Riddle, a small town in Douglas County, was once an important railway stop on the Siskiyou line of the Southern Pacific. Today Riddle is known for its old nickel mines, lumber mills and an Old West spirit.
In 1913, with a long hunting season and high limits on bagging, people willingly donated a buck for a fall barbecue. It was hard work quartering, seasoning and cooking the deer on iron rods over hot coals. In 1916, someone suggested a barbecue cook from Eugene famous for roasting meat in a covered pit.
For two days they kept an oak fire going in a 40-foot long, 5-foot-deep pit before lowering the wrapped bucks into the pit and covering them with dirt. On the designated day, folks came from all over Southern Oregon for free venison sandwiches and music and games. When they uncovered the venison, a sickening odor of decomposing venison greeted them. The coals had failed to generate enough heat to cook the meat. That was the end of Riddle’s annual barbecues.
The pit was converted to a grave and a sign placed on it that read, “Here Lies a Bum Steer.”
Source: Tom Nash & Twilo Scofield, “The Well-Traveled Casket,” and the internet.
— As It Was is a co-production of Jefferson Public Radio and the Southern Oregon Historical Society. As It Was stories are broadcast weekdays on Jefferson Public Radio and are available online at asitwas.org.