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Pioneer Day in the rural Utah town of Monticello celebrates a history more colorful than many Utah communities can claim.

The arrival of Mormon pioneers in 1886 prompted a lively cultural clash between the churchgoers and the cattle barons and cowboys who first settled the area. That conflict hasn't been forgotten thanks to a song heard frequently during Pioneer Day celebrations, community events, even graveside services.

The words to "Blue Mountain" were written by prominent judge Fred W. Keller, who came to Monticello as a young attorney seeking adventure in 1919. In a written recollection of the song's genesis, Keller explained why:

"Frontier life has a glamour and charm that I have never been quite able to get out of my system, so it was quite natural that I chose as the spot for this very serious experiment the little cow town of Monticello, Utah, something more than 100 miles from the nearest rail point."

The town's remoteness wasn't the only draw for Keller. He liked what he knew of its rip-roaring cowboy history.

Cowboys and settlers

Owners of large cattle companies began operating just north of present-day Monticello in the 1870s, attracting a rag-tag collection of cowboys - some seeking to escape the legal penalties of past misdeeds - and a retinue of Latino vaqueros and herders.

The cowboys called the nearby peaks "Blue Mountain," although maps show the area as the Abajo Range. They considered the image of a horse's head, outlined in spruce trees on the mountain's flank, as a scenic wonder and source of pride, as residents do today.

The Mormons who founded Monticello in 1890 were part of a settlement effort in southeastern Utah that started with the Hole-in-the Rock crossing to Bluff in 1880. The contrast between their law-abiding ways and the free-wheeling life of the cowboys gives Keller's song its charm.

The words for "Blue Mountain" were written sometime in the 1920s and set to a Texas folk tune called "Bound Down in the Walls of Prison."

Written from the point of view of a cowboy riding for the "LC" company, the verses bring to life early characters - nearly forgotten cowboys with such nicknames as Latigo Gordon, Yarn Gallus and Doc Few-Clothes, and Mormon settlers whose descendants still live in town.

Corinne Roring, of the San Juan County Historical Commission, says the ballad is "an actual telling of the story of Monticello."

"The names are not fictitious, and the events are what happened."

Cast of characters

Among settlers getting a mention is Mons Peterson, owner of a country store frequently shot up by rowdy cowboys. Keller's song speaks of a cowboy who varied that theme by riding his horse into the store, tying a bolt of calico dress fabric to his saddle horn, then riding down Main Street trailing a bright ribbon of calico behind.

Another old-timer who gets a mention is shoemaker Nephi Bailey, whom Keller describes as follows:

"The conservator of law and order during those days was a Mormon shoemaker by the name of Nephi Bailey. He held the high office of Justice of the Peace, and tried the cowboys for such offenses as were worthy of legal treatment besides making and repairing their boots. The cowboys called him 'Zapatero,' which is the Spanish name for shoemaker."

Cowboys who augmented their meager incomes by putting their own brands on calves belonging to the big companies had reason to fear Zapatero, suggested by this verse about an LC hand who appropriates calves from the "Hip, Side and Shoulder" (brand of the Carlisle Cattle Company):

For the brand LC I ride

With the sleeper calves on the side.

I'll own the Hip, Side and Shoulder when I grow older

Zapatero, don't tan my hide!

Keller also included Evelyn Adams, a pioneer woman who showed kindness to cowboys compelled to survive seasons of unemployment by "riding the chuck-line" - moving from ranch to ranch to partake of any hospitality offered.

"She fed them when they were hungry, nursed them when they were ill, and most of them looked upon her as a foster mother," Keller wrote. " 'Ev' is the sweetheart or heroine of my song. I think of her very tenderly."

The verse introducing Ev brings out another feature of Monticello life - cool, beautiful summer weather and cold, windy winters.

"We get harassed by our neighbors in this area because it's so windy here, and the winters are so cold," said Monticello resident Rhett Maughan. "But nothing can replace the good months we have, and Blue Mountain represents that."

'And we're still here'

Maughan speaks from experience. When he lived in the San Francisco area while training to be a chiropractor, the thing he missed most was Blue Mountain.

Eventually, Maughan moved back to Monticello, which has fewer than 2,500 residents, and says the change was worthwhile - he named his hometown chiropractic office after Blue Mountain.

"Any time you hear the 'Blue Mountain' song, it puts a lump in your throat and a tear in your eye," Maughan said. "It's dear to the people of Monticello."

Although the big cattle companies Keller memorialized in his song pulled out of the region before the turn of the 20th century because of drought and changing economic conditions, many of those they brought with them remained. Monticello resident Gary Torres is a descendent of the Latino vaqueros; his wife, Dee, is a descendant of Hole-in-the-Rock pioneers.

"There's a line in the song about a cowboy who "[dances] at night with the Mormon girls," Torres said. "That's kind of what I did. . . . It's a continuation of the same thread."

Torres remembers being taught to sing "Blue Mountain" by a Cub Scout den mother and feeling annoyed about having to learn a hokey "hillbilly" song.

"The older I get, the more I realize that the fabric of the song is woven through me," Torres said. "I know what it's about now, and it's more touching to me."

Roring, who grew up in nearby Blanding, will never forget hearing "Blue Mountain" for the first time after moving to Monticello in the 1940s.

The rendition was sung outdoors, unaccompanied, just as the song is usually sung today. The occasion was a cowboy's graveside service in Monticello's cemetery, with the song's namesake forming a dramatic backdrop behind the singer.

"And we're still here, right under that Blue Mountain, with that phenomenal Horsehead on its side," Roring said. "You've won my love to keep. . . ."

"Blue Mountain"

My home it was in Texas;

My past you must not know.

I seek a refuge from the law where the sage and piñon grow.

Chorus (sung after each verse)

Blue Mountain, you're azure deep.

Blue Mountain with sides so steep.

Blue Mountain with Horsehead on your side

You have won my love to keep.

For the brand "LC" I ride

With the sleeper calves on the side.

I'll own the "Hip, Side and Shoulder" when I grow older,

"Zapatero," don't tan my hide!


I chum with Latigo Gordon;

I drink at the Blue Goose Saloon.

I dance at night with the Mormon girls,

And ride home beneath the moon.


I trade at Mons's Store

With the bullet holes in the door.

His calico treasure my horse can measure

When I'm drunk, and feeling sore.


Yarn Gallus with his long rope;

Doc Few-Clothes without any soap;

In the Little Green Valley they made their sally,

And for Slick, there is still some hope.


In the summer time it's fine;

In the winter the wind doth whine.

But say, dear brother, if you want a mother

There is Ev on the old chuck-line.


Take a listen

* To hear a recording of "Blue Mountain," go to