Panguitch, county seat and largest community of Garfield County, is built on the south side of the Panguitch Valley, on the north slope of the nearby mountains, and between Panguitch Creek on the west and the Sevier River on the east. The elevation most quoted by citizens is 6,666 feet. The settlement was first called Fairview, but the name was changed to Panguitch, an Indian word meaning “Big Fish,” for nearby Panguitch Lake, a wonderful fishing lake for both Indians and pioneers. The town’s land is generally arid and rocky, with sandy, fertile soil. The climate is severe, with sub-freezing weather seven months of the year.
In March 1864 fifty-four pioneer families led by Jens Neilson arrived the area from Parowan and other settlements. They came over much the same route followed later by Highway 20. A fort was built on the present school square. Cabins were built around the perimeter, pens and corrals were included for cattle, horses, and sheep. Land was soon cleared and irrigation ditches and canals were surveyed and dug. However, crops planted the first year failed to mature; the settlers gathered and ate frozen wheat.
During the first winter, supplies ran out. Seven men were sent to Parowan for grain. They drove teams as far as the base of the mountain, then proceeded on foot. The snow was deep, and the men sank and could not walk. One man accidentally dropped his quilt on the ground and found that it supported him. All seven men formed a line, laying their quilts on the snow and then walking across the quilts. This procedure was repeated all the way across the mountain, and the trek became known as the quilt walk. Parowan pioneers came to meet the men, who were fed, sheltered, and given grain. The men and food were taken as close to Panguitch as possible, but the grain still had to be carried across the mountain to the waiting teams. A happy welcome greeted the successful adventurers.
On 10 April 1865 three men were killed by Indians in Sanpete County–hostilities which started the Black Hawk War. The Panguitch community was advised to leave, and the town was abandoned in May 1866. Residents left their homes and crops and sought safety in Parowan and other communities.
In 1870 Brigham Young made a trip through the valley and decided it was time to resettle. He called George W. Sevy, a resident of Harmony, to gather a company and resettle Panguitch. The following notice appeared in the Deseret News in early 1871: “All those who wish to go with me to resettle Panquitch Valley, will meet me at Red Creek on the 4th day of March, 1871 and we will go over the mountain in company to settle that country.” The company arrived 18 or 19 March, found no snow on the ground, the dwellings and clearings unmolested, and even the crops of earlier settlers still standing.
The settlers first moved into the fort. Progress later brought a gristmill, sawmills, a shingle mill, post office, tannery, shoe shop, lime and brick kilns, a hotel, and a co-op store. The meetinghouse built in the fort continued to be used as a school and for church services. An early organization of the United Order was formed; however, it lasted only about two years and was dissolved.
Panguitch was believed to be in Iron County until 9 March 1882 when the territorial legislature created Garfield County and set the current boundaries. School districts were created and county officials appointed. There were no railroads at the time in Garfield County, which features extensive forest lands.
With a population of 500, Panguitch was incorporated in 1899. Agriculture along with cattle and sheep raising formed the basic economy. A dam was built at Panguitch Lake to enable it to hold more water for irrigation. The West Panguitch Irrigation Company controls the water from Panguitch Lake, while Sevier River water is managed by the Sevier River Water Users Association. Present ditches and canals follow courses laid out by early surveyors.
Panguitch architecture is characterized by beautiful, locally made, red brick. Making brick was a community affair. The two-story brick structures are generally the oldest; the second generation of red brick homes were one-story dwellings.
Electricity arrived in 1910. The Social Hall, built about 1900 and destroyed by fire before 1920, was rebuilt and was the center of drama, dance, social, scout, and youth activities, including court games. It is still in use today.
In 1940 Panguitch reached its largest population–2,500. The population in 1990 was 1,444. During World War II, many people left town to work in war industries. Three hundred forty-eight service men and seven nurses and WACs from Panguitch served during this war, and the period marked the beginning of an exodus of people from Panguitch.
In 1954-55, Croft Sawmills began operations in Panguitch and brought many new people into town while allowing many area people to remain. In 1970 Kaibab Industries acquired the sawmill and became the largest employer. Today the sawmill staff has been reduced to thirteen employees because of timber harvesting restrictions. Forest and range permits also limited the cattle and sheep industry. At the present time, tourism seems to be the best, economically feasible industry. Panguitch is near five national parks as well as monuments and near teeming trout streams and lakes. Campgrounds, recreation areas, a ski resort, and verdant forests surround the town.
Homecoming, July 24th, is the biggest local celebration and includes a parade, reunions (family and class), community breakfast, pit barbeque dinner, races, games, rodeo, and dance. A beautiful historic cemetery lies about two miles east of the town on Highway 89. Tombstones date in the 1870s.
To accommodate tourism Panguitch currently has fourteen motels, four restaurants, three fast food stores, five gas stations, three gas and convenience stores, a fabric store, two grocery stores, two hardware stores, a hospital and clinic, real estate offices, two Indian crafts stores, and a Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum. An elementary school, a middle school, and a high school, three LDS wards and a stake center, a Catholic church, a Baptist church, and the county courthouse and jail are available to serve community residents.