About Southern Utah University

History of SUU

In the spring of 1897 the people of Cedar City learned that the Utah Legislature had authorized a branch of the state's teacher training school to be located in Southern Utah.

Immediately upon the Legislative approval of the bill, each of the communities of Southern Utah began appointing committees and making necessary plans to influence the decision of the legislative commission. A petition was framed to the commission setting forth the advantages of locating the school in Cedar City.

There is much conjecture about why Cedar City was selected for the location of the school. Members of the commission publicly said it was because of its central location and its excellent educational record, but privately the determining factor seems to have been that alone of all the towns competing for the school, Cedar City was the only one without a saloon or pool hall.

The community was notified in late May of the commission's action and for the next three months it labored to complete the Ward Hall and make it ready for the first school year. In September, the school opened its doors for the first time.

School had been in session for only two months, however, when the Attorney General ruled that Cedar City's use of the Ward Hall did not comply with the provision of the law which required that the school have its own building on land deeded to the state for that purpose. Furthermore, the Attorney General stated that if a building was not erected by the following September, the school would be lost.

Winter had already set in and the town's building materials were nonexistent because of the construction of the Ward Hall. Still, the people of Cedar City set out to do the impossible. Nobody, they argued, was going to take their school away from them, not even if it meant bucking the mountain snows to get the lumber to construct the new building, which, of course, it did.

On January 5, 1898, a group of men, the first of a long line of townsmen to face the bitter winter weather of the mountains, left Cedar City. Their task was to cut logs necessary to supply the wood for the new building. They waded through snow that often was shoulder deep, pushing and tramping their way up the mountains, sleeping in holes scraped out of the snow and covered with mattresses of hay. It took them four days just to reach the saw mills, located near the present day ski resort, Brian Head. Once they got there they realized they had to go back to Cedar City again. The wagons they brought with them could not carry logs through the heavy snows, and it was determined that sleighs were needed to do the task.

The way back was just as arduous as the trip up. The snow had obliterated the trail they had originally blazed and the snow was even deeper. The wagons could not make it and were abandoned at a clearing. It was in this phase of their march that an old sorrel horse proved so valuable. Placed out at the front of the party, the horse, strong and quiet, would walk steadily into the drifts, pushing and straining against the snow, throwing himself into the drifts again and again until they gave way. Then he would pause for a rest, sitting down on his haunches the way a dog does, heave a big sigh, then get up and start all over again. "Old Sorrel" was credited with being the savior of the expedition.

Old Sorrel on SUU's Campus

From January through July they kept up their labors and when September 1898 arrived the building was almost completed. It had a large chapel for religious programs and assemblies, a library and reading room, a natural history museum, biological and physical laboratories, classrooms, and offices.

Watch Back Up the Mountain (movie of SUU's founding)

Historical School Names

1897-1913 Branch Normal School
1913-1953 Branch Agricultural College
1953-1969 College of Southern Utah
1969-1990 Southern Utah State College
1991-present Southern Utah University

Past Presidents

Complete history of all SUU presidents