Sanpete County

County Profile

Founded in 1850, Sanpete County is located in the central region of the state. It encompasses an area of 1,597 square miles with a population of approximately 30,939 (U.S. Census Bureau, Population Estimates Program, V2019). Manti is the county seat.

  • Origin of Name: A variation of Sanpitch and Sanpits, the name of the local Indian tribe and the plants “tule” or “bulrush”
  • Bordering Counties: CarbonEmery, Juab, Millard, Sevier, and Utah

A Brief History of Sanpete County*

Set in the northwest corner of the High Plateaus, 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, at the southern end of the Wasatch Mountains, across the border in Juab County, is prominently viewed in northwest Sanpete and its foothills divide Sanpete Valley into two northern prongs.

Sanpete's prehistoric inhabitants include the Fremont agriculturalists. Mounds have yielded small stone and mud-waIled structures and pottery, points, and metates, but Sanpete has not been systematically studied like its neighbors south and east. Ute chief Wakara enslaved the San Pitch Indians who gathered and hunted in the local marshes and canyons. The Utes had adopted the horse and other elements of Plains Culture and ranged widely with an apparent winter base in Sanpete. Wakara 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 abandonment of towns. The Black Hawk War of 1863-68 brought a more serious and prolonged period of guerrilla raids.

The first Mormon settlers arrived in fall 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 larger towns were established in the first decade of settlement. Scandinavian immigrants soon made up a sizeable minority and elements of their culture and humor remain today. The towns peaked in population about 1900-1910 and declined until the 1970s. The county was created in 1830, enlarged, and later reduced in size.

Sanpete's location at Utah's geographical heart masks its isolation. Much interstate and recreational traffic bypass it. None of the small, scattered towns has developed as a center of economic development.

Since settlement, Sanpete's economy has been agriculturally based. 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 lower fat, faster-growing animals. Sheep dominated the local economy from the 1880s through the 1920s, and Sanpete played a prominent part in world markets for a time. Turkeys, grown casually as a farmyard fowl, became a cooperative, integrated industry in response to the 1930s depression. Today they rule the roost in Sanpete, which ranks among the top ten turkey-producing counties in the country. Snow College, an institution in Ephraim, plays an important role in the local economy.

*Used by permission. Beehive History 14: Utah Counties. 1988. Utah State Historical Society, 300 Rio Grande, Salt Lake City, UT 84101-1182.