History of Duchesne County
Unlike the rest of Utah, Duchesne County was not settled by Mormon Pioneers. After Brigham Young sent a exploration party to the Uintah Basin they returned to him with the report that it was a “vast contiguity of waste. . .measurably valueless excepting for nomadic purposes, hunting grounds for Indians, and to hold the world together.” Therefore Brigham decided not to send settlers to the Uintah Basin (Duchesne County).
The Ute Indians were the primary residents of the Uintah Basin, along with fur trappers and the U.S. Calvary (and a few outlaws). From the 1860’s until 1905, the Indians were pretty much on their own, then when the Dawes Act was signed by the federal government it opened the Uintah Basin up to homesteading.
Homesteading in the area is not as easy as it sounds. Because the area is almost completely surrounded by mountains the climate can be very harsh. Winters can be extremely cold (-36) and the summer can be quit hot (98). The Basin is on the leeward side of the Wasatch Mountains and gets minimal precipitation. Thus the early homesteaders had to find a way to get the water down from the surrounding mountains and store it for drier times. Once these projects were completed the land was more usable for cattle and sheep raising.
The Utah State legislature created Duchesne County in 1914 from part of Wasatch County. The state's highest mountain, King's Peak at 13,528 feet above sea level, is located in the county's Uinta Mountains. Major streams running through the county include the Strawberry, Duchesne, Lake Fork, and Yellowstone rivers.
The High Uintas Primitive Area, situated in the northern portion of the county, is dotted with some of the most beautiful alpine lakes anywhere in the West. The lakes are free of ice for only a few months of the year.
The county's economy is based primarily on the livestock industry, but the area is also rich in oil and natural gas. As in Uintah County to the east, Duchesne's oil and natural gas extraction industries fluctuate according to international oil and natural gas markets.