King's Peak, Uinta Mountains, Duchesne County
Area: 3,255 square miles; population: 12,537; county
seat: Duchesne City; origin of county name: after the Duchesne
River which was possibly named for a French Canadian trapper; principal
cities/towns: Roosevelt (3,842), Duchesne City (1,677), Myton (500),
Altamont (247), Tabiona (152); economy: livestock, alfalfa and hay,
oil, natural gas; points of interest: High Uinta Wilderness Area,
Starvation Reservoir, Big Sand Wash Reservoir.
Much of present-day Duchesne County was once part of the sprawling Uintah
and Ouray Indian Reservation. Today most of the county is owned or controlled
by individual Indians or the Ute Indian Tribe.
The Uintah Reservation was created in 1861 by President Abraham Lincoln
for the permanent home of the Uintah and Whiteriver Utes. Later, the Uncompahgre
Utes were moved to the Uintah and newly created Uncompahgre Indian Reservations.
At the turn of the century, both Indian reservations were thrown open to
homesteaders under the Dawes Act. This was done after allotments of land
were made to Indians of the three tribes. On 1 September 1905 homesteading
began in earnest on the former Uintah Indian Reservation.
The settlement of Duchesne County is unique in Utah history, for unlike
much of the state, it did not occur under the direction of Brigham Young
or the Mormon church. Rather, it was settled by individuals who obtained
160 acres under the federal Homestead Act. Homesteaders were required to
prove that they intended to farm the land. After five years of living on
the land, making improvements, and paying $1.25 per acre homesteaders were
given title to their homesteads.
As was the case in other areas of the state, farmers of the county needed
water. The Dry Gulch Irrigation Company was incorporated in 1905 by William
H. Smart and Reuben S. Collett to aid farmers in securing water rights from
the state and to help them divert water onto their lands from the many streams
flowing through the county. Other irrigation companies were also organized.
Some were successful, others were not. Homesteaders on Blue Bench, located
just north of Duchesne City, organized the Blue Bench Irrigation Company.
With financial support from wealthy Jesse Knight of Provo, heroic efforts
were made over several decades to divert water from the Duchesne River to
farmsteads on Blue Bench. This gallant effort ended in failure for the farmers
and financial disaster for Knight.
Duchesne County is bordered on the east and west by Uintah and Wasatch counties
respectively, on the north by Summit County, and on the south by Carbon
County. In 1914 the legislature created Duchesne County from part of Wasatch
County. The county became official with the coming of the new year-1915.
The state's highest mountain, Kings Peak (13,528 feet), is located in the
county's Uinta Mountains. Major streams running through the county include
the Strawberry, Duchesne, Lake Fork, and Yellowstone rivers.
The High Uintas Primitive Area, situated in the northern portion of the
county, is dotted with some of the most beautiful alpine lakes anywhere
in the West. The lakes are free of ice for only a few months of the year.
The county's economy is based primarily on the livestock industry, but the
area is also rich in oil and natural gas. As in Uintah County to the east,
Duchesne's oil and natural gas extraction industries fluctuate due to international
oil and natural gas markets.