One of the earliest descriptions of the Kamas Valley was given in the report written in 1849 by Captain Howard Stansbury of the United States Army Corps of Topographical Engineers. He wrote: "It may be remarked here that the Camass Prairie consists of most excellent land and can be irrigated over its whole extent with comparatively little labor. Water for stock is abundant and timber for ordinary farming is plentiful and convenient."
The word "Kamas" was derived from an Indian word for a bulbous plant that was a staple of the diet of Native Americans in the area. The word was also said to describe a small grassy plain among the hills, an appropriate portrait of the Kamas Valley.
Kamas is located about eighteen miles east of Park City and about forty-six miles southeast of Salt Lake City in a valley surrounded by the Uinta Mountains to the east, the Wasatch Mountains to the west, the Provo River on the south, and the Weber River to the north. Beaver Creek, a tributary of the Weber, traverses the center of the valley.
Kamas was first known as "Rhoades Valley," named for Thomas Rhoades, the owner of the original territorial land grant. Rhoades first came to the valley in 1859 with about twenty other Mormons including W.O. Anderson, John Turnbow, John Simpson, Morgan Lewis, Daniel Lewis, Alma Williams, Clinton Williams, Richard Venable, Richard Pangburn, John Lambert, and their families. The group clustered together in a fort near a spring on the east side of the valley for the first several years. The log fort was sixteen feet high and the fort walls formed the backs of the houses. Before the group vacated the fort, thirty-two families had lived in it. A log building in the fort's center was used as a schoolhouse, meetinghouse, amusement hall, and center of government. Before the land was surveyed and divided into town lots between 1869 and 1870, squatter's rights prevailed. The town was incorporated in 1912; one of the town's first orders of business was the election of James Orlan Pack as mayor. Religion played a key role in Kamas's development. Many early town leaders were also ecclesiastical leaders of some prominence. Brigham Young appointed Captain Charles Russell the first presiding elder of Rhoades Valley and the southern part of the area that would eventually become LDS Summit Stake. After Russell moved from the area in 1867, Young appointed Ward E. Pack in his place. Over the next four decades several members of the Pack family served as bishops of the Kamas LDS Ward.
Easy access to nearby mountains made lumbering a natural local industry. Settlers cut and hauled logs to Salt Lake City to trade for provisions; the trip usually took at least four days. John Pack built the first local sawmill in 1860 on Beaver Creek a few miles east of Kamas. Richard Pangburn built a shingle mill near the townsite as well. In the 1990s, Kamas is still known for its fine wood mills. Another early industry that distinguished Kamas Valley was dairying. John Pack established the valley's first cheese factory in 1868, and, again, Kamas is even today identified as one of the finest dairy sections in the state. Its fertile land is also used for stock raising. Agriculture is facilitated by this excellent soil, the climate, and an abundance of water.
Over the years Kamas has had a number of local businesses, including mercantile and banking institutions. It also has kept pace with other Summit County towns in providing modern services. In 1916 an independent electric lighting system was installed by George W. Butler. Telephones, modern water systems, and improved roads came to Kamas during the first decade of the twentieth century. The population of the town in 1990 was 1,061.
In addition to the stock, dairy, and lumber industries, Kamas has been for a number of years the headquarters of the Wasatch National Forest and plays an important role as a supply station for those hiking or camping in the nearby Uinta Mountains and the Granddaddy Lake region. Thousands of visitors travel through Kamas each year en route to the mountains. Also a popular attraction is Kamas's annual Twenty-Fourth of July rodeo, an event which gives local cowboys a chance to show their skill before enthusiastic crowds.
Martha Sonntag Bradley