Parley Redd was known to the world as a hard working, fair minded, shrewd businessman who built one of the largest and most successful retail businesses in San Juan; a business which is still in the family and is today the oldest family business with the same name in San Juan County… the Parley Redd Mercantile in Blanding.
Considering the abject poverty of his youth and the obstacles Parley and Ruth overcame on their way to the success they eventually achieved in their lives, they are Giants of San Juan.
George Christensen, who at one time was the western manager for the Morrey Mercantile Company and was considered one of the brilliant merchants of his time, made the following remark about Parley Redd: “He is the best small town country merchant I have ever known. Parley knew he was a good merchant; he knew that he was successful.
“He knew that he was financially sound. But, he was a humble man. He never sought a public office of any kind, either in politics or his church or otherwise. He was frank, direct and sometimes as naïve as a child. I think that was one reason I liked him so much. He was boyish; he loved a good joke and a good laugh and he made me feel like I was young again.”
Parley Redd was born in the home of John D. Lee to Lemuel H. and Sarah Chamberlain Redd, on February 7, 1883 in New Harmony, Washington County, UT. He was the ninth child out of 14 in his family.
He lived in Washington County until 1889, when at the age of six his father decided to move the family to San Juan County.
Parley’s mother was the second wife of Lemuel Redd. In l891, polygamists were being chased, harassed and sent to prison when caught.
One of Parley’s earliest memories was his mother having to hide in the willows when a U. S. Marshall came hunting her husband.
She had just given birth to a baby daughter and the marshall said, “Well, we will get her when she comes back to nurse the baby.” Parley never forgot those words.
Parley was baptized in a creek during the winter of l891. His baptismal clothes were frozen stiff on his body by the time they got back to the house. That was another experience he never forgot.
Because of the intense persecution of polygamists, Lemual took his second family and moved them to Mexico. They left Bluff in the fall of l891 with three wagons and 10 horses. They crossed the border at Demming, NM.
Parley had his own little bay mare with stocking feet that he rode all the way to Demming. There, the Mexicans said they could not cross without paying duty on their possessions. Parley’s little mare had to go and he said many times later in his life, “It nearly broke my heart. I never got over mourning my beloved little pony.”
Life was rough in Mexico in the early years. Parley’s mother was alone most of the time and there never seemed to be enough food for her large brood.
Parley recalled, “Mother had to add water to our milk because the cow did not give enough for all of us. As a child, I wondered why she cried, because the watery milk tasted so good to me, but in later years it would make me cry just to think about it.”
When he and his brothers would go to school, they would hide to eat their lunches because all they had was cornbread and molasses and they didn’t want others to see. When they could find work, the boys were paid 75 cents a day.
Parley and his brother Burt both received blessings the same day. Burt said Parley got the best blessing and it wasn’t fair because Parley was the orneriest kid in the family.
Ruth was born to Philip and Elizabeth Wilcox Hurst in Colonia Dublan, Chihuahua, Mexico on June 23, 1891. She was delivered in a tent just three months after her mother had arrived from Fairview, UT. She is the ninth child in her family.
Her most vivid early memories were the death of her best friend, Alice Mortensen who was riding in a wagon with her parents when a gun they had in the wagon discharged and killed her.
Second, Ruth recalled that just before her sixth birthday, two men came to town taking portraits of people who could afford them. Ruth was mystified by how her “likeness” could be produced on paper, and she very much wanted a picture of herself, but was afraid of the process. She asked her mother which hurt the worst, being baptized or having her picture taken.
Ruth had dark brown, curly hair and dark eyes. She loved going to the windmill and putting her head under the spout, wetting her hair and then shaking her curls. When dry, her hair would curl tight to her head. She grew to young womanhood in Colonia Dublan.
Parley also grew up in the Mormon Colonies in Mexico. He got some schooling and worked as a carpenter, on the railroad, in the sawmills and several retail mercantile stores, where he learned the rudiments of the trade that would bring him great success in later life.
While working in Colonial Dublan, he met and fell in love with Ruth Hurst. Because they lived a distance from each other, they wrote many letters back and forth.
When they had to leave during the Mexican Revolution, one of the few things the Redd family were able to bring out of Mexico were Parley’s love letters from his precious Ruth. Those letters have become part of the Redd family’s written history.
While working at a mining camp in the mountains in l911, Parley proposed to Ruth on a postcard: “Dearest Ruth, I suppose you will probably know before you receive this card that the rebels have taken C. Juarez and burned the post office to the ground.
“According to the paper, there are several other buildings burning. The citizens have left. Business is dead and there isn’t anything doing at all… I have decided to go to Utah and I want to take you with me… I am tired of war and I know you are too.”
Ruth accepted the proposal and as soon as they got across the border, they were married in El Paso on May 27. They journeyed on to Salt Lake City and were married in the temple on June 7, l911.
Their daughter Jackie said about her parents, “Theirs was a love affair and a romance that never ended. Dad idolized my mother and she worshiped him.”
From Salt Lake City, the young marrieds went to Grayson (early Blanding).
Ruth did not leave Blanding for the next seven years. During that time she brought four children into the world. Parley went to work for the San Juan Co-op Store, starting at the princely sum of $65 per month.
The Co-op store began as an idea in Walter C. Lyman’s home on February 25, 1908. He was the first president, with Jens Nielson as the Vice President. The other founders and directors were L. H. Redd, Hanson Bayles, D. John Rogers, Wayne H. Redd and E. J. Thompson. Other citizens in the county also owned shares in the company.
In the annual meeting of 1914, Parley Redd was maintained as chief clerk and had his salary raised to $100 per month. Hanson Bayles was the first manager and was paid $150 per year, because it was a part time job. Each director was paid one dollar per meeting attended and the company had a total of $25,000 in inventory.
In l918 during World War I, the old rock portion (south end) of the current store was built on Main Street in Blanding. It is still in use today.
The store carried clothing, food, shoes and just about everything a pioneer needed right down to baby diapers (cloth of course) and coffins.
The company cut ice from the ponds in winter and buried it in a big sawdust-filled pit in back of the store to be dug out in the summer and sold.
Most of their goods were purchased from traveling salesmen called “drummers” and shipped in by horse-drawn wagons.
The Co-op store was a gathering place for many of the town’s people. They would sit around the old stove in the middle of the store and catch up on all the latest gossip and news.
Parley was, by nature, a friendly, gregarious individual who loved to play practical jokes on people. They say he rigged an auto coil under the counter and when an old-timer or anyone else sat on the counter Parley would wind up the coil and shock the person perched thereon. His good humor made it work and it curtailed men sitting on his counter.
Parley and Ruth had eight children: Merine, born in l912; Hazel, 1913 (died at age 11); Vincent, 1915; Dale, l918; Kent, l920; Paul, 1923 (died when 12 days old); Gordon, 1924 and Jacqueline, 1928.
Parley taught all his children to work at an early age. During the Depression the family was lucky because Parley never lost his job. Most of the children had jobs at the store during their growing up years. They learned how to serve the public, how to be responsible, how to treat people and, if they were lucky, they earned a little remuneration too.
Parley was strict with his children by today’s standards and never shirked from telling them exactly what he thought about something.
For example, when Vint (his son) and Reva moved to Blanding, they built a new home. They had saved most of what they needed to build their home but they had to borrow another $5,000 to complete it.
The first time they slept in their new home home, Parley walked in early the next morning without knocking… marched straight to their bedroom, opened the door, again without knocking, and stated, “I just wanted to see if two people could actually sleep in a house with such a debt hanging over it.” Without another word he turned on his heel and walked out before his startled son could reply.
When Jacqueline invited her parents to Provo to meet the man she eventually married, Dean Wilson, Parley and Ruth stayed at the Hotel Roberts. The next morning Jackie and Dean went to the hotel to make the introductions.
When they knocked, the door opened and there stood Parley. Without any “Hi, how are you”, or “It is nice to meet you,” or anything, Parley blurted out, “Good Hell kid, do you have any idea how much it costs to keep a girl like that?” Dean nearly broke and ran. He later said he felt like a lamb at the slaughter.
Many memorable events happened in the store during the next 40 years. One is recalled by Parley’s daughter Jacqueline: “One hot summer day there was just one customer in the store except me and dad, who was back in his office. Things were very calm.
“All of a sudden there was the loudest, most blood-curdling scream I had ever heard coming right from the middle of the store. Old Randolf, a Navajo, had sneaked in on the sly and decided to give his friend Deschize a scare. We all had a good laugh, especially Dad and Randolf. It was something I will never forget.”
For 29 years, Parley managed the Co-op Store, saving a little each month with the goal of someday becoming the owner himself. In l939, he had enough money to buy the owners out and it was in l939 that the store was renamed The Parley Redd Mercantile.
When the financial affairs were completed, Parley discovered his funds were not quite sufficient so he called the Moab Bank and asked if they would cover him. They agreed.
A year later, one of the bankers came in and told Parley he needed to sign a note for the loan they had given him. Parley had worked hard in the interim and was proud to write another check to the bank for the total amount due, plus interest.
Most of the business was done on account in those days. Cash was scarce and many payments came in the form of trade. Records were written by hand in large ledger books in Parley’s handwriting, which are still in the family today.
It was unheard of to charge interest in the early days. Bills were paid twice a year by the sheep ranchers; once in the spring when they sold their wool and again in the fall when they sold their lambs.
Cattlemen only paid once a year, in the fall when they sold their calves. When accounts were paid in full, Parley often gave the man paying the bill a new Stetson hat.
He would do anything to keep a customer. On one occasion, he took a rusty old worthless wagon in payment for an overdue account. When his boys questioned why he would do such a thing he said, “as long as he owes me money he won’t trade with me again.”
Ruth helped as much as she could in the business. Parley had a habit of bringing salesmen and friends home for lunch or dinner unannounced. Ruth would patiently set extra places at the table and then scramble to make sure there was enough food to feed her unexpected guests. Ruth taught many a sermon with her famous “Mormon Gravy.”
In the days before refrigeration, Parley would have a beef killed about once a week and then put a sign out in front of the store that read, “Fresh Beef Today.”
Parley Redd Mercantile had the first frozen food locker facility in Blanding. People would rent space in the freezer boxes at the store and come in whenever they needed something from their “icebox.”
It was a good investment for Parley’s business because when people came to get something from their frozen food lockers they usually bought other things.
With the advent of frozen lockers and refrigeration, many more items in the way of fresh food were offered as part of the store inventory.
All four of Parley’s surviving sons served in the armed forces during World War II from 1942-l946. In l952 Parley sold the Parley Redd Merc to three of his sons, Vint, Gordon and Kent.
The store was expanded and remodeled over the years. The Parley Redd Mercantile exists in Blanding today as an Ace Hardware Store and is owned by Parley’s grandson, Bryce Redd.
Parley came home from work one afternoon in April of l955. He thought a nap would fix his discomfort, but he quickly became more ill. Despite the efforts of doctors and family, he passed away the next day.
The last remarks made by the last speaker (Charles Redd) at Parley’s funeral were these: “I know that hard times shape and mold great men. Having things too easy can be a greater curse than hard times.
“Poverty could have crushed Parley Redd. Very few men I have ever known came from a more humble beginning.
“But he had faith. He worked almost every day of his life. He was fair and kind and a friend to all who knew him. I pray that God will give us the faith and courage that Parley and Ruth Redd have demonstrated in their lives.”
Parley’s unexpected death was devastating to his beloved wife. On May 6, l955 Ruth wrote in her journal: “It has now been three weeks since he left us. We have divided all of Daddy’s things among the children and everything else is taken care of. All that is left for me now is to wait for the time to join him again.”