Castle Valley Comments

My grandmother used to refer to this past holiday as Decoration Day. It was originally the day that Americans decorated the graves of Civil War veterans and eventually, as other wars broke out, it included the decoration of graves of veterans from all of the wars. Today Americans use the three-day Memorial Day holiday to travel, camp or generally just recreate in some form or another. Moab seems to be a Memorial Day destination as evidenced by the traffic that was backed up past the intersection of Highway 191 and SR 128 last Sunday. Pat and I tried to maneuver our way to Moab through the jungle of traffic to witness the seminary graduation of a grandson.

People also use the day to visit and decorate the graves of all other pioneer family members who were not necessarily war veterans. The late Sam Taylor told me on several occasions that his family used the day to perpetuate a family tradition of visiting and decorating the graves of his ancestors who were buried in Moab. During Sam’s youth, he said, his mother would pick flowers from her garden to place at the various ancestral gravesites but sometimes the weather didn’t cooperate. He said if the spring winds and rain destroyed the flowers the only option left was to pick the dense clusters of lovely white flowers from the catalpa trees to decorate the graves. In my youth my family didn’t have such a tradition during Memorial Day and I think I missed out on a wealth of interesting family history that would be discussed during these annual outings.

Castle Valley has several small pioneer cemeteries around, and these sites are usually visited by descendants of the pioneer families who pull weeds and generally tidy up the site before leaving a fresh bouquet of flowers as they reminisce and honor their ancestors. At the lower end of the valley behind the Castle Valley Town Hall is the Old Ranch Cemetery. Interred within the rustic fence enclosure are descendants of John and Anna Pace who settled in Castle Valley in the early 1890s, and Bert and Ireta Buchanan, the Pace’s son-in-law and daughter. The Buchanans were also involved in the cattle operation that was started by the Pace brothers.

At the upper end of the valley is the Castle Valley Cemetery, which has a grave of Eliza Martin Parriott Hatch. She died in 1899 and was laid to rest on property that at the time was in a secluded section of the John Martin Ranch, which belonged to her older brother. Her beautiful little gravesite has weathered the ravages of time for 120 years.

In 1979, a local young man, Guy Officer, was tragically killed in a car wreck on the River Road, and the property with Eliza’s grave was deeded to Grand County by the developer so Officer could be buried in Castle Valley. Near Eliza’s grave is the burial plot of Ernie Foust, a modern-day pioneer who settled on Shafer Lane during the mid-1970s. He was an interesting character who followed the rodeo circuit as a young man, which eventually caused him to lose a leg because of an accident in the chute. With the exception of Eliza, I probably knew just about everyone who was buried in the cemetery.

Another person who is buried in the Castle Valley Cemetery is Jerry Ehlers. He and his family were some of the first latter-day pioneers of Castle Valley who moved here in 1976. They were responsible for my family to move here after we bought property in 1977. Jerry died unexpectedly in Las Vegas where he was working in 1988 as an artist. He was only 48 years old and left behind his wife JoAnna and nine daughters and a son. His funeral was a somber occasion and the grave was marked by a small gravestone, which was furnished by the United States Army.

Last Monday most of his daughters, Cori, Deone, Angelique, Jennifer, Raelene, Amber and Faith, presented a memorial service for their father at the Castle Valley Cemetery and together purchased a large head stone, which was placed at the burial site at the cemetery. The service featured several songs and memories by their mother JoAnna Ehlers Stoddard, Jerry’s 104-year-old aunt Erma Rosenhan, Jerry’s brother Steve Ehlers and others who shared memories of Jerry’s life. A luncheon followed at the Castle Valley Branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was a delight to once again see these girls who were raised in Castle Valley and who turned out to be beautiful, productive women and mothers, thanks in part to their being raised in Castle Valley and being raised in a loving home.