A History of Daggett County

It is a land of spectacular redrock cliffs, snowcapped mountains, tall pines, and whitewater rapids. Daggett County may be small in population, but it has landscape on a grand scale. This rugged countryside, a boon to modern recreationists, has generally made life difficult for the area's human inhabitant. More so than many places, climate and terrain have done much to shape this area's history.

Daggett County is a narrow strip of land along the northern slope of Utah's Uinta Mountains. Bounded basically by the crest of the Uintas on the south, the Wyoming state line on the north, the Colorado state line on the east, and Summit County on the west, it is Utah's twenty-ninth and youngest county. The east-west-trending Uinta Mountains and the Green River are the county's preeminent geographic features. The Green River generally flows from north to south, but where it strikes the Uintas it makes an abrupt turn to the east through Horseshoe and Red canyons. It curves southward again where it leaves Browns Park, a valley shared by Utah and Colorado.

Dominating the landscape and history of the county are the Uinta Mountains, the only major east-west mountain range in North America. The Uinta Mountains are of rather recent origin, however; much of the exposed rock in the Uintas is of great antiquity---some being Precambrian metamorphic rock well over one billion years old. Some of this rock has been broken and uplifted---faulted and folded in geologic terms---in the relatively recent past, after having been buried by increasing layers of sedimentation for hundreds of millions of years.

The Uinta Range actually began its formation as a trough---a depression in the earth periodically washed and submerged by ancient shallow seas. Over many millennia, the trough filled with sand and several layers of sediment. The Uinta uplift began some 80 million years ago during the mountain-building event called the Laramide Orogeny. Ancient layers of rock pushed up and through more recent strata, and the Uintas began to take shape as they are known today---an anticlinal fold about 160 miles long and thirty miles wide. The mountains contain twenty-six major formations, most of which are sedimentary rocks dating from the Precambrian to the Cenozoic periods. Though they contain almost no known commercially viable mineral deposits, they reveal a fossil record spanning 500 million years. The mountain range actually consists of two elliptical domelike segments that merge near the present town of Manila.

During the Ice Ages, the summits, ridge lines, and canyons of the Uintas were scoured by glaciers, which produced the wide valleys in the mountains. The most dramatic glaciations occurred in the High Uintas, but glacial activity also took place along the eastern portion of the range. Significant glaciated areas include Burnt Fork, the several forks of Sheep Creek, Beaver Creek, and Carter Creek. According to one geological study, the Burnt Fork glacier was about eleven miles in length.

Complementing the geologic epic of the Uinta Mountains is the story of Green River, a legendary river of the fur trade and the Mountain West. The subsequent collapse of the eastern Uinta summit provided this lake a new route to the sea, and this upper-basin water carved a channel through Flaming Gorge, Red Canyon, Browns Park, Lodore Canyon, and Split Mountain Canyon to join the lower Green River in the Uinta Basin. In the process, the north slope tributaries---Birch Creek, Birch Spring Draw, Sheep Creek, Carter Creek, Spring Creek, Cart Creek, Jackson Creek, Red Creek, Crouse Creek, Willow Creek, and others--were altered to flow southward.

Within this difficult country there are sheltered drainages, valleys, and basins that are far more hospitable to people and livestock than are the surrounding windswept badlands. Henrys Fork, Browns Park, and other smaller valleys in the county have microclimates that have made them inviting to humans for thousands of years.

Indeed, throughout the area there is extensive evidence of long-standing human occupation. Stone chips, projectile points, firepits, middens, and petroglyphs suggest that the Green River corridor has been both a thoroughfare and an area of habitation for ancient peoples.

At the close of the eighteenth century, the land that would become Daggett County was generally considered Shoshoni country. Both the Shoshoni and the Utes were flourishing. White men's horses, blankets, and ironware had brought a new material prosperity and increased leisure time. There was a flowering of the arts and spiritual pursuits.

But while New Spain's conquests had stalled in the Southwest, Britain and the young American republic continued to probe the unexplored regions of the continent. Their explorers, trappers, traders, and missionaries were traveling the inland waterways and pushing toward the Rocky Mountains. They brought more of the goods that the Indians wanted, but they also brought trouble and heartache in the form of smallpox, venereal disease, whiskey, and firearms. It was only a matter of time before white men would enter the upper basin of the Green River, and this would not bode well for the native peoples of the Uinta Mountains.

About the Text

Excerpted from, A HISTORY OF Daggett County By: Michael W. Johnson with Robert E. Parson and Daniel A. Stebbins ©Copyright1998 by Daggett County Commission, Manila, Utah. This book is available for $20.00 plus $3.00 postage by sending a check or money order to the Clerk/Treasurer's Office at PO Box 400; Manila, UT 84046. The Intermountain Natural History Association has several history books available including; the Lion's Club newly reprinted Flaming Gorge Country by Dick and Vivian Dunham.

Additional Information

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