My name is William H Redd. I am the great great grandson of Lemuel Hardison Redd Sr. I was born and raised in Southern Alberta where Lemuel’s third son William Alexander Redd settled in 1904.
In the spring of 2022, my wife, Peggy, and I embarked on a mission to the Bluff Fort Historic Site where the San Juan Pioneers settled after their incredible journey through the Hole in the Rock. Actually, their six week ordeal building a passageway down the Hole was just the beginning of their hardships on the way to the San Juan. As we have ridden the trails that they built and followed their route, our appreciation for their faith, perseverance and “sticki-ta-tudy” has increased.
Lemuel Sr. accompanied his son Lemuel Jr. and his wife and baby to assist them and also scout out the prospects for ranching in the San Juan. He caught up with the main body of pioneers on about December 16th, 1879. The next day he left on a scouting party with three other men to find a route to Montezuma Creek, even though two prior parties had concluded that the route would be impassible for wagons. One of them wrote that the terrain was so rough that even a bird could not fly over it. Lemuel was chosen probably for his maturity, the fact that he did not have a family to care for on the mission and his desire to scope out the San Juan country.
They carried enough food for eight days, the expected duration of their journey. The eighth day found them lost in a blizzard far to the north of their intended route because of the impossibility of crossing the Grand Gulch. On the evening of December 24th they built four huge fires to warm the ground below their bedrolls and ate the last of their rations, uncertain if they would survive the journey. That night in a dream Lemuel saw himself on top of a small knoll where he was able to get his bearings. The following morning he told his companions, “Come with me to the top of yonder knoll and I will show you the San Juan River.” As the storm broke they were able to see the Blue Mountains to the north and the San Juan River valley to the south and get their bearings. Three days later they arrived at the future site of Bluff City where they providentially encountered a travelling family who gave them a warm meal before they headed on to Montezuma Creek.
Unfortunately, the families at Montezuma Creek had lost their crop the prior fall and were totally destitute. The Scouts were able to procure 50 pounds of flour from a passing frontiersman to provide for their return journey. On the twenty fifth day, they arrived back at the Hole in the Rock having had nothing to eat for the previous four days. One of them stated that, although their mules hoofs were worn down practically to the hairline so that they left circles of blood on the rock at each step, the men were so weak that they were compelled to ride them. If Lemuel and the other scouts had not found a possible route to the San Juan it is probably that the entire expedition would have failed.
Upon his return to the main camp, he was informed that his family was in dire circumstances back in New Harmony, and he returned alone over the snow-bound Escalante mountains to care for them. He returned to Bluff nine years later before moving on the Mexico where he eventually died. However, four of his sons stayed in San Juan County and became prominent businessmen, civic and church leaders of the area.
We have hiked down the Hole in the Rock and found it utterly impossible to go down or up in any kind of a modern vehicle or even on horseback. We have climbed what Lemuel and the other scouts named Salvation Knoll, and wondered how they could possibly have summited its steep slopes in 18 inches of snow. We have hiked down the trail where a mountain sheep led them after they had given up all hope of finding a way down the slick rocks. We have travelled much of the trail which they blazed for the main body to follow, and again wondering how they ever managed to cross, with horses and wagons, terrain so steep and broken up that it was eighty years and a lot of blasting and excavating before even the most robust Jeep could traverse the trail, we have been amazed and reverenced to witness what they accomplished with sheer will power and undauntness as they fulfilled the mission given them by their prophet.
Today we are blessed to also be fulfilling a mission on the historic site where those incredible pioneers settled, not out of relief at completing their journey, but out of utter exhaustion, fourteen impossibly long miles short of their anticipated destination. Every day is a humbling and envigorating experience as we share the story of the Hole in the Rock pioneers with visitors from all over the world. Every week we get to clean the Redd cabins and gaze at Lemuel’s picture hanging on the log wall and reflect on the great heritage he left us. It is a privilige to walk where he and his descendents walked and feel what they felt as they struggled and sacrificed to settle the San Juan.
Please look up our website at “blufffort.org” to learn about the site and the people who were responsible for its creation.