Utah’s Pioneer Day, a holiday celebrating the arrival of Mormon pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, is on Sunday, July 24. To celebrate, the Moab Museum will host its annual ice cream social, and the Moab Museum of Film and Western Heritage will screen the 1950s film, “Wagon Master,” directed by the renowned John Ford.
The film follows the story of two young horse traders who decide to help guide a Mormon pioneer wagon train headed for the San Juan River in Southeast Utah, and the challenges—both with people and geography—the crew meets along the way. It stars the famous Western actors Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr., Joanne Dru, and Ward Bond.
Elise Park, the director of the film museum, wanted to show “Wagon Master” because of its Pioneer Day-relevant plot, and also because the film was vital in shaping Moab’s film industry: it’s the first full-length film to be made almost entirely in the Moab area.
“The entire genre of Westerns started in southeastern Utah—started in our little corner,” she said.
“Wagon Master” inspired George White to found what would become the Moab to Monument Valley Film Commission, Park said. The film opened the door to Moab, so much so that now, the scenery of southeastern Utah can be found in films from around the world: the red rocks have become the epitome of the American West, Park said.
“A lot of people don’t realize that a lot of significant films were made in our area,” she said. “That’s what we try to celebrate.”
“Wagon Master” is also an enjoyable film, Park said. It’s from 1950 and in black and white, but the imagery Ford captured is “gorgeous,” she said: viewers will instantly recognize the iconic scenery of the Highway 128 corridor and the Fisher Towers.
The storyline follows Mormon pioneers, but it’s still comical—the pioneers meet a whole cast of characters on their journey, each representing a characteristic of the West, she said.
“It’s a really cool film, not just for historical importance, but because it tells a good story,” Park said.
The ice cream social will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. on the Moab Museum lawn (118 E. Center St.)—there will be free ice cream, lawn games, and a chance to explore local history. Afterwards, bring chairs and blankets to the Moab Museum of Film and Western Heritage, located within the Red Cliffs Lodge (Milepost 14, Highway 128) to watch the free outdoor screening of “Wagon Master,” which will begin around 9 p.m. or dusk. “Wagon Master” has a run time of 1 hr 26 minutes.