The audacious Charlie Redd
GIANTS OF SAN JUAN
by Buckley Jensen
Trying to encapsulate the life of Charlie Redd on a single newspaper page is like trying to capture a tornado in a tube. With advance apologies to Charlie, what follows is a thimble-sized summation of his remarkable life and accomplishments.
Charlie was born in Bluff in 1889 to a long line of successful parentage. His great-grandfather owned a plantation in Tennessee, but sold his slaves and came to Utah when he joined the Mormon Church.
Charlie’s grandfather, Lemuel Redd, came through the Hole-in-the-Rock in 1880 and was instrumental in settling San Juan. His father, Lemuel Redd Jr. was a successful stockman, a powerful example, and taught young Charlie the rigors of the livestock business from the time he was old enough to ride a horse.
Charlie graduated from Brigham Young University and served an LDS mission in Oregon. He returned from his mission in 1915 and was handed the management of the failing La Sal Livestock Co. which had been purchased on a shoestring budget.
He withstood depressions, bottomless cattle prices, hard winters, drought, and the specter of bankruptcy for years. But he refused to buckle and over the next 30 years, he bought out the partners and expanded his operations.
In 1918, Charlie bought a heard of registered Herefords. In the days when many cattlemen were skeptical of performance testing herds, Charlie partnered with a professor at Colorado State University. They bought a Hereford bull named Brae Arden 5012 for the unheard of price (at that time) of $600. The Bull was kept at CSU. Careful records were kept. It is reported that Brae Arden 5012 sired more high gaining calves than any bull in America.
Unlike the imported and sometimes pampered bulls of the day, which were often overfat and stood on poor legs and feet, bulls under Redd’s ownership would have to take what nature had to offer. Those that didn’t measure up went directly to market.
This program of performance testing top quality Herefords is carried on today by Charlie’s son Paul, headquartered in Paradox, CO. Each year in early April, the entire Redd Family hosts a bull sale which is recognized as one of the premier auctions in the nation. Hundreds of buyers from around the nation and the world descend on the Ranch each year to bid on hundreds of the best bulls anywhere. Sales are carried live world-wide on the internet. Charlie would be proud.
During the Great Depression, Charlie, like most other ranchers, faced the possibility of bankruptcy. He went to his creditors and was told if he could pay 50 cents on the dollar, they would take it. He told them that if they would give him more time “I will work as hard as I can to preserve the business and pay off the debts in full.”
They did and he eventually paid off his debts in full. Later he said, “I really did not know if I could pull it all out, but by trying I can still look myself in the eye and say I did my damnedest!”
In the 1930’s, Charlie embarked on a scientific sheep breeding program. He purchased Rambouillet rams to upgrade wool quality and Hampshire rams to develop larger lambs and ewes. According to Charlie, “It costs no more to feed, shear or lamb a 135 pound ewe than a 100 pound ewe”.
He later became president of the National Wool Marketing Cooperative. He was instrumental in working to standardize wool grades and prepare wool for market more scientifically. At age 34, he was elected to the Utah legislature, serving three terms.
His sharp business acumen landed him in many positions of influence and importance. A few of these include, the Utah representative on the Hoover Dam Commission, Chairman of Utah Power and Light, director of the Amalgamated Sugar Co., director of the Federated Security Insurance Co., vice-president of the Pacific National Life Insurance Co., president of the Bank of San Juan, and he started and owned a Chevrolet Dealership in Colorado.
He served on the board of regents for Utah State University and was a member of the board of trustees at Utah State for eight years.
In 1946, he was named Man of the Year in Livestock by the Record Stockman. Later, he was named Stockman of the Century as a result of nominations from other cattlemen in the western United States.
He was active in Republican politics and went to two national conventions as a delegate; was on the board of directors of the Federal Land Bank Association; served on the District Executive Committee of the Boy Scouts of America; was a trustee of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame, and a member of the Utah Historical Heritage Foundation.
In 1949 he moved his large family to Provo during the winters for adequate schooling for his children. He loved the university environment. Later in life, he gifted his beloved BYU with a substantial monetary gift which endowed the Charles Redd Chair of Western History. He was an avid reader, especially of Western history and Anglo-Saxon history. In recognition of his efforts to foster closer relations between America and Britain, he was knighted a Member of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth in l957.
During the Depression, stockbroker Edward L. Burton exercised strong influence on Charlie relative to broadening the financial base of the Redd Enterprises. He prevailed upon Charlie to be sure he had reserves to make it possible to weather the lean years. “We took his advice,” Charlie said. “When wool, lambs and calves were sold in the fall, and the loans were paid off, if we had any money left, we invested it in other businesses by buying common stock. We were fortunate to have honest and competent men to guide us. Those investments in later life made borrowing money, at the lowest available interest rate, a matter of a phone call.”
In l965, Charlie purchased the Scorup-Somerville Cattle Company from the heirs of Al Scorup. This included 34,000 deeded acres, 3,800 head of cattle, and over a million acres of federal and state leases. Combined with land and livestock the family already had, Redd Ranches was one of the largest livestock companies in the country.
Charlie loved San Juan. He compared it to Israel… “a tough, dry, harsh land, but a land of milk and honey for those who were willing to work hard and pay its price.”
When asked if he was ever going to slow down he said, “When I was younger, I longed for the day when, debts paid, I could relax, slacken the pace and do some of the things I didn’t seem to have time for. But the work was never done and I’ve come to realize that the joy and progress in life comes best through struggling and accomplishing.”
This story typifies Charlie, even in his later years. A friend had been trying to reach him by telephone for several days. He had just missed him in Seattle, Denver and Salt Lake. At last the operator called back and said excitedly, “ We have finally located Charles Redd for you. He is somewhere in western Colorado or southeastern Utah.”
Unfortunately, a stroke virtually paralyzed Mr. Redd for the last period of his life. Confined to a wheelchair unable to move anything but his head and one arm, with his mind as keen as ever, he was a virtual prisoner in his own body. How excruciating it must have been for a man of his energy, accomplishment and brilliance to be required to endure such a trial.
Postscript: On March 26, 2008, I wrote about Charlie Redd in my “Life is Good” column in this paper. I shared two unforgettable experiences with Redd, once in New York City and the other in a wheelchair in his home.
I ended that column with these words: “I have often wondered why some of us are required to face the challenge he faced to finally escape the bonds of mortality. Is it possible Mr. Redd left this world an even greater man than he already was, for having endured the refining fire of his last months on earth?”
When one considers the life, the family, and the legacy of Charles Redd, I have no doubt he will be counted as one of San Juan’s giants.