Southern Utah University’s 124th birthday celebration began with a virtual watch party of “Back Up The Mountain” on Monday, hosted by SUU Alumni for SUU’s Founders Week.
“Back Up The Mountain” is a 20-minute short film depicting the story of how SUU, originally dedicated as the Branch Normal School, began. The film begins in early 1898, when Cedar City residents got news the school would not receive funding unless they built a three-story building by September of 1898.
SUU alumnus Jasen Wade, an actor known for his roles in the films “17 Miracles” and “The Cokeville Miracle,” played Neil Bladen, the man who volunteered to go up the mountain to get wood at a lumber mill near today’s Brian Head Ski Resort.
Bladen and a company of men and horses began their first journey up the mountain on Jan. 5, 1898. After securing a pile of wood, a blizzard prevented the carts from getting through the snow, resulting in the men leaving them behind.
An old sorrel horse plowed through the snow, creating a path for the men to reach a warm cabin for the night. This horse is remembered on SUU campus through the Old Sorrel statue.
The next day, most of the company returned back to Cedar City, while Bladen and a few others repeated the trip back up the mountain to retrieve the wood that they had left behind.
Over the next few months, Bladen and his company returned back up the mountain several times to retrieve more wood. Cedar City residents pulled wood from their homes and furniture to donate to the building of the school.
The building that is known today as Old Main was dedicated on October 28, 1898.
“Back Up The Mountain” was produced, written and directed by SUU communication professor Jon Smith. Smith strived to make the movie “as authentic as possible” by including descendants of actual founders in the cast, filming at locations the events actually took place and using authentic props such as actual wood from the original Old Main building and Bladen’s personal pocket watch.
Smith also realized that most people know about the horse, Old Sorrel, but do not know about the people.
“The people became the heroes of the movie rather than the horse,” Smith said.
SUU President Scott L. Wyatt agreed that the people that contributed in 1898 are the true heroes.
“These founders of our community should be of inspiration and appeal, summoning us to show that we too have courage and strength,” said Wyatt. “That we too are ready to dare greatly as we go back up the mountain together.”
Story by: Elizabeth Armstrong
Photos courtesy of “Back up the Mountain”