Area: 5,l58 square miles; population: 3,980 (in 1990); county seat: Panguitch; origin of county name: after President James A. Garfield; principal cities/towns: Panguitch (1,444), Escalante (818); economy: cattle, lumber, tourism; points of interest: Anasazi State Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Burr Trail, Escalante State Park, Kodachrome Basin State Park, Lake Powell, Otter Creek State Park, Piute State Park, Panguitch Lake, Escalante DUP Building, Boulder Mountain.
The Colorado River and Lake Powell mark the eastern border of remote, sparsely populated Garfield County. Other geographical features include the Henry Mountains in the northeast and the forested, high plateaus in the western half of the county. The two areas have eleven peaks over 10,000 feet. The Sevier River system runs north through western Garfield County, and the Escalante River empties into the Colorado.
Traces of three major prehistoric Indian cultures–the Sevier, Fremont, and Anasazi–have been found in the county. In historic times Southern Paiute and Ute Indians used the land.
The first white settlers, under the leadership of Jens Nielsen, made the difficult trip from Beaver and Parowan through the mountains to the Panguitch area in March 1864. The village of Panguitch, abandoned during the Black Hawk War (1865-67), was not resettled until 1871.
In 1875, four years after the resettlement of Panguitch, settlers moved eastward to found Escalante. Smaller settlements were made in Aaron, later known as Hatch, in 1872; Cannonville in 1876; Henrieville in 1878; Antimony in 1878; Boulder in 1889; Tropic in 1892; and Winder, later named Widstoe, in 1910.
The territorial legislature created the county in 1882, and at the suggestion of Governor Eli H. Murray named it after assassinated President James A. Garfield. Boulder, settled in 1889, was considered to be the most isolated town in Utah until the mid-1930s when Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) workers constructed a road from Boulder to Escalante. Mail was carried to Boulder on horseback until about 1935. The CCC also reseeded ranges and built telephone lines, ranger stations, and trails.
Vast rangelands and some of the state’s largest forest reserves have made cattle ranching and lumber Garfield County’s most important industries since pioneer times. The forests also provide many recreational sites, and Panguitch Lake is one of the state’s prime fishing waters. The creation of Bryce Canyon National Park in 1928 increased the importance of tourism to the local economy. The large sections of Capitol Reef National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area that lie within the county remained largely inaccessible in the late 1980s. The proposed but controversial paving of the Burr Trail through the Waterpocket Fold area of Capitol Reef would, however, expand travel in eastern Garfield County. The seasonal nature of lumbering and tourism often gives the county a higher than average rate of unemployment.
The Upper Valley oil field in central Garfield County is a sizable oil-producing area. The county also has large coal fields as well as tar sands and uranium, but these energy-related resources have not been developed. Mining for other minerals has been very limited.
Politically, since statehood in 1896, Garfield has been second only to Kane County in its loyalty to Republican candidates.
The county has several outstanding natural landmarks, including Bryce Canyon National Park, the Escalante Mountains, Boulder Mountain, the Henry Mountains, and Escalante Canyon; in addition, there is the Colorado River and Lake Powell, which form the eastern boundary of the county. Notable historic sites include the commercial buildings, courthouse, bishop’s storehouse, and Andrew Carnegie library in Panguitch; nineteenth-century brick residences in Panguitch and Escalante; the New Deal-era Bryce Canyon airport; lodge and cabins at Bryce Canyon; and the Anasazi State Park in Boulder. High schools are located in Panguitch, Tropic, and Escalante.
Miriam B. Murphy