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Now on Exhibit: Tracing the Story of William Grandstaff
by Moab Museum Staff
Gerald Elias (right) addresses Museum Members during the September 1st exhibit opening of Tracing the Story of William Grandstaff.

Three miles upstream from Moab along Utah Highway 128, you’ll find a shady canyon with a cool stream that enters the Colorado River. Today, thousands of visitors hike this canyon annually, often all the way up to the impressive Morning Glory Natural Bridge at the top of one of the canyon’s branches. Around 1877, this canyon also attracted another visitor: one of the first non-Native residents of the Moab Valley. William Grandstaff, a Black cowboy and frontiersman, ran cattle in the canyon that today bears his name. During the month of October, visitors to the Moab Museum have the opportunity to dive into this early Moab settler’s life story thanks to new research insights into William Grandstaff’s past.

Tracing the Story of William Grandstaff opened at the Moab Museum on September 1st and remains on display through the month of October. Using Census Records, city directories, newspaper clippings, and other historical information, this exhibit offers a chronology of Grandstaff’s life: from his birth in slavery in Virginia through the Civil War and westward as he sought new opportunity in Utah and Colorado.

Museum Members at the exhibit opening.

While the exhibit answers many questions about Grandstaff’s life, it also raises questions. What would Grandstaff’s life have been like as an early settler and Black cowboy? To what extent is Grandstaff’s story unique? The exhibit includes resources to help contextualize Grandstaff’s life story: looking beyond Moab to explore the histories of other Black cowboys in the West and their legacies today.

The exhibit is made possible thanks to research efforts by Gerald Elias, a composer and writer who has commemorated Grandstaff’s life in an operatic composition, and also Nick Sheedy, the Lead Genealogist for the PBS television show Finding Your Roots. For the exhibit’s opening, attendees had the opportunity to hear from Elias, whose Ballad of William Grandstaff was performed as part of the Moab Music Festival in early September as well. Visitors to the exhibit have the opportunity to watch a video from Sheedy about his research efforts, offering a peek behind the scenes into the investigative processes of historians and genealogists.

The Moab Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tracing the Story of William Grandstaff will be on exhibit through October. To learn more about Museum membership, programs and exhibits, and to read the Museum’s blog and explore online archives and collections, please visit

118 East Center Street, Moab, UT • 435-259-7985

Movie & Western Memorabilia Museum at Red Cliffs Lodge

Indiana Jones PosterRed Cliffs Lodge, on the banks of the mighty Colorado River, is home to the Moab Museum of Film & Western Heritage. The lodge is built on the old George White Ranch, a key location for nine of the big westerns including Rio Grande, Cheyenne Autumn, Ten Who Dared, The Commancheros, and Rio Conchos.

The late George White was founder of the Moab to Monument Valley Film Commission, the longest ongoing film commission in the world.

In the museum one can learn more about film locations, how the sets are built, and how the filming process is managed on nature’s own sound stage. On display in the museum are production photographs, movie posters, autographed scripts, props from the many pictures filmed in the area, and displays about the western ranching heritage. For information, call Red Cliffs Lodge at 435-259-2002.

Rio Grande Through the magnificent landscapes of southeastern Utah, writers have been inspired and stories born here. Zane Grey, the famous western novelist, traveled through the area in 1912. His visit inspired him to write his book Riders of the Purple Sage. The book was made into a movie starring Ed Harris and Amy Madigan, and filmed on locations around Moab.

A partial list of stars that have made movies in Moab
John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara, Henry Fonda, Lee Marvin,
Rock Hudson, Jimmy Stewart, Richard Boone, Anthony Quinn,
Mickey Rooney, Shirley Temple, Kris Kristofferson, Billy Crystal,
Robert Duvall, Gene Hackman, Bill Murray, Jack Palance, Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Ted Danson, Tom Cruise, and many more.

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