In July 1863 George W. Bean was called by Mormon apostle George A. Smith, who was presiding over the Utah Valley area, to take a small exploring party and go up the Sevier River above Gunnison and look for suitable locations for settlements. After crossing to the west side of the Sevier River, the party found a big spring where Richfield was later settled. There they found fertile soil, good water, and wood in the nearby hills. The party, returning by way of Spring City, met Mormon Apostle Orson Hyde, who informed them that the settlement of Sevier Valley was under his direction.
In January 1864 an independent party of ten men under the leadership of Albert Lewis came from Sanpete and arrived in what is now Richfield on 6 January. In the winter of 1864 Orson Hyde called additional families to go. Some bought their way out, but others responded to the call to settle. The first two white women in Richfield were Ann Swindle and Charlotte Doxford. The first settlement was called Big Springs or Warm Springs, after the life-giving spring at the foot of the red hills to the west. The settlement later was called Omni after a prophet in the Book of Mormon. The name was changed to Richfield because of the fertile soil. The first dwelling places were dugouts.
The early settlers wasted no time. August Nelson planted cottonwood saplings and Joseph F. Doxford even organized a martial band. A temporary bowery was built. Early in 1865 about 100 more families arrived, most from Sanpete Valley. In February 1865 the first schoolhouse was built; the first teacher in the school was Hans P. Miller. A fort was started in the fall of 1865; each man who owned a city lot was required to build one rod (16.5 feet) of wall.
In 1864 Nelson Higgins, a veteran of the Mormon Battalion, was selected as temporary president of the settlement. In 1865 Black Hawk and his band of Indians took ninety head of stock from nearby Salina, killing two settlers working in the canyon. Other attacks followed. For safety, about forty families from nearby Glenwood moved to Richfield. Three settlers, Jens Peter Petersen, his wife Amalia, and Mary Smith were killed by Indians between Richfield and Glenwood on 21 March 1867; this became a deciding factor in the evacuation of the settlement, which was completed by April. In 1871 many of the former settlers returned and took up their old homesteads. By July 1872 there were 150 families in the area. In March 1874 Bishop Williams Seegmiller reported 145 families, 172 men, and a total of 753 persons in Richfield. There were 117 children attending school.
In subsequent years, Richfield continued to grow with the development of businesses, hotels, restaurants, railroad service, and other amenities, reaching a population of 3,584 in 1947.
Richfield currently continues to be both a shopping and cultural center for the central Utah area. The Richfield tabernacle, completed during 1929-30 and noted for its architectural beauty, is a frequent setting for the Utah Symphony, Utah Opera Company, plays, choral programs, and other cultural events.
The Ramsay House (built by Ralph Ramsay, who carved the eagle which graced an earlier Eagle Gate in Salt Lake City) has been restored as a museum featuring period furniture and other memorabilia, as well as a collection of 200 local oral histories. (History copies are also archived in the city and high school libraries.) A Daughters of Utah Pioneers museum is also located in the city.
Richfield has a municipal airport with a 6,600-foot runway, a modern 42-bed-capacity hospital, and a care center with a 98-bed capacity. The award-winning Richfield Reaper newspaper is published weekly. The Daily Spectrum also has a local office and serves the area. Excellent schools include Ashman and Pahvant elementaries; Red Hills Middle School, Richfield High School, and Cedar Ridge Alternative High School, as well as Sevier Valley Applied Technology Center.
For recreation, the city has three parks, a nine-hole golf course, an indoor/outdoor pool, a bowling alley, and numerous playing fields. Richfield is located forty-five miles from Fish Lake, and is surrounded by Zion, Bryce, and Capitol Reef national parks.
The city features an elaborate Fourth of July celebration including a parade, park activities, and a patriotic pageant. A county fair is held annually, and a September arts festival was inaugurated in 1992 and is projected as an annual event. Another annual event is a light parade held each December.
Major worldwide service clubs, including Elks, Rotary, and Lions, are active in the community, contributing to a quality lifestyle. Local clubs for both men and women provide much service as well as social opportunities. Twenty churches of various denominations also add to community life.
Much of the surrounding area is devoted to agriculture: hay, barley, oats, corn silage, cattle, hogs, sheep, turkeys, commercial feed lots, and dairy herds. Also, a well-developed business district serves Sevier County as well as adjacent counties. Government agencies including the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service, and the Agriculture Stabilization and Conservation Service have their area offices in Richfield. Governed by a mayor and city council, the community emphasizes preserving its past as well as preparing for the future.