Spirit & Grit

Making a living in early Moab was a challenge but the area had two advantages that other places did not: abundant water from Mill and Pack Creeks as well as the Colorado River, and rich soil for agriculture. Early settlers brought with them cattle, sheep, crop seed and fruit trees – and especially peaches – while some practiced mining and logging. With completion of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad in 1883, merchandise could be more easily obtained from the outside world. The Railroad also created the first tourist economy as it was eight hard hours travel to Moab from the station in Thompson Springs and several hotels sprang up to accommodate visitors.

A Self-sufficient Community

Prior to the completion of the railroad in 1883, Moab was an extremely isolated settlement, with the closest town of Salina two days of hard travel away. Occasionally necessities would appear in the local tent stores but basically settlers were self-reliant and women, who were the mainstay of domestic life, sustained the family through hard work, raising food and making all necessary household goods. Every household had a cow that provided milk and butter and every yard had a kitchen garden that not only provided fresh seasonal vegetables, but also dried and canned produce throughout the year.

Caring for Each Other

Until the first doctor arrived in 1896, local women were the ones who provided health care. Sarah Jane Stewart assisted with the first birth in Moab, a girl named Almira Wilson. She along with Mary Day and Hannah Somerville became well known midwives who assisted with the births of hundreds of babies. Gillie Ann Brack, known as Grandma Brack, devoted herself to caring for the sick well into her 80s. Home remedies were the only medicines available and reportedly could cure everything from chapped lips to diarrhea. Caretakers could use sage and golden seal to treat cankers, a poultice of peach leaves could draw out infection while one of cactus plants and pine gum could drain it, and peppermint, catnip and hoarhound could make cough syrup.


Education was important to the early settlers and classes were held in various households until the first school was built in 1883. The first teacher, J. Alma Holdaway, earned $30.00 a month and “boarded around” with local families. By 1890, with over 80 school-aged children in the valley, two schools had been built to accommodate them.

Hear Bob Baldwin share a memory of Scorup Cattle Company:All traffic stopped for Scorup's cowboys, who  drove the sizable herd north through town on Main Street.



Successful dryland farming required knowledge of soil, water and crop seed – and the right tools. The wood components of this plow were made from local cottonwood tree branches, possibly near where it was recovered by Kent Frost one mile from The Dollhouse Formation in Canyonlands National Park. On Loan from the National Park Service.

Pack Saddle

Pack saddle

Grazing cattle often required wranglers to take supplies and food to last for several days or longer in in southeastern Utah’s wide-open range. This pack saddle would have been used to protect the horse or mule wearing it, and to make sure goods didn’t fall off. It was found by Kent Frost near Range Canyon in what is now Canyonlands National Park.

Gold pan

Gold pan

In the late 1800s gold was discovered in the San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado and, reportedly, in the La Sal Mountains. The allure of finding one’s fortune turned some into prospectors and, while no “gold rush” occurred then, people still pan for and find gold on the Colorado Plateau today. Donated by Evert Pittman.

Canning jars

Canning jars

Before tin and aluminum cans became a common container for processed and preserved foods, the Mason jar was an essential tool in the 19th century kitchen. These one-quart, wide mouth Mason canning jars from the mid-1800s are from Kerr’s “Self-Sealing” trademark patented product line.

Hear Heidi Redd share Al Scorup's journey to becoming the largest public land permittee in US Ranching history.

1916 Graflex Camera


c.1916 Graflex 1134 Camera

In the early 20th century, news and sports reporters favored the R.B. Auto Graflex camera because its variable shutter speed could freeze rapid motion. This camera, owned and donated by Ed Law, produced hundreds of photographs that now are in the Museum’s archives. Law’s photos were taken during tours organized by Mitch and Mary Williams into what is now Canyonlands National Park. Williams acquired surplus WWII jeeps to tour inquisitive and adventurous friends around the landscape he loved so much, and his passion led him to establish one of Moab’s first tour operators – NavTec Expeditions.

medicine bottles

Medicine bottles

This is a sampling of medicines used in small communities of southeastern Utah. One nearly full bottle is labeled with “Blaud and Cascara Compound,” a laxative made and marketed by Parke Davis & Company in London between 1920 and 1940. Donated by Dallas and Jeanne Tanner.

Medical saddlebags

Dr. J.W. Williams medical saddlebag

In late 1896 John W. “Doc” Williams answered Moab’s call for a professionally trained physician – at a guaranteed annual salary of $150.00. “Doc” Williams served families, ranchers, and farmers across the region, and supplemented his income by owning a general store and selling buggies. The bag has leather pouches with a saddle strap for out-of-the-office calls.

Moab's first piano

Moab's first piano

Musical entertainment provided a diversion from the hard work of making a living and building a community in the isolated Moab Valley. This piano was made by Chickering & Sons of Boston Massachusetts and, according to Museum records, traveled by rail to Thompson Springs. It then was transported by wagon toward Moab before crossing the Colorado River by ferry around 1898. It reportedly served for many years as the piano at a dance hall and bar near 100 South and 100 West. The piano features one of the Chickering company’s most important innovations: Arranging the strings in two banks – one over the other rather than side-by-side – which saved space and brought the bass strings directly over the most resonant part of the sound-board. This principle remains a standard in the construction of both grand and upright pianos to this day. Donated to the Museum by Deone Skewes.