Sunday, October 16, 2011

Family History Trip

Dear Kinfolk,

This is just a brief family history travelogue that I thought might interest you.  My wife agreed to give presentations to tour groups in Zion last Sunday and Tuesday evenings.  Rather than traveling down twice in three days, we decided to take two days off and try to find some family history sites we’d long talked about visiting.  Both were within 80 miles of Cedar City and I’ve felt negligent for not visiting them since we’ve lived so close for so long.  The first destination of our pilgrimage was Seegmiller Mountain. 

At intersection of AZ County road 5 & unimproved road to Seegmiller Mountain,  Elevation 4945

We started Monday 10/10/11 about noon.  I’d heard about it for years but knew nothing of it so we read from Robert E. Seegmiller’s 1997 book Legacy of Eternal Worth as we traveled.  Seegmiller Mountain was officially so named by the BLM in the early1950s in recognition of the cattle ranch of (Great) (Great) Uncle Charles and his sons.  It’s about 25 miles SSE of the UT/AZ border at a point just south of St. George.  It’s in what’s commonly known as the Arizona Strip (the northwest corner of Arizona bordered by the Colorado River on the south and east and the Utah and Nevada state lines on the north and west).  Its highest peak is about 6000 ft, only 200 ft higher than Cedar City, though it’s a long climb up from St. George. 

Charles and his sons ran the ranch from the 1880s through 1915.  The story of how Charles found water on the mountain and sent his sons up to develop it is on pages 87-89 in the Seegmiller book.  We found one of the developed springs and an elaborate piping and storage system to distribute the water to the corrals  where the cattle were rounded up and calves branded in the spring.  Though I’m sure it was adequate ground for raising cattle, it’s still a long, steep, rugged passage.  Getting new stock there and back to market must have been an arduous and even dangerous task on the primitive roads and trails of those days.  

 View of switchbacks up Seegmiller Mountain from Quail Draw Reservoir, Elevation 5070

 View down from top of switchbacks, Elevation 5600

  Looking down on Quail Draw Reservoir from top of switchbacks Elevation 5600


   One mile up road looking NE—formations of Zion Canyon National Park with West Temple on right just left of tree and Pine Valley Mountains on left skyline

½  mile farther up road looking almost due south—tallest peak on Seegmiller Mountain at 5990.

Fenced-in area with developed spring & low dike forming possible catchment pond. Spring is at NW corner to my left.

Spring in foreground with metal cylinder inserted. Janet in center. Corral in background to the right

 View from catchment pond down at two water tanks fed by pipes from spring.  Truck in background & corral to left rear.

Close-up of holding pens and loading ramp portion of Corral

One of two watering troughs in the corral.

View from 1/2 mile down from top of Quail Hill looking down Quail Canyon and AZ County Road 5.  Note the drill holes where rock was blasted away to make roadbed. Looking north, slightly west of St. George.

The next day, we set out to find the site of the Gould Ranch and/or the Gould sheep shearing corrals.  We’d seen signs indicating they were south of Hiway 59 on the bluff above Hurricane, but had never had time to find them.  Being an old Utah Parks Company bus driver myself, and my wife being a UPC historian, we decided to try to take the route the first bus drivers used to get their “dudes” from Zion to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in the 1920s (The Zion Tunnel wasn’t cut through the mountain and the road opened to Hiway 89 until July 1930).

The old bus road starts south at Rockville on the Grafton Road but then branches off to the left and goes up over Smithsonian Butte and east of Gooseberry Mesa. Then it connects with Utah Hiway 59  between Hurricane and Fredonia about 4 miles east of Apple Valley.  I can’t imagine taking a bus full of tourists up that road even today, and I’m sure the road was even worse and the 1920s vintage buses less capable back then.  My old truck didn’t fail us, though, and we got photos of Zion vistas that we’d never seen before. 

Looking East from Smithsonian Butte Road toward Eagle Crags formation west of Zion

  Looking north toward the towers of Zion with West Temple (Steam Boat Mountain) in the center

 Looking north to formation west of Zion (Cougar Mountain?)

The destination area is named for Samuel Gould who, it’s said, was the oldest member of the Mormon Battalion.  He was my great great grandfather on my maternal grandmother’s side.  He left the Battalion with the sick detachment at Santa Fe NM, spent the ’46-47 winter in Pueblo, CO and arrived in the SL Valley in 1847 with one of the early companies. 

He was with Parley Pratt’s party that explored Southern Utah in 1849-50 and moved his family to Parowan in late 1852.  In 1861 he again moved his family south and established a ranch in the area above Hurricane and ran it until Indian troubles reportedly forced him to relocate his family back to Parowan where he died in 1869.  Though he left the area, his name stuck to it.  Forty years later, several local men set up an extensive sheep shearing operation which thrived for 24 years and was purported to be the largest in the U.S. and very possibly in the world, shearing 3-4000 head a day and 160,000 per season.  Somehow Samuel’s name was retained, and the operation was always known as the Gould Shearing Corrals. 

We searched through the new golf course and around a troubled youth school in that area for some time without success and decided to go on down to Hurricane for lunch. 

Gould Wash at a shallow place where road crosses over a base of eroded lava

On the off chance we might learn of some old-timer who could help us, we stopped in at the city museum and asked.  The lady manning the facility came up with the name of Stella Hall and gave us her phone number.  We later found out that was her maiden name and that her married name was Zaleski.  I called her and we were very surprised when she offered to show us the area if we’d “give her ten minutes.”

Ten minutes later we saw a white-haired, slightly stooped, 87 year-old lady standing on the curb waiting for us.  Upon introducing myself, the first thing she asked was if I knew Alan Seegmiller.  I told her I certainly knew an Alan Seegmiller but didn’t know if it was the same one she was referring to.  We were in my truck, which has a rather high ground clearance, and were concerned whether she’d be able to get in and out of it.  She surprised us again by spryly managing that feat with little or no assistance.  After she joined Janet and me in the truck, she asked about Alan again and mentioned that his wife’s name was Marva.  Then we knew we’d stumbled into a very unusual coincidence.  As it happened, Alan and Marva had been down to visit her just two days previously. 

As we drove up the bluff, she explained that Marva was her Brother Melvin’s daughter and that started a round of stories about how Melvin had sold and delivered soap to Janet’s family in SLC for years and how she had to call her mother after we were married to find out what kind of soap Mel had sold them so she could use it to wash her new family’s clothes with as well.  Stella not only showed us the location of the Gould shearing corrals (marked by a nice SUP monument) but also told of how 15 year-old Melvin hauled a wagon load of wool from there to the railhead at Lund (80 + miles?) while they were still in operation. 

 Keith at SUP monument at site of Gould sheep shearing corrals. Artifacts on top gathered by visitors

Keith & Stella Hall Zaleski at Gould monument

Then she volunteered to show us the road on which they trailed the sheared sheep between the corrals and the town of Virgin.  Of course we agreed.  With an informed guide, we were getting much more out of this trip than we’d hoped for.  Unfortunately, that road became somewhat more rugged than the one to the corral site and I’m afraid I bounced her around a bit before I was able to adjust my speed.  After seeing the area where a narrow bridge had been built across the Virgin River gorge to allow the sheep to cross into Virgin we determined that the old photo generally labeled as the Gould shearing corrals (even the one on the SUP monument!) was actually of the area around this bridge. 

All in all, it was a very satisfying and enlightening two days.  With the help of a BLM map, Google Maps, and an unexpected tour guide, we were able to visit and learn about both our objectives and take a number of pictures with which we hope to create a Power Point program for our grandchildren.  I’m still amazed that Stella was willing to assist an unknown voice on her phone and take off in a cramped truck of complete strangers to help us . . . but I’m grateful and delighted that she did. 

Stella at Gould monument

Background of last three pictures shows type of terrain today which was likely trampled and over-grazed by several million sheep between 1910 and 1934. 

Keith G. Seegmiller



  1. What a wonderful trip. I had no idea there was a Seegmiller mtn nor a Gould Sheep Shearing camp.
    Miracles do happen (Stella)when we're doing the Lord's work and bless you for trying to keep the family history alive for all of us and future generations.

    Don't make this blog thing a one time shot. You did a great job.

  2. Great job. I had no idea it would take you that long - it does get easier, I promise!

    This looks like a great experience. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Your blog looks great Dad. I'm guessing the five hours of significant frustration had to do with formatting. Keep all your photos in the center (or to the left), with words above or below--not to the side--and your headaches will be fewer.

    I'm glad you and Mom had such an enjoyable and productive trip. Thanks for going to the effort to share it with us!

  4. Thanks for sharing,dad! I hope to see more posts from you . . . of course, I am a hypocrite to say that . . . I don't even have a blog!

  5. What an amazing trip! To see it in pictures is very neat. Thanks for sharing it!

  6. Yes, indeed, this is a great article. Well written and informative for distant relatives (I'm in Michigan).

    I stumbled upon this when looking for a 2nd cousin, Marva (Hall)Seegmiller. Boy was I surprised to see Stella Zaleski (cousin, once removed) in the photos. She and I have always shared a love of family history and enjoy talking about it on the rare occasions when I visit her. She's a gem. . .
    . . . and so are you for taking the time to do this write-up with all the pictures.
    Very nice.
    Merridy Jeffery