Area: 2,486 square miles; population: 2,177 (in 1990); county seat: Loa; origin of county name: after state legislator Willis E. Robison’s son Wayne; principal cities/towns: Loa (444), Bicknell (327); economy: cattle, lumber, tourism; points of interest: Capitol Reef and Canyonlands national parks, Horseshoe (Barrier) Canyon pictographs; Fruita schoolhouse, Teasdale Tithing Office and Granary, Thousand Lake Mountain (11,305 feet).
Wayne County lies entirely within the Colorado Plateau geographical province and includes portions of Capitol Reef and Canyonlands National Parks. The Fremont River flows South into the county from Fish Lake and then east to join the Dirty Devil, a tributary of the Green River. The Green marks the county’s eastern border.
Scientists have identified the remains of extinct Pleistocene-epoch species, including the sloth, horse, bison, and camel, in Wayne County, and dated Archaic and Fremont Indian sites (Cowboy Caves) as having been occupied between 6300 B.C. and A.D. 450. Horseshoe (Barrier) Canyon and the Maze section of Canyonlands in eastern Wayne contain spectacular pictographs. In historic times the county was part of the Ute Indians’ domain.
Wayne was created in May 1892 from Piute County. Most of the towns in Wayne were settled after 1880 because of the remote location and limited resources. Raising livestock is the oldest and most important industry; beef cattle produce the most income, but dairy cows, sheep, and poultry have all contributed to the local economy in the past. Getting cattle to market was difficult. Until good roads were built in the 1930s, stock was driven some 100 miles north to the railroad at Nephi and later to a Denver and Rio Grande branch line in Sevier County.
The creation of national forests in the early twentieth century reduced the number of cattle that could be grazed in western Wayne County, and cattle rustling by the notorious Robbers Roost Gang threatened ranchers until the late 1890s. The lumber industry and, in more recent years, tourism also provide income for some residents. Uranium has been mined, and tar sands, another energy-related resource, await development. The state operates two fish hatcheries in Wayne.
During the Great Depression the Works Progress Administration (WPA) provided funds to build a county courthouse in Loa. County officials originally met in private homes and rented quarters and later converted a store into office space. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), another federal program during the depression, operated three camps in the county. The CCC built roads, campgrounds, and small water projects. Road building has been a major concern of local government from the beginning. Modern highways now make it easy for tourists to drive to many scenic attractions, including Capitol Reef National Park, and give residents easy access to Richfield, the nearest commercial center which also provides medical and other services.
Miriam B. Murphy