Area: 1,597 square miles: population: 16,259 (1990); county seat: Manti; origin of county
name: a corruption of San Pitch, the name of a local Indian tribe; principal
cities/towns: Ephraim (3,363), Manti (2,268),
Mount Pleasant (2,092), Gunnison (1,298),
Moroni (1,115), Fairview (960); economy: agriculture
(particularly turkeys, sheep, and beef and dairy cattle), local government,
and education; points of interest: Manti
LDS Temple, Spring City Historic
District, Fairview Museum, Wasatch Plateau, Maple and Box canyons,
Snow College at Ephraim.
At the northwest corner of the Colorado Plateau, Sanpete Valley is tucked between the
higher Wasatch Plateau to the east and the San Pitch or Gunnison Plateau
to the west. The valley drains south to the Gunnison Valley section
of the Sevier River, which then drains northwest to the
Great Basin. Mount Nebo,
the southern end of the Wasatch Mountains, across the border
in Juab County, is a prominent viewpoint from northwest Sanpete County,
and its foothills divide Sanpete Valley into two northern prongs.
The area's prehistoric inhabitants include
the Fremont-Sevier agriculturalists who disappeared
around A.D. 1300. Mounds have yielded small stone- and mud-walled structures,
as well as pottery, points, and metates, but Sanpete has not been systematically
studied as have areas to the south and east. Ute chief Wakara enslaved
local San Pitch Indians, who gathered and hunted in the local marshes
and canyons. The Utes had adopted the horse and other trappings of Plains
Indian Culture and ranged widely from an apparent winter base in Sanpete
County. Wakara at first invited Mormon settlement, perhaps for the resources
it would bring, and then opposed it in a war of 1853-54, which caused
a period of "forting up" and the abandonment of area towns. The Black
Hawk War of 1865-68, a more serious and prolonged series of guerrilla
raids, also disrupted county settlement.
The first Mormon settlers arrived in the area in the fall of 1849. They chose the Manti
site because of a nearby warm spring, the extensive limestone quarries
(later exploited commercially), and the fine farming and grazing lands
nearby. The county's larger towns were established in the first decade
of settlement. Scandinavian immigrants soon made up a sizable minority,
and elements of their culture and humor remain today. The towns peaked
in population from about 1900 to 1910, and then declined until the 1970s.
The county was created in 1850, enlarged, and then later reduced in
Sanpete County's economy has been based on agriculture. In its first
few decades it served as Utah's granary. Cattle have always been important,
but currently only a few large dairies survive. New beef breeds from
Switzerland and France have joined the traditional Hereford and Angus
to produce faster-growing animals with lower fat. Sheep dominated the
local economy from the 1880s through the 1920s, and the county played
a prominent part in world markets for a time. Turkeys, grown casually
as a farmyard animal, became a cooperative, integrated industry in response
to the 1930s Great Depression. Today they rule the roost in Sanpete,
which ranks among the top ten turkey-producing counties in the country.
Snow College, a two-year institution of higher education in Ephraim,
also plays an important role in the local economy.
at Utah's geographical heart masks its isolation. Much interstate and
recreational traffic bypasses it. The small, scattered towns with their
long and interesting rivalries have never allowed the development of
a dominant county economic center. Ironically, however, these factors
have allowed the preservation of some elements of Mormon settlement.
The Spring City Historic District retains at least the flavor and some
significant structures of the past, and the
Manti LDS Temple is an architectural jewel.