A friendship developed between local Indian chief Guffich and Benjamin F. Johnson, leader of the original pioneers, which enabled the whites to settle peacefully in the area. By 1853 the settlement had grown sufficiently to become known as Summit Creek Precinct No. 7. Soon after, however, the Walker War broke out, and the settlers were forced to move for safety to Payson, where they remained until 1855.
Around this time a fort was built according to plans furnished by architect Truman O. Angell. After its completion, the settlers moved back to the town in the spring of 1856. One night soon after resettlement Chief Guffich came secretly to warn Johnson of an impending raid by young braves, including his son Santaquin. The settlers quickly left, and when the raiders found the fort deserted Chief Guffich explained to them that the white men were good people and that the Great Spirit had warned them of the attack. It was claimed that from that day peace was made between the local Indians and the Mormon pioneers. It was decided to name the town after Guffich, but he declined the honor and asked that the settlement be named "Santaquin" for his son.
A rock schoolhouse was built in the fort in 1856. It was stoutly built and served the public for many years, still being used into the 1980s. It was not until 1896 that the first local church building was constructed, religious meetings having been conducted in the school building, which now serves as a senior citizens' center and a veterans' memorial hall.
In addition to farming, early industries included sawmills, a flour mill, a molasses mill, and a furniture shop. A silk industry was started with the planting of mulberry trees, some of which still remain in the city. Horse and buggy were the only means of transportation available until 1875, at which time the Utah Southern Railroad completed a line to Santaquin. About that time, rich ore was discovered in the Tintic area. Several mines were discovered on Santaquin ridge, or Dry Mountain, with some copper, lead, silver, and zinc being mined; the Union Chief mine was the most prosperous.
Following serious flooding in 1949, the Summit Creek Canal and Irrigation Company was given approval to construct a reservoir west of the city; on several occasions it has prevented disastrous damage to the community. A diversion dam was completed and more than 10,000 feet of concrete pipe laid in 1971, which proved to be an efficient method of conserving valuable water resources. Irrigation methods changed to sprinkling systems or drip systems, enabling farmers to efficiently irrigate land that was not level, bringing more farmland into production. Natural gas service was brought to Santaquin in 1954, and marked a major development in the modernization of the community.
With the construction of the steel plant at Geneva and the rapid growth in the Provo-Orem area to the north, many fruit farmers relocated to the Santaquin area. Large orchards were planted, replacing wheat fields and pasture land. The construction of huge cold storage facilities for the fruit created many jobs in the community. Another boast to the economy and population came in 1968 with the completion of Interstate 15 through the town.
The predominant religion in Santaquin is LDS, with four wards meeting in two chapels. There is also an Assembly of God chapel. A majority of the people are of Scandinavian descent. The population of Santaquin has grown from 12 in 1851 to 1,214 in 1950, to 1,236 in 1970, and to 2,386 in 1990.