|Montell Seely signs an autograph for a visitor at the 2005 Castle Valley Pageant.|
Many Emery County residents watch the Castle Valley Pageant each year and attribute its success to Montell, but few realize Montell's complete dedication to preserve his ancestry.
Since 1977, Montell and his family have participated in 35 handcart treks, have obtained seven pioneer cabins and collected countless antiques, all in the name of preserving heritage.
"It is all intermingled in preserving things that our pioneer ancestors built," Montell said. "It is a way to show them our love and respect because I want to save what they had. I can't think of any other way to express that."
Montell organized his first trek in 1977 to commemorate 100 years since his ancestors had crossed the mountain and settled in Castle Valley. The excursion began in Fairview Canyon and continued across the mountain through Upper Joe's Valley and down Cottonwood Canyon.
"This trek was the beginning of modern day handcart activity in the church," Montell said.
Throughout the many treks, the Seely family has experienced "real pioneer experiences," Kathryn Seely said.
On one of their major treks they recreated the journey of their ancestors who were a part of the San Juan Mission at Hole in the Rock. They went through 250 miles of desert from Hole in the Rock to Lake Powell across the Red Sandstone Desert to Bluff.
During the recreation, the axle of their handcart broke while they were in a place where the support team, people in trucks in case of emergency, was unable to easily assist them. Mark Seely, Montell's son found a cedar tree, cut it down with his pocket knife and shaved it to fit in the hub of the wheels and used prickly pear cactus pulp to grease the wheels.
Just as they finished repairing the axle, rain clouds started forming around them. They got in their sleeping bags and waited out the stormy night. When they woke up and continued their journey, they realized the had run out of water.
The Seely's found slick rock pot holes that had filled up with fresh rain water and used that water to fill their canteens, despite the presence of water skeeters.
"We figured if the bugs weren't dead, then the water wasn't poisonous," Montell said.
This trek literally gave the Seely's a real taste of pioneer life.
"It was a 16 day journey and that was the best pioneer experience we had," said Montell. "It was real. It wasn't us pretending to play pioneer."
Montell's main act of devotion was writing and producing the Castle Valley Pageant. After asking others to write a pageant and being turned down for justifiable reasons, Montell was faced with two options: write a pageant himself or see his dreams diminish.
"I am a farmer, not a writer," said Montell. "But, I didn't want my dreams to die."
Montell wrote the pageant by compiling pioneer stories and rewriting them using dialogue. Since the first year of the Castle Valley Pageant in 1978, the pageant audience has grown from 500 in its first season to more than 20,000.
"In the beginning we had a lot of perseverance," Kathryn said. "It has been very gratifying that so many people caught the vision." The Seely's want their works in preserving their ancestor's heritage to help other generations grow close to the pioneers.
"We are hopeful that what we have started will go on from generation to generation so that our pioneer heritage will not be forgotten," Montell said. "We also hope that our children and grandchildren will develop in the bosom a love, so that our pioneer heritage will not be forgotten."