Saints without Halos
Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton
Lemuel H. Redd: Down the Chute to San Juan
[p.90]Lemuel Redd was fourteen when he drove his father’s ox-team from Winter Quarters to the Salt Lake Valley in 1850. The family first settled in Provo, then in Spanish Fork, where Lemuel’s father John built a large flour mill and served as counselor in the branch presidency. In January 1856 Lemuel married Keziah Jane Butler. They would eventually have thirteen children.
In February 1856 John Redd was called to the recently established mission at Las Vegas. But since his wife had died in 1853 and John had the responsibility of two teenage sons, Lemuel and Keziah went in his place. They apparently arrived in Las Vegas with a company of new missionaries on June 15.
Las Vegas (“the meadows”) was an outpost situated on a small spring in the middle of the Nevada desert. It consisted of an adobe fort 150 feet on each side, with walls two feet thick, 14 feet high on one side, and 9 feet high on the other three sides. Construction of a new fort had just begun when Lemuel and Keziah arrived. There was also a large corral and stockyard. Fruit trees had been planted, and when Lemuel and Keziah arrived, the missionaries harvested their barley, wheat, and oats, and planted corn and beans. A guard was posted day and night to watch for thieves or hostile Indians.
[p.91]Fort Las Vegas served as a resting place for travelers on their way to and from California. But its primary purpose was religious. In 1855, the first year of operations, the Las Vegas missionaries baptized sixty-four Indians, including Chief Owntump of the Paiutes and a number of Quoeech Indians. In addition to teaching and baptizing, the missionaries gave Indian converts “Christian” names such as Alma, Benjamin, Joshua, George, and Albert, and tried to teach them new methods of farming—with a modicum of success.
Shortly after the arrival of Lemuel and Keziah, the mission president announced plans to work a lead mine in the mountains about thirty-five miles to the southwest. The lead they mined would be bartered for foodstuffs to support the mission. Although several missionaries were opposed to beginning the work in mid-summer, on July 29 Lemuel and fourteen others were assigned to leave for the mine.
After just a month at the mine, John Redd requested Lemuel be released because he was needed at home. Lemuel and Keziah returned to Spanish Fork. In December their first child, Lemuel, Jr., was born.
In January 1858 Lemuel and Keziah consecrated to the Church their lot and house in Spanish Fork, twenty acres of farm land, one ox, three cows and two heifers, two sheep, one pig, a rifle, forty bushels of wheat, ten bushels of corn, eight bushels of potatoes, miscellaneous garden vegetables and 250 pounds of pork—total value, $829.50. In April a second child was born; in June, John Redd died and Lemuel assumed responsibility for his younger brother Benjamin.
In 1862 Brigham Young called the Redds to help settle New Harmony, southwest of Cedar City, Utah. There Lemuel served on the county commission and was a director of the Kanarra Cattle and Sheep Company. In 1866 he married seventeen-year-old Sariah Louise Chamberlain, who would eventually become the mother of fourteen children. In 1870 he bought John D. Lee’s farm on the headwaters of Ash Creek and enlarged the brick house so that each of his two wives would have her own apartment. When New Harmony entered the United Order in 1874, Lemuel became its vice-president and [p.92]secretary. He also pulled teeth, was a practical veterinarian, and served as ward chorister.
A year and a half after the death of Brigham Young, President John Taylor began urging Latter-day Saints to settle the usable farm and grazing land of southeastern Utah’s San Juan region while it was still available. Latter-day Saint settlements could help establish friendly relations with the Indians and do missionary work among them.
Moreover, the wild and remote area of San Juan was becoming a refuge for bank and train robbers, cattle rustlers, and other desperadoes. “Solid citizens” were needed to establish law and order.
In April 1879, under instructions from the First Presidency, Bishop Silas S. Smith of Paragonah led an expedition in search of a suitable location for a proposed settlement. Proceeding south into Arizona, then east through Navajo and Hopi territory, they eventually turned north again and arrived in the Four Corners region of southeastern Utah in June. There they selected two or three possible sites near present-day Montezuma and erected a few crude shelters for the settlers who would remain behind to make improvements. Water had been scarce on their route to Montezuma, and the Indians resented their intrusion, so the explorers decided to look for a better route for the main company to follow. They went north through Moab, then west to Paragonah, completing their nine-hundred-mile circle in mid-September.
It was late in the season. If the pioneers took the five-hundred-mile northern route they would not arrive at their new homes until mid-winter. The southern route was also long, and dangerous. The only solution seemed to be a shortcut directly east from Escalante. If they could find a way through the treacherous terrain along the Colorado River, the explorers estimated the direct route could be negotiated in six weeks.
Assured that the journey was feasible, eighty families from five counties began to converge on the base camp forty miles east of Escalante. By late November Lemuel and members of his family arrived. Silas S. Smith arrived on the 27th and [p.93]surveyed the situation. The main obstacle seemed to be a 2,000-foot cliff fifteen miles away which they would have to descend before the company could cross the Colorado and continue to Montezuma. Scouts located a narrow slit in the cliff which might be widened with blasting powder. Silas returned to Salt Lake City to obtain appropriations from the First Presidency and the territorial legislature to purchase the explosives. Four scouts, including Lemuel Redd, were sent on to blaze a trail from the river to Montezuma.
Riding two horses, with a mule and Lemuel’s burro as pack animals, the four scouts started out on 17 December 1879. They had supplies for eight days. Their map indicated Montezuma was seventy miles due east and they assumed they could average twenty miles a day.
The first day they got down the cliff and arrived at the Colorado River. The next day they crossed the river and spotted a flock of fourteen mountain sheep. Soon they were in unexplored country. Box canyons and broken terrain slowed their progress. They discovered abandoned Indian cliff dwellings and slept in them several nights. An Indian trail led them in the right direction, but on the seventh day an eight-inch snowstorm obliterated the trail.
On Christmas Eve the weather turned bitter-cold. Lemuel and his companions ate the last of their rations. Lost and without food, the scouts almost gave up hope of seeing their families again, but then from a small knoll they spotted the Blue Mountains, an important landmark. Three days later they arrived at the present site of Bluff, where they found a Mormon family which had recently arrived from Colorado. Eagerly the four starving explorers consumed all the meat that the settlers could spare and a large batch of biscuits. The next day they continued to Montezuma where they found the inhabitants eating their seed wheat. “Our first meal of chopped wheat would shame a dose of salts in its purging propensities,” wrote one of the scouts.
Lemuel and his companions began their return trip on 31 December 1879 and arrived back at the cliffs on January 10 after twenty-four harrowing days. They found shifts of forty-seven [p.94]men working from dawn to dark widening the crack in the mountain wall while another thirty men worked on the road below.
Finally, after weeks of work the first wagon was lowered down the Hole-in-the-Rock chute, which has been described as a mine with the top blown off. Actually, it is not a “hole” at all, but a narrow steep cut in the west wall of Glen Canyon. First came a sheer drop of almost one hundred feet, then a little less steep decline of another three hundred feet. Steps had been carved into the sandstone for footing. With ropes tied to the wagons and held by twenty men and boys, each wagon was slowly guided down the “hole.” Jagged rocks tore at the feet of the horses and cattle. Slowly, painfully, the entire company of 230 persons, their wagons, provisions, and livestock made their way down to the river below.
The remainder of the route, punctuated by long stretches of broken terrain, occasional chutes, and frequent sand mires, took Lemuel and his family through one of the most forbidding regions in Western America. As one settler later wrote, “It’s the roughest country you or anybody else ever seen; it’s nothing in the world but rocks and holes, hills and hollows. The mountains are just one solid rock as smooth as an apple.”
After nearly six months of constant road building and travel, they reached San Juan Hill. This last obstacle almost proved too much for the worn-out teams, which had been weakened by a long winter of hard work and insufficient feed. Charlie Redd, one of young Lemuel’s sons, graphically described the last effort:
Aside from the Hole-in-the-Rock itself, this was the steepest crossing on the journey. Here again seven span of horses were used, so that when some of the horses were on their knees, fighting to get up to find a foothold, the still-erect horses could plunge upward against the grade. On the worst slopes the men were forced to beat their jaded animals into giving all they had. After several pulls, rests, and pulls, many of the horses took to spasms and near-convulsions, so exhausted were they. By the time most of the outfits were across, the worst stretches could easily be identified by the dried blood and matted hair from the [p.95]forelegs of the struggling teams. My father [young Lemuel] was a strong man, and reluctant to display emotion; but whenever in later years the full pathos of San Juan Hill was recalled either by himself or by someone else, the memory of such bitter struggles was too much for him and he wept.
Finally, on 5 April 1880 the main company reached the lower San Juan. When they sighted their valley for the first time, their emotions were so near the surface that in order to keep from crying with relief, they broke out singing “The Latter-day Work Rolls On.” Too exhausted to negotiate the remaining eighteen miles to Montezuma, they founded Bluff, a city which has never had more people than the two hundred who originally settled it one hundred years ago.
Three times in the difficult years that followed—in 1882, 1884, and 1897—the residents of Bluff petitioned Church authorities for permission to abandon the colony, but each time they were visited by General Authorities who encouraged them to “carry on.” Lemuel Redd returned to New Harmony, and later went to the Mormon colony at Juarez, Mexico, where he died in 1910. Young Lemuel remained in Bluff with his family, where he served many years as bishop and then as president of San Juan Stake. He also was an assessor and tax collector, organizer and manager of the San Juan Ward Co-op, county superintendent of schools, delegate to the Utah Constitutional Convention, and owner of the Dark Canyon Cattle Company.
Lemuel Redd’s healthy mixture of faith and realistic expectation is illustrated by an incident during a year of drouth when a group of Saints asked him, “President Redd, don’t you think we should pray for rain?”
“Yes, yes, by all means pray for rain,” he answered, “but remember, brethren, this is a very dry country.”