It all started when the Ute Chief Wakara invited pioneers to settle the San Pitch valley, named after a tribe of hunter-gatherer Indians. Wakara claimed that the Great Spirit had appeared to him in a dream, telling him to welcome the white men.
Later, Wakara engaged his guests in the infamous “Walker War” from 1853-54. The Black Hawk War, named for another Ute leader, also disrupted county settlement from 1865-68.
Eventually, the San Pitch name was corrupted to Sanpete, which then became Sanpete County.
Some historians now believe that more than the agricultural skills Wakara claimed to want for himself and his tribe, he was interested in the cattle that the pioneers seemed to take with them everywhere they went. The county wasn’t the only entity to undergo a name change. Most of the cities within the county have gone through changes in identity since their founding.
Laying at the northeast edge of Thistle Valley, Indianola was organized as a ward and named by Apostle Erastus Snow in 1880. Then it numbered over 100 members-half Indians, half Whites.
North Sanpeters had herded livestock in the valley and even homesteaded there before Brigham Young decided to set up a model Indian farm for Utes not already removed to the Unitah Basin. Eventually the church had to pay $12,000 to induce pioneers to vacate the valley.
Eventually, most of the Utes moved away, died, or simply failed to multiply, so some of the sellers eventually returned to the valley. Most of them lived on their farms rather than locate close to the brick meetinghouse (now a granary) built on the town site. Several years later, in about 2007, a new church meeting house was built to serve the community.
Milburn occupies a picturesque cove barely visible from the U.S. 89 scenic overlook near Hilltop. Platted in 1886 on a rocky slope watered by Dry Creek, it was organized as a ward in 1896. The fair number of sawmills already built in canyons above it sparked the choice of name.
Families began homesteading this herd ground of Fairview as early as 1876, so a majority of Milburner’s never lived in the town itself, loosely clustered around a school, church and stone store/dance hall whose walls still stand.
When Dry Creek turned wet and wiped out the town in 1903, the population spread out even more. Eventually so many moved away that the church dissolved the ward and transferred the last 33 members to Fairview in 1961.
Freedom was settled in 1875 under the name of Draper, which was the name of the families who settled there. The settlement was located along Current Creek south of Fountain Green and north of Wales. In 1877 the Draper’s and other families formed a ward which was renamed Freedom and lasted until 1881.
The arrival of the Martin Van Buren Taylor family eventually required the creation of a new ward in 1897 which lasted until 1926. The orchards, the best in Sanpete, and the Meadow View Creamery kept the small community going. Freedom is the gateway to beautiful Maple Canyon.
Soon after the homesteading fever hit Sanpete in 1870, polygamists and other farmers from Mt. Pleasant, Moroni and Spring City spread out onto the meadows along the bottomlands of Oak and Canal Creeks below Spring City.
Despite their dispersion they formed a ward (1877) named Chester, shortened by the Post Office from the “Chesterfield” proposed by David Candland, who had immigrated from Chesterfield, England.
We must forgive Candland’s lack of originality. He was only trying to improve the image of the hamlet from its original name: The Bottoms. A meetinghouse, a school, an Allred store and a few houses soon sprang up close to the crossroads at the center of town.
Settled about 1874 by John Bosshardt, who raised the first barley and alfalfa; and Lars Fjeldsted, who ran a co-op heard of sheep; and Axel Finarsen, a Danish bachelor. The town spread out on an east-west axis along Willow Creek, which was the area’s name until the railroad and post offices arrival in 1891.
The place has an expansive open flavor reminiscent of the Midwest, with irrigated grains and alfalfa sweeping eastward to the foothills of the Wasatch Plateau. Farms and houses are dispersed, as are Axtell’s “central places,” notably the post office and the ward house.
Thus it differs from the typical Mormon village settlement plan. Axteller’s have a keen appreciation of their “peace and quiet” and a sense of “in between” stemming from their county border location.
Notable sites include historic and contemporary salt mines in the foothills east and west. Willow Creek Reservoir, a haven for wildlife, is about 5.5 miles east of town behind the foothills, and a graded road continues to Skyline Drive near 10,984-foot Musinia Peak.
The area was settled by five families from Springville who arrived by ox team April 8, 1861. After finding Hog Wallow (Gunnison) too crowded, they backtracked five miles to establish Warm Creek. Three families soon left, but the Joseph Bartholomew and James Mellor families stuck it out and descendants remain today.
One pioneer described the site as a lush meadow paradise abounding in wildlife. Chief Arapeen extracted two fat oxen for ceding the life-giving spring and some calves for the meadowlands.
Willow-covered dugouts and wagon boxes first provided shelter, followed by log cabins and later houses of local stone and brick. Retreats were common and log buildings were moved inside the Gunnison fort during the Blackhawk War of the 1860s. Apostle Orson Hyde urged the name change to Fayette for the New York town where the LDS Church was organized.
Sanpete also has its share of ghost towns. Across the Sanpitch River from Ephraim and against the Sanpitch Mountains is Manasseh, which consisted of 21 families scattered from the borders of Maple Canyon to a point near Wales.
The hollow west of Sterling is where the old town of Pettyville used to be. In 1881, the people of Pettyville moved to Sterling. Dover was founded in 1875 over the hills north of Gunnison and around the point on State Road 28. Those who travel west of the Sevier River, might see remnants of farms where Dover once existed.
The ghost town of Clarion, located west of Gunnison, was a settlement of Jewish immigrants, founded in the fall of 1911. They tried to eke a living from the poor, rock-strewn soil with very little resources, and abandoned the site in November 1915.