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Piute County

Piute County

Quick facts
Interesting facts
What the land is like
A bit of prehistory
A bit of history
A little about the economy

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Quick facts

Area: 754 square miles
Population
County Seat: Junction
How it got its name: after Paiute Indians
Main towns: Circleville, Marysvale, Junction
Economy: agriculture (primarily beef and dairy cattle), education
Interesting places: Tushar Mountains, Otter Creek and Piute reservoirs, Piute County Courthouse, Parker ranch/Butch Cassidy home

Interesting facts

courthouse

The 1903 Piute County Courthouse in Junction is now an inn and is on the National Register. Photo by J. Stephen Conn on Flickr.

What the land is like

mountains

The Tushar Mountains. Photo by Utah~Dave AA7IZ.

 

30 million years ago, volcanoes began to erupt in what is now Piute County. For 25 million years, volcanoes exploded or oozed every now and then—laying down 10,000 feet of volcanic rock. The Tushar Mountains, which rise up at the west of the county, are volcanic rock.

These mountains are the highest part of the High Plateaus section of the Colorado Plateau. During the volcanic era, hot solutions of minerals such as silver, gold, copper, mercury, and iron flowed into cracks in the rocks—leaving behind rich ore veins.

At the east of the county the Parker Range, and the Sevier Plateau extends into the middle of the county. On either side of that plateau two main streams flow: the Sevier River and Otter Creek.  Now they have been dammed to form Piute and Otter Creek reservoirs.

A bit of prehistory

A PaleoIndian site has been found in the sagebrush north of Circleville. It looks like it might be a settlement, rather than a temporary camp—which is a rare kind of PaleoIndian site indeed. But it needs more study.

8,000 years ago the Desert Archaic people, with a different culture, moved through and lived in Sevier County. Nearby, in Sevier County, archaeologists have studied an Archaic site sheltered under a cliff. In this site, the people roasted plant foods and meat, and used the site for about 350 years.

Archaeologists have also found and studied sites in Piute County. They have learned that people didn’t settle in one place; instead, they might hunt in the mountains in summer and come to the valleys to gather plant foods in the fall. They used more than 40 plant species for food.

1000 years ago the Fremont culture emerged. These people grew corn, beans, and squash and lived in villages. But they also moved around to hunt and gather food.

Before farmers plowed and cultivated fields, there were many Fremont mounds in Piute County. In 1880, one was left near Marysvale: three feet high, 88 feet long, and 72 feet wide. The mounds covered Fremont villages.

Probably before the Fremont left about 750 years ago, ancestors of today’s Paiutes and Utes moved in. Skilled at gathering foods—instead of growing them—the Paiute moved around in small bands. They lived successfully in a pretty harsh landscape.  Utes acquired horses from the Spanish and became skilled at using horses for hunting, raiding, and trading.

A bit of history

The Old Spanish Trail ran through Piute County. Spanish and Mexican trading parties used the trail to trade with the Indians: guns, blankets, and horses for furs and slaves. 

American trappers also passed through, including William Wolfskill and George Yount, who were the first we know to travel the length of the Old Spanish Trail. Kit Carson and John C. Fremont came through. So did Mormon explorers.

Settlers

landscape

Grass Valley, with the Sevier Plateau in the background. Photo by Ken Lund on Flickr.

 

Looking for land for grazing and farming, in 1864 groups of pioneers from Ephraim traveled down to settle Circleville and Junction.

There they found a few challenges. Oluf Larsen wrote that the wind blew all the time at Circleville. Whenever they cooked or made coffee, they would get “dust and sand in everything.”

When the settlers tried to irrigate, the water often disappeared into the porous soil and gopher holes and bubbled up through the holes in another field. The settlers had a tough time keeping their fields watered.

historic photo

The red-brick school at Greenwich, in 1960.

The Sevier Valley did provide good grazing, and livestock remains important to the economy. Wild hay, alfalfa, grain, and pastures provide feed for the limited beef and dairy production. Earth-covered potato cellars remain as evidence of a successful crop in an earlier era.

Circleville Massacre

During the Black Hawk War, settlers “arrested” around 30 peaceable Paiute Indians and imprisoned them in the cellar of the church at Circleville. In the hysteria of war, the settlers lost their reason and humanity and killed the men, women, and children, sparing only a few of the youngest children.

A little about the economy

historic photo

The Kimberley Mine.

Earth's riches once really fueled the economy. A gold and silver boom in the Tushars spawned such towns as Bullion, Kimberly, and Marysvale. Miners organized the Ohio Mining District in 1868, and by 1872 Bullion Canyon boasted 50 buildings and hundreds of eager miners.

Kimberly, in the Gold Mountain District, developed around the rich Annie Laurie claim, located in 1891. The completion of a Denver and Rio Grande Railroad branch line to Marysvale in 1900 linked Piute's mines and farms to the marketplace.

Later, mines produced lead, zinc, alunite, and uranium. Piute's huge reserves of high-grade alunite ores were especially important during World Wars I and II. Mining, now in a bust mode, could boom again.

historic photo

Ivy Baker Priest, who was born to a poor family in Piute County, grew up to become the U.S. Treasurer under Pres. Eisenhower.

Today, the Piute School District employs around 50 residents. Less obvious contributors to the local economy are a few retirees who have moved to the larger towns. As in most of Utah's rural counties, "home" has a strong pull on the natives, while economic forces tend to push recent high school graduates toward the opportunities of urban areas. Piute residents depend on nearby Richfield north on Highway 89 for major services.

Recreational activities also create some job opportunities. Piute and Otter Creek reservoirs provide good boating, water skiing, and fishing. Tourists also like to visit the Parker ranch just south of Circleville because of its association with outlaw Butch Cassidy.