Old Sorrel-History of Southern Utah University

Last modified on Feb 8, 2016

In the spring of 1897, the Utah Legislature authorized a branch of the state's teacher training school to be located in Southern Utah. The community was notified in late May of the commission's action and for the next three months the people of Cedar City worked diligently to complete the Ward Hall and make it ready for the first school year. In September, the Branch Normal School opened its doors for the first time.

School had been in session for only two months when the Attorney General ruled that Cedar City's use of the Ward Hall did not comply with the law that it must have its own building on land deeded to the state, solely for that purpose. Also if the building was not built by the following September, the school would be gone. Winter had set in and the town's building materials were nonexistent due to the construction of the Ward Hall. The people of Cedar City was not letting anyone take there school away, so they did the impossible, to trek up the snow filled mountains to get the necessary lumber needed to build the required building.

On January 5, 1898, a group of men left Cedar City. Their task was to cut logs needed to supply the wood for the new building. Heading up the mountain, they pushed through shoulder deep snow. They slept in scraped out snow holes covered with hay mattresses. It took four days to reach the saw mills, which were located near the present day ski resort, Brian Head. Once they arrived they had to return to Cedar City as the wagons they brought could not carry the heavy logs through the deep snows. They realized sleighs would have been a better choice for the task at hand.

The trip back down the mountain was more treacherous than the trip up; their original trail was gone and the snow was even deeper. The wagons were abandoned as they could not make the trip down the mountain. It was at this stage of their journey that an old sorrel horse proved so valuable. The horse was out in front of the party. The horse was strong and quiet, walked steadily into the drifts, pushing with force, and throwing himself into the drifts again and again until they gave way. The horse would pause to rest, then get up and start all over again. "Old Sorrel" was credited with being the savior of the expedition. From January to July, several groups of men kept up their labors. In September of 1898 the building was almost completed. It featured a large chapel for religious programs and assemblies, a library and reading room, a natural history museum, biological and physical laboratories, classrooms, and offices.

A statue stands in honor of this historic event in Cedar City’s history. It is located on the northwest side of the Centrum Arena on the campus of SUU. “Back Up The Mountain" is a docu-drama about the history and founding of SUU, filming started in February of 2015 at Brian Head, UT.  This film won a "Winnie" award for Best Film Short in the Equus Film Festival in New York City. 

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

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