Animals, wagons add realism to Utah's Castle Valley Pageant

Trials and triumphs of the early Mormon settlers in central Utah's Castle Valley were portrayed in the 16th annual production of the Castle Valley Pageant, July 29-31 and Aug. 3-7.

To accommodate ever-increasing crowds, the pageant had eight performances this year, an increase of two nights from the 1992 season. Weekend crowds reached more than 5,000 people this year.Presented in an outdoor amphitheater just outside Castle Dale, the pageant was produced by the Castle Dale Utah Region and directed by Kirk Johansen.

Montell Seely, the pageant's author, said his objective in creating the production was to "turn the hearts of the children to their fathers" by honoring those stalwart souls who sacrificed so much to colonize Utah.

The Castle Valley Pageant is a story of great personal sacrifice and quiet heroism of the common, everyday members of the Church, Brother Seely added.

The story line focuses on four basic human events: the conflicts during courtship, the struggle to make a marriage work, the joys of birth and the sorrow of death. The pageant action portrays four couples as they make their move from Sanpete Valley in central Utah to Castle Valley, about 35 miles to the east of Sanpete.

To make the production realistic, covered wagons and live animals are used. There are 22 scenes, and 14 of them include animals. Twelve horses, one milk cow and one donkey were used this year.

Brother Seely said: "Every male actor has to be an experienced horseman. Thus, we have taken farm boys who are comfortable with horses and made them actors. We have learned that it is easier to take a farm boy and make him an actor than to take an actor and make him a horseman."

All the actors and actresses come from the local farming communities in Emery County, in which Castle Dale is located. Ruben Brasher, a lifelong resident of the county, who is 85 years old, has been in the cast throughout the 16 years of the pageant. He plays the part of Jacob, and some of the women who, through the years, have played opposite him as his wife, Sarah, have passed away.

Brother Seely said: "In an effort to achieve realism and do away with synthetic backdrops, we have built over the years real, full-sized structures for the set. Inasmuch as the first settlers in the valley lived in dugouts, Wayne and Elaine Wilberg built a dugout for the set. Blaine Rowley and his crew built a rock house to serve as the inn for the Joseph and Mary [NativityT scene. Perry and Olive McArthur donated a log cabin that was on their farm north of Huntington (10 miles north of Castle Dale). It was moved to the pageant site."

The Castle Valley Pageant seems to have a broad range of appeal, Brother Seely said. Children are charmed by the animals; youth can identify with the characters Abe and Neva and their courtship; senior citizens can relate to the historical nature of the story; members may enjoy the teaching of gospel principles. And everyone can enjoy the outdoor setting and the covered wagons.

There is a relaxed atmosphere at the Castle Valley Pageant, he explained. Patrons are allowed to take snacks into the seating area, and they are invited to walk around the set before the pageant begins. Because people usually start arriving at the pageant site early in the afternoon, they are invited to watch a variety of demonstrations, such as blacksmithing, wheelwrighting, horse shoeing, spinning, weaving, wool carding, quilting, soap making and dutch oven cooking. These activities are under the direction of Steve Pratt, a professional wheelwright from Cove Fort, about 100 miles southwest of Castle Dale.

An added feature this year was an antique machinery show that showcased horse-drawn farm equipment and early tractors. In this event, owners and exhibitors demonstrated a reaper, a binder, a horse-drawn mowing machine and dump rake, a Power Horse tractor pulling a mowing machine, a hay derrick unloading loose hay, a horse-powered hay press, an adobe mill, a planer, a sorghum press, a steam engine and a threshing machine.

These demonstrations and the pageant help portray the lives of the Saints who heeded the call of President Brigham Young. On Aug. 22, 1877, President Young sent a letter to Canute Peterson, then-president of the Sanpete Stake, instructing him to call men to go over the Wasatch Plateau to Castle Valley and colonize what was then part of the Sanpete Stake.

In that letter, President Young wrote, " . . . We should like to have at least fifty families locate in Castle Valley this fall; but if some of the brethren cannot take their families this year, it would be well for them to go themselves, secure their locations and commence work. In making your selection, choose good, energetic, God fearing young men, whether single or with families, . . . such ones as will be a strength to the new settlement, and an aid to its growth in all that we, as Latter-day Saints, desire to see increase upon the earth."

That was the last call that Brigham Young made; he died a week later on Aug. 29, 1877.

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