A Goliath among the Giants: Lemuel Hardison Redd Jr.

by Buckley Jensen

Albert R. Lyman, who served for many years with Lemuel H. Redd Jr. in the San Juan Stake Presidency, knew the man about as well as anyone. Said Lyman, “The history of Bluff up to l906 is, in a general way, the history of L. H. Redd. He was part of all its crises, its calamities, its achievements and everything which makes its story a thrilling one from the beginning. Lem Redd represented a big life and lived on a generous scale.”

Lemuel H. Redd married Eliza Ann Westover at age 22 in 1878 in southwestern Utah. The young couple contemplated the future with great plans and anticipation. Shortly thereafter, a call came from Church leaders that changed all their plans and led them to a labor quite different than the ones they were planning; a labor which would engage them for the rest of their lives. They were called to settle the San Juan Mission.

Their journey to southeastern Utah was expected to take three weeks. Six months later they arrived, exhausted on the banks of the San Juan River. They had survived a baptism by fire for their God and their lives would never be the same.

Lemuel Redd was a natural leader from the beginning. He was sometimes blunt and seemed to lack tact, but those that knew him admired his iron will, his impeccable honesty, his motivation to do what was right and be financially successful in the process.

His two wives bore him a dozen children and his sons became some of the most successful and revered men of San Juan’s second generation. His second wife was Eliza Maria Partridge. Four of LH’s best known progeny, who spent their lives building up this area, are Charles Redd, Amasa Jay Redd, L. Frank Redd and Lemuel Hardison Redd III. Today, his posterity numbers in four figures.

His first paying job in San Juan County was that of County Assessor. In the beginning, the cattlemen and sheepmen of San Juan openly taunted and threatened him when he would ride into their ranches and camps unarmed and with no backup to assess their property.

The lawless element associated with the big ranches thought he was a joke and treated him as such. In the end, with the weight of the United States Government behind him and his utter fearlessness, they paid up. He went on to hold nearly every ecclesiastical, political and business title available in the years that followed.

He was a counselor to Jens Nielson in the Bluff Bishopric for 25 years; he was a judge of election; he was on the board of examiners; he was an authority on matters legal literary matters and also excelled in accounting.

When two high ranking officials from Washington, D.C. came to Bluff to see if San Juan County should be given to the Indians, they asked for someone to go with them to talk to the Indian leaders about the merits of the proposal. L. H. Redd was the man selected to go with them.

He was a freighter, hauling supplies from Durango over unimaginably rough roads. He cultivated acres of land, maintained a herd of sheep, rode the range after his cattle and he had the best horses in the county, which he proudly branded with LHR on their left shoulders.

Lemuel was kind to the Indians, but firm in not tolerating anything dishonest or hostile. When Mike, the old Piute, hit Bishop Nielson in the face with a quirt (horse whip), Lem knocked him flat, leaving no question about how respected elders should be treated.

When Mike cut a small hole in the wall of the Bluff storehouse so he could put his arm through and steal wool at night to sell back to the store in the morning, Lem set a bear trap on the inside below the hole.

The next morning, finding Mike with his hand in the “cookie jar” as it were, Lem went out and kicked his behind “in a way never to be forgotten,” according to Albert R. Lyman.

In l896, the year Utah achieved statehood, L. H. was sent as the representative of San Juan to the Utah State Constitutional Convention. In l898, and again in 1900, he represented the county in the State Legislature. In l897, on the advice of Jens Nielson, Lemuel and Hansen Bayles and Joseph Barton bought the sheep that had been owned by the San Juan Co-op.

By 1901, the herd had increased to 13,500 head. In l907, he was appointed by the County Commissioners as San Juan’s representative to the Trans-Mississippi Commercial Convention in Muskogee, OK.

His income increased every year for the next 15 years and he paid as much as $5,000 in tithing …which was an unfathomable sum to most folks on the frontier at that time.

He had wealthy friends in Salt Lake City living in great style and they urged him to join them. “Come on Lem,” they said, “you deserve to enjoy the fruits of your labors… come and have a little fun with us.” Though amply able to live as high as any of them, he chose to stay in San Juan and work hard and magnify his ecclesiastical and civic callings.

Albert R. Lyman wrote, “the integrity of any man is sorely tested by the grind of poverty and by the temptations of wealth. Uncle Lem plodded through the years of want into times of great prosperity. He suffered great disappointments and losses, but he preserved the dignity of his signature and his promises in many different states. Looking back 50 years, his integrity stands out in a brilliance of perspective, rarely discerned in those days.”

He was the principal factor in the L.H. Redd store (later to become Monticello Mercantile) and the bank in Monticello and the same in Blanding. He held stock in nearly every business in the County. He was responsible for very much of what was going on in the County. He had a keen judge of the financial ability of men, but he often let his sympathy run away with his better judgment, and it cost him dearly over the years, by trusting men who came to him with “deals that could not fail” and customers at his stores who never paid their debts.

Around the turn of the century L. H. Redd owned over 30,000 sheep and a large number of cattle. His business interests were wide-spread and far flung. Space will not allow anything approaching a complete retelling of his vast business interests.

In l910, Lemuel Hardison Redd Jr. became the San Juan Stake President of the LDS Church. He chose as his counselors, David Hall of Mancos, first counselor and Albert R. Lyman of Blanding as second counselor. Albert wrote, “People were surprised that I, only 30 years old and a humble school teacher, who knew very little of temporal affairs, and owned very little property, would be called to stand beside him.

“To me, Uncle Lem, who at that time was 54 years of age, was a super-man. I had heard my father talk about him all my life, and I was completely in awe of him, and terribly concerned that I could never measure up to his long shadow.”

Once in his childhood, Albert had seen a man grab Lemuel by the throat and call him a liar. Uncle Lem calmly removed the hands of the man from his throat and explained in a kind way where the man’s reasoning was wrong. It left an indelible impression on young Albert.

Another time at a dance everyone was laughing loudly at a man dressed up as a woman. He was saying things not becoming femininity. Lemuel walked right out to the middle of the floor, and called him down in no uncertain terms. A hush came over the large group. A hush engendered by the realization that L. H. was right and that they should be ashamed for being caught up in such a disrespectful activity.

L. H. was often so pre-occupied with his thoughts that he sometimes seemed unaware of what was going on around him. The story goes that while he was the Bishop in Bluff, Lesty Hancock met him on the street in Bluff one day and handed him a chicken for tithing. Lem took the bird and continued on his way. Suddenly he realized he had a live chicken in his hand and giving it a fling was heard to say, “damn chicken…damn chicken…shoo…shoo.”

On another occasion in the midst of a drought, the brethren came to him and said, “President Redd, shouldn’t we pray for rain.” He replied, “Yes, yes, by all means pray for rain, but remember brethren, this is very dry country.”

The San Juan Stake in l910 was larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined. It included all of San Juan and Grand counties, as well as a large chunk of northwestern New Mexico and another sprawling corner of southwestern Colorado.

Visiting all the wards and branches in the stake required a 600-mile pilgrimage that took from 10 days to two weeks on horseback, or in a buggy.

President Redd, despite his large family, his demanding business empire and his many civic and political positions, was unfailingly dedicated to his calling as the Stake President.

According to his second counselor, President Redd always took the council he received from the leaders of the Church in Salt Lake very seriously. He had an iron-clad testimony of the divinity of the Church and of his calling. His ecclesiastical duties always came first.

In l912, the San Juan Stake was divided and became more manageable, consisting of just San Juan and Grand counties in Utah.

From the time the Mormons arrived in Bluff in 1880, they talked of someday buying out the big cattle companies which caused them so much grief, both in harboring a lawless element among their many employees and constantly fighting with the Bluff and Monticello communities over water and grazing rights.

For many years, the Carlisle’s, the Cunninghams, and others laughed at the very idea of these sodbusting interlopers buying them out. However, over time the Mormons establishing strong ties with the banks in Durango and Salt Lake. Their financial condition improved until in l905, Lemuel Redd and a group of other prominent San Juaners bought out the Dark Canyon Cattle Company.

In l911 they purchased the Carlisle Cattle Company headquartered six miles north of Monticello. In l917 they did the same thing with the Cunningham Cattle operation in La Sal.

With those acquisitions, many of the battles and problems they had encountered since arriving in Bluff evaporated. They prospered like few other areas in the Intermountain West ever had.

The promise made to them in l884 when Bluff and Montezuma were flooded out and church leaders from Salt Lake City came and told them that if they would stay they would be blessed came to fruition.

They eventually acquired huge herds of cattle and sheep, and remained true to their call to stay and settle southeastern Utah. For a time, Bluff became the richest town, per capita, west of the Mississippi.

The large, multi-story, opulent (for their day) stone homes built in Bluff and later in Monticello and Blanding, attest to the industriousness and the financial success that came after the abject poverty they faced in the early years. A few of those large pioneer homes still stand in San Juan.

And always at the forefront of it all, as much as any other man in San Juan, was Lemuel Hardison Redd, Jr. He lamented in his later years that he wished he had spent more time with his children. He regretted his blunt approach to some with whom he worked and presided over.

But one thing was clear: He won the respect and admiration of his peers, if not their love, and as much as any other, he was responsible for the growth and development of the entire area.


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