The Emery County Historical Society met at the Museum of the San Rafael in Castle Dale. Hal Cannon, the scheduled guest speaker, had cancelled due to a snow storm. Castle Dale resident, Montell Seely and his son Mark, accepted the invitation to address the group about a trek the family had taken.
"The folks who came to Emery County were the toughest, but San Juan county settlers were just as tough. We're going to do our best to replace Hal Cannon tonight, and we will talk about a trek my family took following the footsteps of our ancestors who traveled the San Juan Mission Trail," said Montell Seely.
The trek began in Escalante and progressed 60 miles across the desert to Hole in the Rock. The family had to cross the Colorado River Gorge, which is very much like the Wedge in Emery County. Seely went on to explain that the first travelers to come this way had no way to get down this gorge.
After some exploration, the early explorers found a slit in the rock that could be the only possible way to get through. They sent to Salt Lake for blasting powder to widen the crack enough to accommodate the wagons they had brought with them. They used a star drill to bore holes in the rock, then filled the holes with powder and blasted the crack in the rock wide enough to pass through.
The call to colonize the San Juan territory came in 1879. The objective was to establish missionary work with the Indians. Eighty three wagons, 250 people, and all their supplies, began the trek to San Juan. Along the way, two babies were born, so they ended with a bigger group than they started with, due to the fact that no one was lost along the way. No one in the group suffered any broken bones and only minor injuries were incurred.
The journey that took the early settlers six months to complete, took the Seely family only three days. Mark Seely related the story of the family's ordeal with the broken axle on their handcart. He said they used a pocketknife to cut and whittle a branch for the replacement axle. Then they had to look around and find a piece of baling wire to secure it to the hub. Their big problem came when they realized that the axle grease had been left in the car.
Remembering a time when his father had let the children try eating a cactus, Mark said to his dad that the inside of a cactus would work very well to grease the axle. With plenty of cactus around, they soon had a new, greased axle substitute and they were once again on their way.
Close to dark one evening, Montell noticed dark clouds moving in. The group settled in for a stormy night. They had not packed a tent due to the extra weight, and that's not how the ancestors had been equipped. Everyone hunkered down in their bedding and braced for a wet night.
In the morning, Montell searched for pack rat nests to find enough dry tinder to start a fire. Once the fire was going, and everyone began to dry out and warm up, their spirits lifted and they cooked breakfast. When the group began to get low on drinking water, they drank water from potholes in the slick rock.
"What those people accomplished in their time, with their resources, is every bit as phenomenal as what we've accomplished in our time with our resources, by putting a man on the moon," said Montell Seely.
New officers were installed that evening. They were: Bert Oman, president; Mervin Miles, vice president; Joyce Staley, secretary; and Dixie Swasey, treasurer. Oman said, "We need to preserve the heritage of these pioneers, and that is what we are trying to do."