Early History of Castle Valley
Courtesy of Daughters of the Utah Pioneers
Like most of Utah, Castle Valley abounds in history —ancient
and modern. Prehistoric Indians knew its castles and steeples; its sandstone
cliffs. Trail blazers and trappers such as Wolfskill, Robideaux, Gervais,
Provost, Sublette, Fitzpatrick, Fremont and Kit Carson traversed it. And
there were those who tarnished it: Butch Cassidy, Elza Lay, Matt Warner
and others. While surveying for a railroad route, Lieut. J. W. Gunnison
came through the area and fixed his name on a butte and a valley, and later
John W. Powell saw its grandeur via the mighty Green River.
Powell immortalized much of Utah's most spectacular country
in his report of this journey, and he did not slight Castle Valley:" .
. . Extensive sand plains extend back from the immediate river valley as
far as we can see on either side. These naked, drifting sands gleam brilliantly
in the midday sun of July .... Just opposite, there are buttes, outliers
of cliffs to the left. Below, they are composed of shales and marls of
light blue and slate colors; above, the rocks are buff and gray and then
brown. The buttes are buttressed below, where the azure rocks are seen,
and terraced above through the gray and brown beds. The eye can trace these
azure beds and cliffs on either side of the river, in a long line extending
across its course, until they fade away in the perspective. These cliffs
are many miles in length and hundreds of feet high; and all these buttes
—great mountain masses of rock —are dancing and fading away and reappearing,
softly moving about —or so they seem to the eye as seen through the shifting
atmosphere. On landing, we see evidences that a party of Indians have crossed
within a very few days. This is the place where the lamented Gunnison crossed
in the year 1853...."
Above and below this historic spot for great distances,
the Green River tumbles down a giant stairway of wild cataracts that lie
deep in the bottoms of impenetrable canyons. It is a quiet spot where the
river runs deep and broad —a plateau that forms a natural pass for travel
from east to west and vice versa. It was here that Spaniards from New Mexico
crossed on their trading missions to California, creating the fmous Spanish
Trail. After leaving the river they travelled westward to the Ferron area,
then turned southwestward to Salina Canyon and on to California. Upon consulting
a map, it is easy to see that they would have crossed the headwaters of
the San Raphael River, which refreshed them through this span of their
journey. These same streams —Huntington, Cottonwood and Ferron creeks —sustained
the first LDS settlements in Castle Valley.
Although a missionary party en route to Moab painstakingly
made its way over the trail in 1855, and three men —Dimmick, William and
Oliver Huntington —explored the area during the 1850s, serious colonization
did not begin until much later, and then it started as a sporadic movement
of stock herders who brought their herds here when feed was scarce in Sanpete,
Sevier and other settled valleys.
In the spring of 1875 four stockmen, Leander Lemmon, James
McHadden, Bill Gentry and Alfred Starr, brought horses over the mountain
from Sanpete through Huntington Canyon into what is now Hntington, and
McHadden and Lemmon, intrigued by the area, decided to homestead 320 acres
and were soon working on an irrigation ditch. These two men are given the
credit as being the first settlers in the valley, but perhaps the honor
should be divided four ways, for all four men built dugouts and stayed
through the winter of 1875-1876. Lemmon built a log cabin on his homestead
the following year, and soon herds of sheep and cattle were brought in.
"At a priesthood meeting at Mt. Pleasant in September
1877, encouragement was given to settle Castle Valley. Christian G. Larsen
was chosen leader. Soon after, seventy-five men from the various wards
in Sanpete Stake were called, but only a few responded. Subsequently Orange
Seely was called to superintend the founding of these settlements. In the
fall of 1878 the Church authorities made a second call and several more
responded. Vivid memories of the Black Hawk War and the not too favorable
reports on the region made volunteers reluctant to chance moving again.
Even the Indians avoided this country. They said the water gave their women
'big necks' and that the winds blew unmercifully. Their name for the valley
was 'Blow Valley'."
The first attempt at forming a colony on Huntington Creek
was in November 1877, when a group of settlers from Fairview answered the
call. This company travelled through Spanish Fork and Soldier canyons and
what two years later would be Price, Utah. Included were Elias and Jehu
Cox, Benjamin and Heber Jones, Fredrick Fenn, William H. Avery, Anthony
Humbel, Elam Cheney, Charles H. Holingshead and Elam McBride. Four women,
Sarah Jane Jones, Eliza J. Avery, Rilda McBride and Olive Humbel, were
also in the company. They built dugouts on the north side of the creek
and stayed in the valley that winter.
In the spring the Avery ditch was dug to convey water
to the Avery homestead and others. Crops were planted and watered once
or twice, but the prospects of realizing a good harvest were so poor that
by July the settlers had all left Huntington Creek to return to their former
In November several of the men and a few women returned,
and in December the wife of Benjamin Jones gave birth to a daughter whom
they named Celestial Castle —a fitting title for one born in such surroundings.
William Avery had succeeded in building a log cabin, where a Christmas
dance was held, with David Leonard, Sally Wimmer and David Cheney providing
the music. The group numbered forty-two men and seven women, necessitating
some planning. The men were finally given a number and divided into six
groups, with one group dancing at a time. It is said that the women were
extremely popular. A large piece of venison, potatoes, bread, butter, salt
and pepper constituted the refreshments, which were prepared over a huge
bonfire built in front of the cabin.
Crops were planted along the north side of the creek in
the spring, and the people realized a good harvest of potatoes, grain and
sugar cane. After a molasses mill was brought in, a nutritious and delicious
supplement was added to the food supply.
Settlers kept arriving, swelling the population to 1,000
by 1900. Thus did Huntington grow and prosper, becoming a permanent settlement
in Castle Valley.
In October 1875, the same need that took the Huntington
stockmen into Castle Valley —scarcity of feed—sent Orange Seely and a company
of men from Sanpete County with a herd of United Order stock through Cottonwood
Canyon to the Castle Dale/Orangeville area. The other men were John Jorgenson,
Aaron Oman, August Nielsen, Jacob Jensen, Tim Fullmer
and two Indians, Aub and Piggy, the latter two assisting in finding trails
and establishing peace with itinerant Indians. Camp outfits and supplies
were transported in two wagons drawn by eight oxen, and the herd numbered
1500 head of sheep and about 1400 head of horned stock. The journey of
forty miles took fourteen days. Upon their arrival at Cottonwood Creek,
the men constructed a dugout twenty by thirty feet which they used as headquarters
through the winter of 1875-1876. This was the initial thrust into the Cottonwood
The settlers who came through the canyon in 1877 in answer
to the call of the Church numbered fourteen men. Among these were Erastus
Curtis and his two sons, William B. and Erastus, Jr., who located a farm
and built a log cabin on Cottonwood Creek about one and one-fourth miles
northwest of the present site of Orangeville. Erastus, Sr., returned to
Sanpete, hoping to be back before Christmas with his two families, but
bad weather and deep snow prevented the return until July 21, 1878. Yet
Erastus Curtis's were the first families to settle on Cottonwood Creek.
It was not until 1879 that settlement began in earnest.
By October of that year Orange Seely had made preparations to move, but
it was with the unhappy knowledge that his wife was very reluctant to leave
her comfortable home in Mt. Pleasant to face again the hardships of pioneering.
Upon their arrival in late October, she found little to comfort her. The
only thing to be seen was a road stretching straight through the flat from
the dugout on the Wellington Seely farm on the northwest to the creek bottom
on the southeast where their log room awaited them. It was bare, desolate
country; the only trees were along the creek beds. And in spite of towering
mountain castles that defy description, only sage, prickly pear and greasewood
adorned the sunburnt land.
Orange Seely tried to get the incoming settlers to stay
on one side of the creek or the other, but they failed to heed him. Finally,
two settlements about four miles apart seemed to be emerging, one on the
northwest side of the creek, the other on the southeast, and the settlers
decided that each should have a name. A real misunderstanding arose. "Some
contended that the lower town, now Castle Dale, should have been Orangeville
because it was the home of Bishop Orange Seely, in whose honor the name
was suggested by Erastus Snow, and Orangeville should have retained the
original name of Castle Dale because the settlers first located there.
A friendly rivalry soon sprang up. Orangeville people were dubbed 'Skillet
Lickers,' because molasses was made there, while the Castle Dale people
were called 'Woodenshoes' implying that Danes had settled there. At first
all meetings and social gatherings of both towns were held in the bowery
on Wellington Seely's farm."
Although the settlers had hoped to have their county named
Castle County, by act of the legislative assembly in 1880 it was given
the name of Emery County in honor of Territorial Governor George W. Emery.
Castle Dale was made the county seat.
In the spring of 1878 Sylvester Wilson and his brothers,
with their families, and Charles Swasey and brothers, located on a spot
five miles east of Castle Dale which was given the name of Wilsonville.
During the year an overland mail route was established between Salina and
Ouray, Colorado, a post office being set up here with Sylvester as postmaster
—the first in Castle Valley. He was also granted the contract to carry
the mail over this route, called the Star Mail Route.
The mail was brought by horseback from Sanpete County
via Salina Canyon, the first settlers receiving it only once a month. One
year John K. Reid spent the winter in Manti. In the spring he brought with
him two sacks of letters which had accumulated in Salina.
In 1878 the initial settlement on Cottonwood Creek petitioned
for a post office for "Castle Vale." The following year, John Reid received
a commission as postmaster, but the name had been changed to Castle Dale.
The office was set up in the Reid dugout in Orangeville, which at that
time was known as Upper Castle Dale, but he had to go to Wilsonville for
quite some time to open the mail pack. In November Castle Dale was given
a separate pouch and men took turns going to Wilsonville to carry the mail.
Sylvester Wilson and his brothers, George, Nick Chris,
Davis and Silas, built a large one-room log house that served as a schoolhouse,
church and amusement hall, and Harmon Curtis was the first schoolteacher.
He taught for three years and had from twelve to fifteen students of all
ages from Wilsonville and neighboring ranches. The desks were homemade
benches and the books were brought in from Sanpete County by horseback.
School did not convene for more than four years.
Wilsonville did not grow as did the other settlements.
It consisted of a few farm houses and not more than seven or eight families
at the most. It has been a ghost town for many years, the underlying causes
being the removal of the post office and the ending of the school. There
remains a little cemetery of five graves, which, through the courtesy of
Sam Aikens, have received some restoration and a fence.
Colonization on Ferron Creek, which like that on Cottonwood
Creek began as one settlement and ended up as two, was accomplished in
much the same manner and at about the same time as the foregoing communities.
Joseph Swasey came there with horses in 1875 and Billy Belong, John Leveredge
and Jed Pullen brought in cattle. After the call from the Church, settlers
began to trickle in. Among the first were Nicholes and Helena Larsen, Peter
F. Petersen and wife, Swen and Johannah Larsen and sons. They came from
Ephraim by way of Salina Canyon and arrived in the fall of 1877. The weather
was quite moderate, and besides constructing their dugouts, a garden spot
was chosen and fertilized with material from where the sheep and cattle
By Christmas Eve, an irrigation ditch was staked out.
"The first Christmas was celebrated as fully as possible. The women cooked
all the good things their supplies allowed, trading with the stockmen for
meat. For fun, the women traded clothes with their husbands. It was a sight
to see women with stubbles of beard on their faces, and men with fair,
When spring finally arrived, farms were chosen about five
miles from what would become Ferron, on land that is now Molen (named for
settler Michael Molen). "The new location was level, grassy and free of
rocks. Getting water onto the ground was easier. Before long new dugouts
were built, with corrals and sheds. They also made a new ditch and named
it the Peterson ditch after Peter F. Peterson."
Other settlers arrived, some by call from the Church;
others were lured by an advertisement in the Deseret News stating that
certain kinds of laborers were needed in Castle Valley. In the fall of
1878 all the women returned to Sanpete County to avoid the harshness of
winter —all, that is, but Ann Singleton Wrigley, who was made of sterner
stuff. "Alone she faced winter, the solitude and terrors of a wild, untamed
country with only a dugout for protection. She took care of her small brood;
the oldest child, Clara, was only five. Here is an untold story of bravery,
daring and determination that is rare in any history.... Ferron could have
done itself honor by adopting her name as 'Ann's Town' instead of the name
of a government man who casually passed through on a surveying job."
With the coming of spring 1879, all the wives returned,
and other settlers came too, among them Andrew and Hyrum Nelson and John
C. Lemon, who soon decided to settle back on the higher ground, thus becoming
Ferron's first settlers. Because of the many rocks, making a ditch and
clearing the land was a tremendous task. But they persevered, finally preparing
forty acres which they sowed to grain. What a tragedy when grasshoppers
mowed it down when it was about a foot high.
Other calamities occurred: the following winter was severe
and many of the livestock froze or starved to death. And hunger among the
people was not unknown. When there was no flour or wheat, they subsisted
on potatoes; they even tried prickly pears.
Space is much too limited to delineate all the struggles
that these heroic people underwent in subduing the barren wastes of Castle
Valley. Theirs was not an isolated story; settlers in many areas of Utah
experienced the same conditions, and met them with the same heroism. Lillian
Nelson, in her article on Ferron in the Daughters of Utah Pioneers' book,
Castle Valley, has put it most aptly in her beginning paragraph: "Today,
Ferron with its modern homes, its lawns and tree-lined streets, is an oasis
in the desert. Perhaps our pioneers had a vision of such a beautiful place;
but this is doubtful. It is only necessary to travel a few miles in any
direction to find the kind of country that greeted the first comers."
Bibliography: Daughters of Utah Pioneers,
An Enduring Legacy, - Vol. I-XII (12). Salt Lake City, UT: Utah
Printing Company, 1978.
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