Edwin Montell Seely

Historical Figure
Author of Castle Valley Pageant laid to rest
after accident on hand cart trek

James L. Davis
Volume 2, Issue 34
Tuesday, August 19, 2008 Edition

Friends of Montell Seely might say he was a 19th Century man who lived, and died, in a 21st Century world.

The passing of the husband, father, farmer and lover of pioneer history who dreamed of the Castle Valley Pageant and with sheer force of will brought the pageant to life, was in many ways a testament to his life.  He died on Aug. 12 while doing what he loved, reliving a little of the pioneer past that he came to personify.

That Montell was struck down by a motorist while leading a handcart expedition across the mountains came as a shock to the county that had grown used to him being here, a living piece of history, although he was only 74.

If his death leading a handcart expedition in 2008 seemed a little surreal, it might have made Montell himself smile. Less than three days after the last performance of the 2008 Castle Valley Pageant, Montell died recreating the trek the pageant told the story of. With Montell, Hannah Wagstaff, 13, was also killed when they were hit by a motorist who was blinded by the early morning sun. In the accident two of Montell’s grandchildren, Johnny Seely, 7, and Hannah Seely, 9, were injured.

On Aug. 16 Montell was laid to rest in the Castle Dale Cemetery, and at his funeral his loved ones tipped their hats to the man and his way of life.  His funeral held true to the pioneer heritage he so loved.

The Castle Dale Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Stake Center was filled to capacity by friends and loved ones who cried, laughed and remembered the man of history in a service that was a celebration of his life.

Of those speaking at his funeral were friends Mark Justice, Delvin McFarlane and Neal Peacock, but the most touching talk of the service came from Montell’s own son, Mark, who addressed the audience with a strong voice, often touched with emotion as he read tributes he and his sisters had written of their father.

When it came time for his tribute to his father, Mark read a passage from Montell’s own journal, which he had kept faithfully since 1976.  The passage he read was from Montell’s entry on Sunday morning, Aug. 10, two days before his passing and one short night since the last performance of the 31st season of the Castle Valley Pageant.

From his father’s journal Mark read how Montell had gone to the pageant site at 5:30 on Sunday morning and told the security guard he could go home, since he was planning to be there for a while.  Then Montell went and freed his horses and sent them down the road, knowing they would go to the cattle guard just before the Emery County Sheriff’s Office Complex.  After that he took his wagons and buggies and one by one pulled them down to the road and hitched them together, finally hooking them to his own pickup

“This makes quite a train,” Montell wrote in his journal.

“He even drew an illustration in his journal,” Mark told the congregation.  Montell went on to write that he gathered up his lead mare and led it by the reins through the window of his truck and the other horses followed and in such a manner he drove his train of wagons and buggies and horses down the road and through the Castle Dale subdivision toward his home.

“Everyone waved to me with a big smile as I went by,” Montell wrote in his journal. “It was about 8:30 when I arrived home.  So the whole operation was all accomplished in three hours with one trip.  If I had hauled all of these units plus the horses one at a time it would have taken six trips and six hours.  Think of the additional time and gas.  The bonus was I enjoyed the experience.  I changed clothes and went to church.  After church I went to the farm and tended my water.  Then I came home and started putting away my wagons and buggies.  I thoroughly enjoy having a collection of buggies.  It gives me great satisfaction to have buggies. I like to look at them, or have a team and drive them.”

Also during the service Mark related how his father always held so much enthusiasm for the Castle Valley Pageant, which he wrote based on the true stories of the first settlers of Castle Valley, his own relatives included.  He recalled that Montell used to make a guarantee to those who had never come to the pageant before:

“’If we don’t make you laugh, we’ll pay your gas to get here, if we don’t make you cry, we’ll pay your gas to get home,’” Mark said his father used to tell visitors.  “He never had to pay for any gas.”

At the end of the service Montell was laid to rest at the Castle Dale Cemetery, taken by covered wagon to his final resting place as family followed behind in a horse drawn wagon.  As the Seely family made their way down the street lined with flags toward the cemetery, people paused to watch the procession as a visitor from the 19th Century passed by…one last time.

Trek tragedy — 2 die when truck hits handcart near Fairview
By Sara Israelsen-Hartley
Deseret News
Published: August 13, 2008

FAIRVIEW, Sanpete County — Edwin Montell Seely built his first handcart when he was 12 years old.

Decades later he walked 46 days across the U.S. to celebrate the sesquicentennial of the Mormon pioneers' trek from Omaha, Neb., to Utah.

Tuesday, while re-enacting the call to settle Castle Valley by climbing Fairview Canyon, Seely and another participant, 13-year-old Hannah Wagstaff, were hit by a truck and killed.

"All the activities he did, (writing) histories, pageants, all the family reunions, was all to honor our forefathers," said his son, Mark Seely. "Now we experience a part of the hardship they may have experienced. Now we're catching a glimpse of what it may have felt like when they ... lost loved ones on the trail."

The group had gathered in Fairview for what was to be a five-day pioneer re-enactment with nightly firesides that culminated at the Seely family farm in Orangeville/Castle Dale in Emery County.

The group of 12 — a van, then a horse-drawn period wagon and a handcart — had only been on Highway 31 for a few minutes Tuesday when tragedy struck about 8 a.m.   (The number of participants in the group should be listed as 16, and there was no van at all. Mark was driving the covered wagon. - per daughter LeAnne Seely)

The driver of a Chevy truck told police the early morning sun was blinding and he never saw the pioneer crew climbing the winding canyon road ahead of him.

He crashed into the handcart first, splintering it and killing Wagstaff, who had been behind pushing.

The truck then veered off to the side and struck Seely, who had been standing in the narrow, two-lane road to warn the truck to slow down, said Utah Highway Patrol trooper Cameron Roden.

The driver, from Old Town, Idaho, has not been charged, nor the re-enactment group cited for being in the road, but the case is being investigated and will be sent to the Sanpete County Attorney's Office for review, Roden said.

Four others were injured — Mark Seely's daughter Hannah, 9, was hospitalized in Sanpete Valley Hospital with a broken collar bone, while his son, Jonathan, 7, was flown to Primary Children's Medical Center with minor hip fractures and bruises.

Ben Carter, a family friend from Salt Lake City, was standing by the handcart when it was hit.

"The truck smashed the handcart to pieces," he said, shaking his head. A wooden wheel from the 1856-style handcart hit his kneecap. He knows he's lucky it wasn't worse.

Both families plan to bury their loved ones in simple pine boxes, Mark Seely said, indicative of their appreciation of the simple, back-to-basics way of life.

Wagstaff was a musician and had played a violin solo and duet with her younger sister around a campfire the night before.

Her parents are artists Clay and Rebecca Wagstaff, of Tropic, Garfield County, who specialize in landscape and portrait work, respectively, according to the Wagstaffs' Web site.

A third family participating was not injured. The families were not related, but all shared a special love of pioneer history and honoring their posterity, said Mark Seely, who was driving the van at the time of the accident.

"(We like) to do pioneer-related activities to think about our forefathers and honor them," he said.

Along with preserving old buildings, planning pioneer treks and writing family and county histories, Montell Seely also wrote the Castle Valley Pageant, which has been going for nearly 30 years on some of his donated land, his family said.

The show is one of the longest-running LDS pioneer pageants in Utah, depicting the settling of the Castle Valley by pioneers sent to the region by Brigham Young.

"I wanted to help people develop an increased love for their pioneer ancestors and an increased love for the land," Montell Seely told the Deseret News in 1991.

Seely's entire life was about service, his family said. He always picked up hitchhikers, and family members said they remember numerous evenings where strangers who needed help were allowed to stay the night.

"He always watched out for the underdog," Mark Seely said. "He was considerate and thoughtful."

Mani Grewal knows the truth of that statement. Twenty years ago, he was the underdog.

The native of India and his wife, Lippa, fled to the United States on a 45-day student pass to escape war in Liberia. While traveling by train, they met Montell and Mark Seely as they boarded the train in Helper.

At the end of the 14-hour trip to their destinations of Chicago, Seely pulled a check-deposit slip from his wallet, which contained his name and address, then he drew a map of Castle Dale on the back.

"Anytime you need help in life, call me," Grewal said, remembering the decades-old conversation.

After living in Canada for seven years, Grewal made the call, saying they wanted to build a life in America.

The Grewal family came to visit and ended up living in the Seely home for several months while Grewal looked for work. He eventually got a job with the United States Chamber of Commerce, then traded that in for entrepreneurial endeavors. He now owns a gas station and a motel in central Utah and is a financial success story.

"Very proudly I will tell everyone I'm from Castle Dale," Grewal said, then his eyes got misty. "Knowing Montell has been a blessing in our life."

He calls Montell and Kathryn Seely "mom and dad" now, and said after their last conversation Monday, their hugs were three to four times longer than normal as if they knew it was the last time they would see each other.

Despite Tuesday's tragedy, this trek isn't out of the question, said daughter LeAnne Seely, who lives in Castle Dale.

"No, I wouldn't be surprised if our family did this again," she said. "We'll start at the top of the mountain, the unpaved road. We only meant to be (on the road) up to the summit. I would love to do it. I was looking forward to the things we would learn. I'd like the grandkids to experience that, and to honor (Seely) in the future."

Handcart crash victim remembered for his compassion, love of history

FAIRVIEW, Utah (ABC 4 News)

Montell Seely seemed to his family and friends to always have one foot in the present and the other in the past. He loved history, especially the pioneer history of Utah and his own family. His daughter LeAnne Seely said, "He always regretted that he didn't get to be the pioneer -- that he had to be the one born in modern times."

LeAnne says her father felt a bond with those who had gone before. He had this strong feeling of closeness with his father, grandfather and ancestors that he didn't even know. "[He had] just this really strong desire to honor them, get to know them and do things that would recreate events in this lives," said LeAnne.

The handcart and wagon trek Montell Seely began with members of his family and two others on Tuesday morning was just another one of those attempts to recreate events in the lives of his forbearers. He had done similar treks many times in his 74 years. This one retraced the steps of his grandfather who followed the direction of Brigham Young, left his home in the Sanpete Valley, crossed the mountains and settled in what is now Orangeville.

Their small wagon train had only made it a mile or so up the road into Fairview Canyon when Seely and 13-year old Hannah Wagstaff of Tropic, Utah where hit and killed by a truck. The driver of the truck was blinded by the rising sun and did not see the small band of people and wagons ahead of him. 4 other people in Seely's group were injured in the accident. None of those injures is life threatening.

The ill-fated trek, says Fairview businessman Mani Grewal, not only illustrated Seely's love of history, but also his love of people. Mani first met Seely 20 years ago on a 14-hour train ride to Chicago. They struck up a conversation, and before it was over, had established the beginnings of a life-long and life-changing friendship.

Mani Grewal and his wife had come to the United States fleeing the civil war in Liberia.

Grewal said they had a picture taken before they got off the train and then Seely pledged to them, "We could count on his help any time in our lives."

They stayed in contact over the years. At Seely's urging, the Grewals eventually immigrated to the United States. They stayed with the Seelys. They had been adopted into their family. "I have my father and mother still living," said Grewal. "But the role Montell has played in my life is unmatched."

That type of caring and concern for others, especially the stranger in need was repeated often in the life of Montell Seely.

He will be missed by all whose lives he touched.

Man and girl killed during handcart trek
August 12th, 2008 @ 11:18pm
By Sam Penrod and Andrew Adams

There was a tragic end to a re-enactment of a pioneer trek in central Utah this morning. A 14-year-old girl was killed, as was a man well known in Emery County for keeping the pioneer spirit alive.

The tragedy struck this morning near the community of Fairview. A teenage girl from Tropic, Utah was killed, along with the founder of the Castle Valley Pageant, which just wrapped up its season Saturday night.

Twelve people had just set out for what was suppose to be a week-long pioneer-era trek. They started in Fairview and planned to arrive in Castle Dale on Saturday. But after less than a mile, tragedy struck along the highway.

Montell Seely

Montell Seely shared his passion for the Mormon pioneers with KSL's John Hollenhorst last year. Not only was he the founder of the Castle Valley Pageant, the 74-year-old was well experienced in pioneer treks. This morning, Seely was leading a group of three families on a weeklong re-enactment to Castle Valley.

His daughter, LeAnne Seely, said, "It was to commemorate the fact that this group of pioneers came from Sanpete Valley in the 1870's and settled all the towns and communities over in Emery County."

Just ten minutes after leaving their camp, a pickup truck struck them from behind. Trooper Cameron Roden of the Utah Highway Patrol said, "The 13-year-old female was behind the handcart walking and was struck by the vehicle. The vehicle then veered to the left where it struck a 74-year-old male who saw the vehicle coming and was trying to flag down the driver, to get his attention to stop, when he was struck and killed as well. Both died on scene."

The driver of a pickup truck, which was also headed up the canyon, was blinded by the sun and crashed into the back of the handcart.

Fourteen-year-old Hannah Wagstaff of Tropic was pushing the handcart and was killed. LeAnne said, "She seemed to be very talented and a nice young lady. She played the violin, she and her sister played some numbers for us at our campfire program the night before."

Four other people received injuries and were taken to Sanpete Valley Hospital. Two have been released, while two children remain hospitalized. Seely's 7-year-old grandson was flown to Primary Children's in stable condition with a fractured hip, and a girl is at Sanpete Valley Hospital in fair condition.

Two horses pulling a covered wagon just ahead of the handcart were startled and ran away, dragging the wagon with them. Daniel Penrod, from Wing Ranch, heard the commotion and went to help. He said, "They were out of control, and I thought I should get them stopped before anything else happened. And I didn't know if I could stop them, but luckily I was able to."

Seely's family is mourning for the girl who was killed, while remembering their father's love of the pioneers, finding comfort that his life ended while on a handcart trek. "We miss him and it will be really hard to get use to not having him around, but it was the way he would have wanted to go, participating in a trek to honor his ancestors," LeAnne said.

The driver of the truck was not hurt. Prosecutors will review the accident investigation before determining if any charges will be filed against him.