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Front Page » August 19, 2008 » Emery County News » Trek turns to tragic accident: Founder of the Castle Vall...
Published 2,165 days ago

Trek turns to tragic accident: Founder of the Castle Valley pageant Montell Seely dies


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By PHIL FAUVER
Guest Writer

Monday, Aug. 11, a wonderful morning for Montell Seely. The Castle Valley Pageant was over for another successful year and Montell was setting out on a re-enactment of the trip made by his grandfather Justus Wellington Seely II (nicknamed Wink Seely and according to Montell Seely "Wink" is the nickname for Wellington). Wink Seely had been pressured by his brother Orange Seely to go from Sanpete County to Castle Valley and settle. Orange Seely had previously visited the Castle Valley and was put in charge of bringing the settlers over the mountain. Orange's little brother Wink Seely finally agreed and took his wife Anna and family. A monument in Cottonwood Canyon commemorates where Clara Seely was born. (This is one of the scenes in the Castle Valley Pageant).

This commemorative pioneer trek by Montell was not a spur of the moment trip. It had been planned for months and was to start the week after the Castle Valley Pageant ended. The following is a quote from his letter "Dec. 10, 2007 a letter to all descendants of Justus Wellington "Wink" Seely, II and his wives Anna and Mary. We are going to have a covered wagon/handcart trek from Fairview to Castle Dale to honor our ancestors who made the trek in the 1870s. We'll start the trek on Monday, Aug. 11, and end on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2008. (This is the week following the 2008 season of the Castle Valley Pageant. Monday Aug. 11, 2008, assemble at mouth of Fairview Canyon, wagon train departs from Castle Dale at noon. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, make our way over the mountain through Fairview Canyon, Scad Valley, and Cottonwood Canyon to Orangeville, arriving either on Friday or Saturday. Anyone who is interested is welcome to attend part or all of the planned activities. Please come! Love, Montell"

These plans were later altered so that all could assemble in Fairview on Monday and depart on the trek early Tuesday. Montell stated Monday that he planned to pause the trek at the monument for Clara Seely's birth in Cottonwood Canyon. A hand drawn map was provided, it showed the proposed trail of travel for Montell's pioneer re-enactment of settlers traveling from Sanpete County to the Castle Valley.

On Aug. 11, Montell Seely and family members, with a friend Ben Carter were photographed in Castle Dale, as they loaded bedrolls, food, cooking equipment, two large sorrel work horses, the handcart, etc., into two pickups, one horse trailer to carry the horses and a flatbed trailer to carry the covered wagon without the cover. Monday evening was spent camping east of Fairview, in a field owned by a friend of Montell Seely. Sixteen people were going on the trek, Montell, LeAnne Seely, Mark Seely family Hannah, Luke and Jonathan, Ben Carter from Salt Lake City, the Clay and Rebecca Wagstaff family from Tropic with daughters Hannah and Miriam, also the family of Mike and Carrie Ryan with daughters Cayenta and Willow from Boulder.

Kathryn Seely did not start the trek with rest of the family as she had an appointment in Monday, Aug. 11, a wonderful morning for Montell Seely. The Castle Valley Pageant was over for another successful year and Montell was setting out on a re-enactment of the trip made by his grandfather Justus Wellington Seely II (nicknamed Wink Seely and according to Montell Seely "Wink" is the nickname for Wellington). Wink Seely had been pressured by his brother Orange Seely to go from Sanpete County to Castle Valley and settle. Orange Seely had previously visited the Castle Valley and was put in charge of bringing the settlers over the mountain. Orange's little brother Wink Seely finally agreed and took his wife Anna and family. A monument in Cottonwood Canyon commemorates where Clara Seely was born. (This is one of the scenes in the Castle Valley Pageant).

This commemorative pioneer trek by Montell was not a spur of the moment trip. It had been planned for months and was to start the week after the Castle Valley Pageant ended. The following is a quote from his letter "Dec. 10, 2007 a letter to all descendants of Justus Wellington "Wink" Seely, II and his wives Anna and Mary. We are going to have a covered wagon/handcart trek from Fairview to Castle Dale to honor our ancestors who made the trek in the 1870s. We'll start the trek on Monday, Aug. 11, and end on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2008. (This is the week following the 2008 season of the Castle Valley Pageant. Monday Aug. 11, 2008, assemble at mouth of Fairview Canyon, wagon train departs from Castle Dale at noon. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, make our way over the mountain through Fairview Canyon, Scad Valley, and Cottonwood Canyon to Orangeville, arriving either on Friday or Saturday. Anyone who is interested is welcome to attend part or all of the planned activities. Please come! Love, Montell"

These plans were later altered so that all could assemble in Fairview on Monday and depart on the trek early Tuesday. Montell stated Monday that he planned to pause the trek at the monument for Clara Seely's birth in Cottonwood Canyon. A hand drawn map was provided, it showed the proposed trail of travel for Montell's pioneer re-enactment of settlers traveling from Sanpete County to the Castle Valley.

On Aug. 11, Montell Seely and family members, with a friend Ben Carter were photographed in Castle Dale, as they loaded bedrolls, food, cooking equipment, two large sorrel work horses, the handcart, etc., into two pickups, one horse trailer to carry the horses and a flatbed trailer to carry the covered wagon without the cover. Monday evening was spent camping east of Fairview, in a field owned by a friend of Montell Seely. Sixteen people were going on the trek, Montell, LeAnne Seely, Mark Seely family Hannah, Luke and Jonathan, Ben Carter from Salt Lake City, the Clay and Rebecca Wagstaff family from Tropic with daughters Hannah and Miriam, also the family of Mike and Carrie Ryan with daughters Cayenta and Willow from Boulder.

Kathryn Seely did not start the trek with rest of the family as she had an appointment in Price on Tuesday.

Around the Monday evening campfire near Fairview a program of songs, music from the Wagstaff girls, and stories from Montell Seely about his ancestors that traveled in the 1870s from Sanpete County east over the rugged mountains to Castle Valley and settled a town now known as Castle Dale. Hannah Wagstaff and her sister Miriam played a few songs on violins for the group.

On Aug. 12, in Fairview the dawn promised to be a beautiful clear day. Montell Seely and 15 people, some dressed in frontier costumes, moved out of their campground and started east up Utah State Road 31 from Fairview, traveling about a mile along the right hand shoulder of the road. The trek lined out with LeAnne driving a flagging car in front followed by the team of horses and covered wagon driven by Mark Seely. These were followed by the men and women pulling the handcart and children pushing the handcart. This handcart was built by Mark and Montell Seely. The handcart had two wooden wheels. The rims of the wheels were wrapped with raw hide to make the cart light weight. A wooden homemade axle and a light weight homemade wooden box was loaded with bedding and cooking equipment.

The planning of the trek did not anticipate a need for hazard signs or a flag car behind the pioneer trek to ward off traffic coming from behind, on this rural road. A Utah State Highway Patrolman said, he did not believe the road was closed to pedestrian traffic on SR-31.

Just as the sun was coming over the mountain about 7:30 a.m. tragedy struck when a white Chevrolet pickup truck, traveling at a high rate of speed, driven by Joe Fiedler from Old Town, Idaho blinded by the sun smashed the slow moving handcart from behind into small pieces of wood injuring five children and killing 13 year old Hannah Wagstaff and carrying her along on the front of the pickup several feet. Then the driver swerved into the left bound lane hitting 74 year old Edwin Montell Seely.

The driver stated that he did not see the handcart the girl or the man. Montell was walking ahead of the team of horses and wagon. When Montell heard the truck approach, tried to flag down the driver to get him to stop.

The trek had only traveled a short distance when this fast moving white pickup truck struck the group from behind. The accident happened 1.8 miles east of the junction in Fairview on SR-31. Wreckage from the handcart was spread all over the highway. What was left of the handcart and people were on the right lane of the highway with the exception of Hannah and Montell.

The pickup truck stopped in the left lane of traffic leaking fluid, the right side fender, the hood and grill were caved in. The passenger door would not open because of the impact. One wagon wheel from the handcart was off to the left side of the road and the other in the ditch on the right.

Hannah Wagstaff a beautiful young girl was lying face up on the pavement about 10-15 feet in front of the pickup where she had been thrown. Montell was thrown 20-30 feet into the ditch and somewhat hidden by tall grass, on the north side of the road. Both appeared to be asleep and to have died instantly.

When the first help arrived Mark Seely and Ben Carter were on the south edge of the road comforting two of Mark Seely's injured children by holding them and covering them with coats and blankets.

Mike Ryan was helping all he could by covering the bodies issuing instructions and comforting those in need of comfort. This was Mike's activity while waiting for help from the paramedics and law enforcement. LeAnne Seely after examining Hannah Wagstaff, making sure there was nothing that could be done for her, was seen comforting Cayenta Ryan and others involved in the accident. Through it all LeAnne was calm and able to do many things to help victims and supply information to the authorities.

Witnesses said, "When Montell was struck by the truck he was trying to get the attention of the pickup driver." The impact was so great that it knocked off Montell's hat and one of his tennis shoes.

After the accident the man and woman in the truck (estimated ages late 20s to early 30s) did not want to talk about the accident and the driver Joe Fiedler appeared to be comforted by the woman he was with as he sobbed uncontrollably. LeAnne reported, "She heard screams and looking into her rear view mirror saw pieces flying in the air and heard the crash."

A man gathering seeds on top of the mountain, heard the crash and came down to see what had happened and offer assistance. He was helpful in jump starting LeAnne's car that would not start because the hazard flashers had run down the battery.

When the truck crashed into the handcart, the noise frightened the team of horses pulling the covered wagon. The horses bolted down into the ditch through a fence with the wagon and turned back to Fairview. When employees of the Wing Ranch east of Fairview saw the driverless team and wagon going west on SR-31, they were able to stop and calm the horses. The Wing Ranch employees said they heard the crash and knew that something major had happened.

Traffic was held up for about two hours while the paramedics removed the victims and the Sanpete County Sheriff along with the Utah State Highway Patrol investigated the accident scene. Some of those kept waiting for the accident scene to be cleared on the east side of the accident were going to the Manti Temple, others were workmen coming home from working in the mines.

Cell phone coverage was spotty up the canyon making it difficult to report the accident at first. As those with cell phones went farther down the canyon they were able to call for help. To those waiting for the Sheriff and ambulance it seemed like an hour had passed before they arrived. The five injured children were taken to Sanpete Valley Medical Center in Mt. Pleasant. Most have been released. One child Jonathan Seely had severe injuries to the hip and was taken to Primary Children's Hospital, in Salt Lake City by helicopter.

Those coming upon this accident scene and knowing the people involved have not yet recovered fully from the sights and sounds they witnessed. Montell Seely died doing what he loved best and that was doing and re-enacting things his ancestors had accomplished. However the roads are a lot different today than they were in 1870.

Clay and Rebecca Wagstaff were not with the trek when the accident occurred . The Wagstaff children were with the handcart.

LeAnne Seely spoke with the Wagstaff family, Rebecca Wagstaff's sister. She reported they had a very nice memorial service for Hannah Wagstaff the next morning on August 13 at a cemetery in Southern Utah where the family had family plots. They have a lot of ancestors and relatives buried in the same cemetery. LeAnne reported the family had a real nice pioneer type ceremony for Hannah. They had a handmade wooden casket for her built by a friend. They all dressed in pioneer clothing for the service for Hannah. There was a service for Hannah at their church in Tropic Friday at 2 p.m.

Montell Seely's funeral service was held Saturday at 11 a.m. in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Castle Dale's Stake Center. The viewing was Friday evening at Fausett Mortuary between 6-8 p.m. and again Saturday 9:30-10:45 a.m.

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