Castle Valley pageant going strong after 33 seasons
The Castle Valley pageant concluded its 33rd season on Aug. 11 at the pageant site high above the valley's of Emery County. The current pageant president is Brad Giles with Gordon Bennett and Dennis Gordon as counselors.
The pageant founder Montell Seely passed away in August of 2008 in a handcart/vehicle accident in Fairview Canyon. Seely was the driving force in the beginning of the Castle Valley Pageant. Montell had the idea for a pageant in the back of his mind since he was a missionary in the Central Atlantic States, assigned to labor on the Cherokee Indian Reservation in North Carolina. The Cherokee Indians produced a pageant to tell their story of how the army rounded up the Cherokee Indians and marched them all the way to Oklahoma. This tale of their journey became known as the "Trail of Tears."
Montell, as a young missionary, had the opportunity to see the pageant, "Unto these Hills," and it made an impression on him. He had long thought Emery County needed a pageant and wished someone would put one together. He never thought of himself as a writer, "I'm just a farmer; not a writer," said Montell.
The Castle Valley Pageant has been an annual tradition in Emery County dating back to 1978. Montell was the man with a vision when it came to the pageant. He wrote the story to depict the early settlers to Emery County who came from the Sanpete Valley. The settlers were instructed to settle the Castle Valley by Brigham Young, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was the last colonization directive he gave before passing away. Montell had a passion for bringing the stories of the pioneers to life. He wanted to make their stories very real for the generations of today and those people yet to come. Part of preserving this story has been the presentation of the Castle Valley Pageant each year for 31 years and now the pageant is performed every other year. The pageant grew from a two night production to eight nights.
The pageant has taken on a life of its own and for the 25th anniversary of the pageant, Montell and his wife Kathryn and other family members prepared a book of the history of the pageant along with stories from those who have been actively involved in the pageant over the years. Many actors have come and gone, but there are some who have been involved in the pageant for the past 35 years never missing a beat. The Seely family has been there since the beginning along with the Earl Farley family.
In 1977 the LDS church initiated what they called the Activities Committee. Carol Driggs was called to be the Cultural Arts Specialist. She asked Montell who was a first counselor in the Bishopric at the time, exactly what her job was to be. Montell said to her, "What this area needs is a pageant that will tell the story of the colonization of Castle Valley. One that will pay honor to the stalwart pioneers who settled this valley." Driggs answered, "If someone will write the script, I will certainly try to direct it."
After several attempts to get local writers involved, it came down to Montell writing the script or watching his idea fade away. So he along with Kathryn began the chore of writing the pageant. Montell didn't see himself as a writer and it was a time consuming, laborious process. Creating dialogue for the characters and interaction between the characters took a lot of time. The key for Montell was using real stories for the script, things that happened to the people along their way into the Castle Valley; a baby being born along the way, a baby dying along the way, a reluctant wife; all became story lines for the script.
The story of Wink and Anna in the pageant is based on Montell's grandparents' dilemma of whether to come to the Castle Valley, before or after their baby was born. In those days, if you were absent from a homestead for more than six months, you would forfeit your claim to the land and a squatter could take over. In the end, the trip is made with a midwife in tow and the baby is born along the way.
The story of Joe and Tilda was based on real settlers named Joseph and Matilda Curtis Boulden. Their baby passed away above Upper Joe's valley and was brought on into Castle Valley to be buried.
Montell based the story of the reluctant wife, Clara, on two couples he knew where the husband was willing to come to Castle Valley, but the wife didn't want to leave the comforts of the Sanpete Valley which was already settled. Niels Peter Miller and his wife Ellen were one of these couples. Miller made his wife a dugout which was a cut above many at the time. The one who said the famous line "Damn the man who brings a woman to this God forsaken country," was Orange Seely's wife Hanna Olsson Seely. Orange Seely was a brother of Montell's grandfather, Wellington "Wink" Seely. The line with the swearing in it does not appear in the Pageant script. The second unwilling wife was Ellen Miller, She is the one who said the line, "Has it now come to this---that I have to live under the ground?" Taking poetic license, Montell, while writing the script, added the words, "like a prairie dog" to Ellen's line . . . to get the line that Clara says in the Pageant. Many of the reluctant wives came to love the Castle Valley, but some never did. Montell felt the pageant showed the pioneer spirit of women, filled with emotion and not afraid to speak their minds.
Montell always felt he was directed by Heavenly Father when he came upon the pageant site. It needed to be outdoors and have a theatre feel to it. He searched high and low, discarding several sites, when on a trip up the church mine road to Des-Bee-Dove, he found the spot. He got out of his pickup and walked up a hill, trudged through some cedars and there it was, laid out just as he imagined. He thought, 'This is the right place.' His soul was filled with joy as he scanned the site and knew it had been prepared for this purpose of bringing the story of the Castle Valley pioneers to life.
The site came to life with the pouring of a concrete pad for the stage, and constructing benches for seating and clearing a parking lot. Everything came together, and the first production was held Aug. 11 and 12, 1978.
You can't talk about Montell Seely without expressing his love for the Castle Valley Pageant. It would be his dream and vision for the pageant to continue on now without his earthly presence. Montell will continue to be an influence in Emery County long beyond his 74 years upon the earth. His story will be told along with those of the pioneers who settled the Castle Valley. His memory will remain bright in the years to come. The next production of the Castle Valley Pageant will be in August 2014.