Reenactment of 'Old Sorrel' Brings SUU Family Back Up the Mountain

Published: February 12, 2015 | Author: Olyvia Meyer | Read Time: 3 minutes

Filming of SUU documentaryDonning fake beards and period clothing, a posse of professors, administrators, and staff from Southern Utah University gathered on the Brian Head slopes as snow machines recreated a blizzard above their heads. To the passerby, this scene may have caused some puzzlement, but to those beneath the blurry a sacred moment was occurring.

In the next minutes, a reenactment of the founding of Southern Utah University unfolded. Among those watching in reverence from the tree line was Mindy Benson, vice president of for alumni and community relations. “This is a special moment,” Benson whispered as the cameras were rolling, “Our founding story is the most unique founding in any university’s history. It is a story that needs to be told and preserved forever.”

Benson is a descendant of one of the many men and women who sacrificed so much in the building of the University. “At the time the men were preparing to go up the mountain to get lumber, my great-grandfather was very old and going blind. Although he could not make the trip, he donated his precious casket wood that he had brought with him to America from Wales,” Benson explained.

These stories of sacrifice are dear to the hearts of many who teach and work at SUU. Like many of his coworkers, Shane Flanigan, a staff member in the School for Continuing and Professional Studies, grew up hearing the tale of “Old Sorrel” and as soon as he heard of the reenactment he volunteered himself and his horse, Hank, to be a part of the acting crew.

“All of this is very close to home for me,” Flanigan said, “My family has been tied to this University since 1910 and it is important to me that we honor where we came from.”

The short documentary, set to début in May, pays tribute to the men and women in the 1898 company who faced bitter winter conditions as they forged up the mountain toward present day Brian Head seeking lumber to build the first higher education institution in southern Utah. It took them four days to reach their destination and upon arrival they realized they had to return to Cedar City , empty handed.

The wagons they brought could not carry the logs through the heavy snows, and it was decided that sleighs would be needed instead. The way back was just as arduous as the trip up. The storm had obliterated the trail they had originally blazed and the snow was even deeper. It was then that the “Old Sorrel” horse plowed onward, pushing and straining against the snow, saving the men and the wagons on the expedition who would shortly be returning up the mountain to retrieve the lumber.

During his inaugural address, University President Scott Wyatt, reflected on the University’s founding and said, “Old Sorrel” is a beautiful story, but what inspires me is the people who made the decision to go back up the mountain after facing a near death experience. It was important to them that they brought the promise of America – the hopes, dreams, and opportunities – to the people in Southern Utah.”

Wyatt went on, “That is our continual mission here at this University. There are days when every person wants to throw in the towel, but remembering the hardships and sacrifices it took to create this university can motivate us to continue. It is our opportunity, as faculty, staff, and students, to be a continual part of this inspiring story.”

To learn more about SUU’s historic founding, visit

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