CASTLE DALE, Utah Animals for all their charm have a mind of their own, and with 32 horses and mules in the Castle Valley Pageant, every performance can be an adventure.
Like the evening when the donkey that carried Joseph and Mary to the stable decided to lie down in the middle of the scene.
Or the night when the courier for Brigham Young was bucked off when the horse reared up. A nearby cast member grabbed the reins and held the horse while the rider jumped on a second time and galloped off.
It's that unpredictability, say local residents, that adds color and spontaneity to the Castle Valley Pageant and distinguishes it from other pageants.
There is also a certain home-grown satisfaction in the fact that spectators have the added excitement of watching where they step.
"Horse people are fearless," said Montell Seely, who wrote the original script for the first performance in 1978. "They are fearless about riding fast and jumping over poles and galloping through water."
But, declares Brother Seely, the animals aren't dangerous. "They aren't bothered by the audience, or the clapping, or the lights. The narrator who requested no flash photography because it could spook the horses, wasn't from around here," he said. "The flash won't bother them."
The Castle Valley Pageant, which completed its 25th annual performance Aug. 3, recounts the faith and heroics of those who settled the area in 1877. Performances are set in a natural bowl-shaped amphitheater on a hillside overlooking the valley with the audience on one side and a setting of log homes and dirt paths on the other.
Sometimes solemn and emotional, sometimes exulting and hilarious, the pageant portrays actual events told through the lives of four families. Joe and Tilda follow Brigham Young's call to resettle and, while taking their young family over the mountain, their newly born baby dies. Witnessing the faith of the parents who believe they will be united with their son in the eternities prompts a change of heart in Abe, who repents and returns to marry Neva, his sweetheart, in the Manti temple.
Others, like Clara, who cursed her husband for bringing her to such a barren place to live in a one-room mud dugout after building a comfortable four bedroom home in Sanpete County, bring to life the faith and sacrifice of the early settlers to this area in south-central Utah, about 190 miles from Salt Lake City.
Hearing the wagons creak as they are pulled up the hillside or feeling the earth shake as large horses stomp past add to the authenticity of the pageant and transport the imagination of spectators to an earlier era.
"We feel this is sacred ground," said Sam Singleton, president of the pageant who has overseen many improvements in the site since being called six years ago. "It helps us feel reverence for our ancestors."
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