09 Sep The Sourdough Roundup
“When Charlie Redd throws a party, everybody from 2 counties comes.” The Marriott Digital Library often receives feedback from the public regarding persons and events depicted in historical photos. In early 2020, such an inquiry was received from the grandson of one of the people photographed in an image in the Salt Lake Tribune Negative Collection of the “Sourdough Roundup” held near Moab, Utah, circa 1945. From the descendant of a photographed Sourdough Roundup attendee, the record was updated to include 5 names, relationship information, and anecdotal regional history. These updates from the public can add a wealth of information to historical material and are greatly valued by the Marriott Library. To provide such feedback, each item in the Marriott Digital Library, has a link to “update item information.”
The inquiry also piqued the interest of Teresa Hebron, Digital Metadata Librarian of the Mountain West Digital Library and Rachel Wittmann, Digital Curation Librarian at the Marriott Library. Many questions rose in their minds. Was this a recurring event? What was the sourdough item on the menu? Were the breads branded and put back out to graze the open range? Since this wasn’t their first research rodeo, they saddled up and got on the dusty resources trail.
Utah Digital Newspapers held several juicy articles about this Sourdough Roundup, both documenting its existence and providing tantalizing reports from the stellar journalism covering the event.
The Salt Lake Tribune covered the Sourdough Roundup in October 1948 with a half-page spread, with the other half-page dedicated to Charlie Redd, event host and namesake of the BYU Charlie Redd Center for Western Studies. The article gave a first-hand account of the event, which boasted a crowd of many hundreds from all walks of life. Redd gave a history of the gathering to the crowd: “It was in the tough days of 1932 when we had the first one. I invited the board of directors from the Monticello Bank to come up here and sort of forget their troubles before discussing some bad news I had received from Salt Lake. I knew when I got so mean and tough and mad, I couldn’t contain myself. I came here to cool off. The biscuit brigade’s been meeting here ever since.” According to a September article in the San Juan Record, guests came from Bluff in neighboring San Juan County.
As for the menu, the Tribune details mouth-watering offerings: steak, corn, hamburgers, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, and naturally, the aforementioned biscuits. Dessert was cantaloupe and homemade ice cream (cantaloupe a la mode) with coffee, cocoa and orange juice punch to drink. The article paints a picture of the scene:
Adding to the rustic ambiance, the party namesake dish was cooked in a Dutch oven heated by cedar log coals. Oddly enough, a more recent public inquiry to the Marriott Digital Library reminded Hebron that the Tribune negatives also held photos of Mrs. Larue [Alex J.] Jex from her political committee work (image to right) as well as identifying her first name.
“Chet Smith, in levis, boots, and a deteriorating straw hat, prepared the piece de resistance of the evening, sourdough biscuits, the sheepherder’s equivalent of French pastry. Occasionally he consented to flip a hot biscuit 30 or 40 feet to some hungry pleader like Mrs. Alex J. Jex, [of] Salt Lake City. She snagged it like a big league first baseman, too.”
While Charles Redd turned to sourdough during the Great Depression and cowboy poets such as Colen H. Sweeten Jr. have laid down lyrics about the magical rising dough – the COVID-19 pandemic had Intermountain West dwellers perfecting their sourdough strategies very recently.
Dr. Kent Katz of Casper, WY related how the early pandemic days gave him time to hone his breadmaking skills in an oral history found Marriott Library’s Utah COVID-19 collection: “My quest is to make a very specific style of bread, a puffy sourdough with a great flavor and a crispy crust (…) so I was trying to work to perfect my techniques on doing that.” Dr. Katz admitted that although he made “major strides” in his sourdough skills, there was still room for improvement. Katz was not alone in pursuing the ultimate tart baked good at home. Many who were staying at home during the pandemic took to sourdough bread making. Digital Curation Librarian, Rachel Wittmann, documented her novice baking attempts in the Utah COVID-19 digital collection.
Students of Western history may be familiar with the name Charles Redd from Brigham Young University’s Charles Redd Center for Western Studies. Redd’s endowment supports the Center’s mission “…to promote the study of the Intermountain West”. The Redd Foundation and family are endowment donors.