The town came into being in 1905 when the United States government opened the region to homesteading under the Allotment Act. The land that forms all of Duchesne County and western Uintah County had formerly belonged to the Ute Indians as part of their reservation. A.M. Murdock, an Indian trader at Whiterocks, obtained permission from the government to set up a trading post at the site that became Duchesne City. With the assistance of several other men, he set up a large circus tent for a general store and trading post. Government surveyors laid out the streets and the survey was accepted by the government on 18 October 1905. Other settlers soon pitched their tents and built pioneer dwellings that were replaced over the next months and years with more modern buildings for homes and businesses.
The town was originally called Dora, after Murdock's baby daughter. This name was replaced for a short time by the name Theodore, in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt. But when town to the east adopted the name of Roosevelt, it was thought that two towns in the same county named for the same president would be too confusing for mail delivery. The name Duchesne was utilized for the new community. The name Duchesne is taken from the name of the river that runs through town and was likely named by fur trappers in the 1820s in honor of Mother Treasa Duchesne founder of the School of the Sacred Heart near St. Louis, Missouri.
On 1 January 1915 the eastern portion of Wasatch County was split off to form Duchesne County; by a vote of county citizens, Duchesne City became the county seat. Today Duchesne is a community of approximately 1,200 people. It hosts four chapels (two LDS, a Baptist, and a Catholic), two schools (an elementary and a high school/junior high), several businesses and the county offices. For several years, work on the Central Utah Project boosted the community's population and business; a park and a bowling alley were built to make the city more attractive for construction workers. However, in the mid-1980s the dam projects were completed and Duchesne's population declined by several hundred people. The economic base of the community is presently centered in farming and oil industry. As county seat, Duchesne's major celebration is the annual county fair held in August. Due to the late date of settlement of the community, even at the present date several of the older citizens remember coming into the region as pioneers as childern with their families.