Idaho and he knew farming there was quite different. He brought her down to Emery County by the back dirt roads. He wanted her to know how rough life here was. Then he had her help him build fences. She also helped brand and castrate calves. He never asked her to do those things again.
Kathryn said, "He thought he wanted a farm wife, but what he really needed was an English major to help him with all the writing he has done." Kathryn is an amazing woman. She put all her efforts into helping her husband fulfill his dream. She provided nurture and support and allowed him to soar. She was content to step back and let him receive all the glory and praise. She truly believed that he deserved it.
"I found Montell was quite busy with the pageant and it was hard to find time to interview him," said Grimes. "We finally made arrangements to interview him at three o-clock on a Sunday during pageant time. That interview lasted for three hours.
"As the interview was ending, I asked to learn more about his trek across the plains. He said, 'Lets wait a couple of weeks until after I finish a trek re-enactment from Fairview to Castle Dale.' We made a date. Later I was shocked and grieved when I heard that he was killed on that trek. I was disappointed that we would never again be able to have him share his history with us," Grimes stated.
Going into Montell's home was like stepping back in time. He built a part of his home to look like a log cabin. He put many pioneer items on the walls of his home, items that he had collected from the 19th century.
Searching on the internet for Montell Seely you will find there are more than 1,600 web sites that inform you about causes he was involved in. You will learn about his wagons, his hand carts, articles he wrote, about his love for history, about his home, his re enactments and about his death.
During the Centennial of 1977 Montell took people on 20 different treks. More than 100 people went on these treks with him. Montell lived history and brought it to the people. He helped them to experience the pioneer history.
The pageant story was first written by Montell for an LDS Stake group activity. Then they invited the county to come and soon they invited the state. The pageant grew and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints eventually took over the sponsorship. He picked the most perfect place for the pageant. This is the only pageant that has a permanent set of structures.
Wayne Wilberg built the dugout just like the pioneers would have built a dugout. Montell included a mud and water fight because water had always been so important in Emery County. Water was scarce and there were always fights over water. Montell believed that authenticity is all important in showing and teaching people about history. Montell wasn't born 100 years too late but he certainly left us too soon.
The following is a brief history of the Emery County Historical Society as given by Dottie Grimes. In 1978 there was a group of women that banded together from Emery and Carbon counties. They started the Castle Valley Historical Society. They thought they shared a lot of things and would join together and form a historical society. However after a year or two they decided their histories were very different. Carbon County's history is different from anyplace else in Utah. But it is not Emery County history. Eva Conover, Rocky Nelson and Sylvia Nelson as secretary were some of the first members of the Emery County Historical Society. Montell Seely was a member that was interested in writing a history of our area. This fit nicely into the goals and purposes of the historical society. He wrote many parts of a book about the history of Emery County. The past presidents have been Laura Kofford, Sylvia Nelson, Vernell Rowley, Dixie Swasey, Jan Petersen, Joann Behling, JoAnn Taylor, Sam Singleton, Norma Powell, Bert Oman, Frank Williams and Joyce Staley.
"We want to give them an extra thanks for their continuing work to preserve the history of Emery County," said Grimes.
When the historical society was first organized in the 70s, they had some early settlers come and talk in their meetings.
They had Dr. Lee Stokes who grew up in Cleveland and spent his time, not too far from the town in which he lived, looking at dinosaur bones. This made him want to go into the field of geology and paleontology. He went to Princeton, and while he was at Princeton, he brought a group to their first dig at the Cleveland quarry. He also arranged with Malcolm Lloyd to put up money for the Cleveland Lloyd dinosaur Quarry. Dr. Stokes came and spoke at an Emery County Historical Society, meeting about the history of dinosaurs.
Dr. Gordon came here as a coal camp doctor, later, he specialized in ophthalmology and came back to practice in Price. He was one of the cofounders of the Pre-Historic Museum in Price. Dr. Gordon worked at the Museum until he died. He came and talked to the historical society about coal camp doctors.
These are but a few of the people that came to share their information and history with the Emery County Historical Society. Some of the things the historical society did was to go on treks to interesting places in Emery County. They put up signs along the Spanish Trail. They did the centennial book, when all counties were asked to do a centennial book. The Historical Society has been involved in several wonderful projects over the years.
Christmas Eve in Castle Dale, the people of Castle Dale would bring old lumber and great logs and form a very large bonfire in the middle of the square. The square was where the LDS church is now and the parking lot. Elsie Hunter of Hunter Drug who had a beautiful voice would go to the top of the church of the old Academy. She would sing Christmas carols over the loudspeaker system.
Everyone in Castle Dale would gather to the bonfire on Christmas Eve and enjoy the warmth of the fire and the singing. At the end of the program Russ Swasey quoted the following Cowboy Christmas Poem as Grimes displayed slides on the screen of cowboy cartoons, Texas Night Before Christmas.
"I read this because we were talking in the Historical Society about the early pioneers in our area, and it reminded me of how Christmas may have been on our desert back in their day," said Swasey.
Texas Night Before Christmas by James Rice, Swasey substituted Castle Valley in there, but it is really Texas.
"Twas the night before Christmas in the cold wintry fog.
Nary a critter was movin' nor a lone prairie dog.
Then from out of the north the breeze gave a stir;
An icy cold blast swirled the fog in a blur.
A blue Texas norther roared over the plains,
The cold fairly whistled through the loose winderpanes.
I poked at the farplace to stir up a flame
The embers glowed redder, but the cold stayed the same.
Ma fixed up our dinner to be ready next day,
And thought about Christmas a few hours away.
Our scuffed boots were assembled on the floor pair by pair,
Where Santy would find 'em, for he soon would be there.
The younguns were bundled down snug in their covers,
A sprout of a girl and her two older brothers.
So me in my long johns and Ma in her gown,
Warmed up by the fire 'fore we laid ourselves down.
Then from out on the range there came such a ruckus,
I ran to the winder to see what the fuss was.
Through the blue winter blizzard a scene came to sight;
I squinted to see, for there waren't much light.
There stompin' and snortin' and pawin' the ground
Were eight scroungy longhorns stampedin' around.
In front of a wagon piled full as could be,
With boxes and bundles as high as a tree.
Then a bellerin' yell soon set them all straight,
From a fat li'l ole ramrod who put fear in the eight.
Well, they waren't really scairt--no harm would he cause--
For their longhorn head honcho was old Santy Claus.
He got their attention and called them by name,
"Hey, Leadfoot, and Waleye--git up there Culhane,
Come on, Gimp and Flopear and Scarface--start draggin',
Git on, Sam and High Hips, let's move this here wagon.
Old Leadfoot, he bellered and lifted his head,
Then straight on they trampled through Ma's flower bed.
They laid the gate flat, and the clothesline went too.
Nothin' stood in their way as they flat-footed through.
Santy pulled them up short on top of the roof,
After wrecking the porch with them clodhopper hoofs.
They rocked our sod shanty, the dirt sifted down,
And then through the chimney Santy came with a bound.
He was dressed all in rawhide with a Stetson on top.
His big Texas boots hit the floor with a clop.
He shook his great belly and stomped with each foot,
Which knocked off a shower of mud, ash, and soot.
His eyes were both squinty and his skin was like lather,
From too much exposure to the raw Texas weather.
He looked tough as a horseshoe, but I felt no alarm,
'Cause a wink of his eye showed he'd do us no harm.
A feed bag of toys he flung from his back,
And with nary a word he opened his sack.
He filled all the boots and piled them up high,
Then looked out the winder and up at the sky.
The cold Texas norther still whistled and blew,
But more younguns was waitin'--his work wasn't through.
It was hard to just leave and walk through the door
To face all them longhorns and the cold as before.
He drank some hot mud and hunched close to the heat,
To soak up the warmth and thaw his cold feet.
He could no longer dally or put off the chore,
So he gave us a wink and pushed through the door.
He prodded the longhorns to get on the go,
And the wagon took off through the fog and the snow.
He called over the norther 'fore he went out of sight,
"Merry Christmas, y'heah? and y'all have a good night."
At the end, Grimes thanked everyone and wished everyone a Merry Christmas. For dessert, when the meeting was over several people had brought their favorite Christmas treat to share.