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History of Cache County, Utah

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by Larry D. Christiansen

Cache County:

    Cache County lies in the northern part of Utah, and is bounded by mountains with the higher Wasatch Mountains on the east and the Wellsville Mountains (a spur of the Wasatch) and Clarkston Mountains (part of the Malad Range) on the west with its northern reach extending into what became southern Idaho. The main valley extends some fifty miles in length from south to north with a width of around twenty miles at its widest. The well-watered (for arid Utah) valley is drained by the Bear River and its tributaries into Great Salt Lake.

    With the creation of Cache County in the Territory of Utah in 1856, the western and southern boundary remained the same as the valley, but its eastern boundary extended beyond the Wasatch Mountains to the north flowing Bear River (along the present day Utah and Wyoming border). Then in the 1860s came two significant reductions. First, on the north with the creation of Idaho Territory, the border was pushed south from its natural mountain-valley placement to its location today. Next, the eastern border was redrawn with Cache County losing the area east of the Wasatch Mountains to the newly formed Richland County (which was renamed Rich County). These changes reduced the area of Cache County to 1,171 square miles. Over half of the county is part of the Cache National Forest with the valley floor containing some of the most productive farms in Utah.

Ancient Geography:

    Beyond the geologic faulting, volcanic action, glaciations and the formation of the landscape, Cache Valley was the northeastern tip of a huge Pleistocene lake that covered a small portion of present day southeastern Idaho, a thin strip of northeastern Nevada and much of northwest quadrant of Utah with arms of the lake extending as far southward as present day Iron County. This fresh water lake extended 350 miles north and south and ranged to 145 miles at its widest point. It covered an area of approximately 20,000 square miles. Cache Valley was almost completely covered with water with the Wasatch Range forming the eastern shore of the vast lake, and on the other side only the highest portions of the Wellsville Mountains could be seen above the water. Over 14,000 years ago the waters of Lake Bonneville broke through at Red Rock Pass in southern Idaho releasing a gigantic flood of water northward into the Snake River Plain causing the lake’s water level to drop some 350 feet with subsequent lowering later. The vast lake was named many millennia later when only a largely shrunken Great Salt Lake remained; It was called Lake Bonneville after Benjamin Bonneville (1796–1878), a French-born officer in the United States Army, who took a leave to become a fur trapper and explorer in the American West.


    The area of Cache Valley was occupied by prehistoric hunters and gathers and could have become a rendezvous area for Plain Culture natives. By the historic period the Shoshoni primarily moved through or occupied and claimed the area. By 1847 when the Mormons came to settle in Utah there were primarily a group of Northern Shoshoni, composed at most of 1,500 people, living and moving in the valleys of northern Utah (usually in Weber Valley and Cache Valley) and along the eastern and northern shores of Great Salt Lake. They were subdivided into three major bands at the time the first Mormon pioneers began settling northern Utah. Chief Little Soldier headed a band of about 400, who occupied Weber Valley down to its entry into the Great Salt Lake. Chief Pocatello led 400 to 500 Shoshoni, who ranged from Grouse Creek in northwestern Utah eastward along the northern shore of Great Salt Lake to the Bear River. The last division of about 450 people under Chief Bear Hunter claimed Cache Valley, usually residing along the lower reaches of Bear River when in the valley.

    Beginning in the 1820s the fur trappers and traders such as James Weber, Jim Bridger, Peter Skene Ogden, Jedediah Smith, James Beckworth and their companions found the water courses of the valley and canyons with plenty of beaver and other fur-bearing animals. To the mountain men the place was known as "Willow Valley" because of the thick growths of willows along the several streams. However, this same group also produced the name "Cache" when the mountain men stored (stashed or "cached") their pelts and supplies for safekeeping. For the winter of 1824-25 a trapping party of General William Ashley’s men camped in Willow Valley (Cache Valley) on the Cub River near present day Cove, Utah. Weather permitting they did some trapping on Bear River and its tributaries but had time for one of the mountain men’s favorite avocations—talking ranging from tall tales to arguing about geography. On the latter point a major dispute arose as to the course of the Bear River after it left this valley. The argument created enough fervor that a wager was made and young James Bridger was selected to explored the course of the river and resolve the dispute. Accordingly the twenty-year-old Bridger, only in his third year in the mountains, took a bull boat made of skins and descended the river to its outlet in a large body of water whose salinity caused Bridger, and later his companions when Bridger reported back, to believe the river emptied into an arm of the Pacific Ocean. In the spring of 1825 four mountain men in skin boats explored the entire shoreline of this inland sea to discover it had no outlet. Thus Bridger is recognized as the first white man with which we have documented evidence of discovering the Great Salt Lake. The 1826 mountain men rendezvous was held in Willow Valley (Cache) on Blacksmith Fork near present day Hyrum. By 1840 the fur trade was in sharp decline with silk replacing beaver fur in the world of fashion, and the old trappers were forced to find other occupations—trading with overland migrants, leading emigrant companies west, guides for explorers, etc.

    Next came a few other visitors to Cache Valley. As the first company of Americans to attempt a wagon journey to the West Coast, the Bartleson-Bidwell Party of 1841 traveled the route of the fur trade caravans up the Platte River and crossed the South Pass of the Rockies. Reaching Bear River they went to the great northern bend of this river where the company split into two groups. Those bound for Oregon traveled to Ft. Hall and on to the Snake River and then to their destination, while thirty-one men and one woman turned south following Bear River. They sent men to Ft. Hall hoping to get a guide but they returned with only some sketchy advice as to how to get to California. As they followed the Bear River southward, William Bidwell’s account of their travels reveals only a tiny bit about Cache Valley. Assuredly from the counsel received from Ft. Hall, they determined to stop and hunt in "Cash valley, which is on Bear river" at a point some three to four days from the river’s mouth because afterwards they would enter a harsh landscape. But within a week of that stated objective Bidwell wrote that they "had passed through Cash valley, where we intended to have stopped and did not know it." They passed through Cache Valley quicker than they supposed from the advice received. On August 14, 1841, they traveled on the north side of the river as it approached the narrow gorge where, according to Bidwell, they "Left the river on account of the hills which obstructed our way on it," and passed into Bear River Valley by way of the long divide just north of the Bear River Gorge and made their way around the northern shore of the Great Salt Lake as the traveled toward California.

    Two years later in 1843 the government sponsored explorer Colonel John C. Fremont followed the Bear River into Cache Valley and then down to the Great Salt Lake. Fremont’s official reports of this expedition and a second one finished in 1845 were published by order of the U.S. Senate in 1845. The Mormons in Illinois obtained a copy of Fremont’s reports in 1846 and studied them thoroughly.

    In the summer of 1847 as the Mormon Pioneer Company, led by Brigham Young, traveled westward they encountered a number of traders, trappers and mountaineers and extracted as much information from them as they could concerning the route to travel and the best place to found a Mormon settlement in the Rocky Mountains. One of the first such meetings came near South Pass when they encountered Moses Harris who possessed extensive experience and knowledge of the country including the "great, interior basin of the Salt Lake" that the Mormons seemed the most interest in. Orson Pratt reported that Harris’ information like Colonel Fremont’s was "rather unfavorable" of this area for a colony. At the same encampment at Pacific Springs, possibly on the same day, the Mormons met another noted mountaineer named Thomas L. "Pegleg" Smith, who had been shot in the knee by an Indian, losing the leg and using thereafter a wooden leg. Smith, with the decline in the fur trade, had set up a trading post on Bear River near the Soda Springs in present day Idaho. Smith in some detail described the country around Bear Lake, Cache Valley and Marsh Valley which he was thoroughly acquainted with in the course of his trapping and trading. According to Erastus Snow with the Pioneer Company, "He earnestly advised us. . .to make our way into Cache valley; and he so far made an impression upon the camp, that we were induced to enter into an engagement with him to meet us at a certain time and place some two weeks afterwards to pilot our company into that country. But for some reason, which to this day has never to my knowledge been explained, he failed to meet us. . . ." Predictably, Snow in hindsight saw this as part of the "Allwise God’s" plan. A day or two after meeting Smith the Mormons met Jim Bridger, whose opinion of the great basin area, according to Orson Pratt, "was rather more favorable than that of Major Harris." Still Bridger thought it was unwise to attempt to establish a settlement with a large number of people until it could be ascertained if grain could be raised there, and even offered to give a $1,000 for the first bushel of corn grown.

    Soon after establishing the new Mormon home at Great Salt Lake City in late July of 1847, the Mormons sent exploring parties that pushed north to see Cache Valley and Bear River Valley and south as far as Utah Lake. However, it would be eight years before Church leaders thought it was the right time to attempt settlements in Cache Valley.

    After starting settlements in Cache Valley, President Brigham Young and his party made a tour of the northern settlements, and while at Wellsville on June 1, 1860, addressed the settlers in this Cache Valley settlement. He was somewhat displeased with the large volume of Mormon migration to Carson Valley in Nevada and to Cache Valley in 1859 and early 1860. To the latter place he stated he did not know how many had gone except a "great many," and because they had not adequately prepared, there was some dissatisfaction. Young then focused on the situation in Cache Valley saying:

You have a beautiful valley. . . . You may inquire why this land has been so long
held in reserve—the design in this country’s not being settled by white people until
recently. . . . This is a splendid valley, and is better adapted to raising Saints than
any other article that can be raised here. . . . It is the best country in the world for
raising Saints. --[ Journal of Discourses, Vol. 8, pages 286-288.]

    Two days later on June 9th at Franklin in Cache Valley Young declared: "This valley is capable of Sustaining a multitude of people; it is the best valley we have." On the same day at Richmond, Young again spoke to the new settlers with his remarks centered upon the valley they were in:

So far as I know, no other valley in this Territory is equal to this. This has been my
opinion ever since I first saw this valley, and I greatly desire that it may be filled with
Saints, and not with rowdies. . . . Fill this valley with those who love and serve God—
make your settlements as it were a Zion, an earthly paradise, and you will in the
highest degree gratify my feelings and desires."
--[ Journal of Discourses, Vol. 8, pages 291-292.]

Early Settlement of Cache County:

    As the Mormons expanded outward from the Great Salt Lake City settlement of 1847, they became aware of the possibilities of using Cache Valley as a herding ground. In 1855 Bryant Stringham took a herd of cattle into the valley during the summer of 1855 and established his base at Haw Bush Springs and found the luxuriant grasses and abundant water made it an excellent place for cattle. However, the first winter proved severe, forcing them to take the cattle back to the Salt Lake Valley. They came back and established the Elkhorn or Church Ranch near present day College Ward. In 1856, President Brigham Young chose Peter Maughan to lead a founding colony into Cache Valley and begin the settlement. Maughan with five other men made a quick trip from Tooele County to Brigham City and followed Box Elder Creek through the canyon (present U.S. 89) to reach Cache Valley. They reconnoitered the area and were impressed, and decided to establish their new settlement in the southwestern portion of the valley for a variety of reasons, foremost of which was the proximity to the nearest Mormon settlement at Brigham City. They returned to Tooele for their families and arrived back in Cache Valley on September 15, 1856. They made and positioned their homes to form a fortification they called Maughan’s Fort. Arriving so late in the year, they were fully engaged in getting ready for winter by building homes, securing firewood, cutting the wild grass to feed their animals and other preparations. The winter came early and was severe, but they survived. In the early spring of 1857 they prepared some of their land for gardens and field crops, planted both and erected fences to keep their animals out. In the meantime a few more colonists arrived to make about twenty families in the fort. Both their gardens and field crops produced abundantly, and their harvested wheat crop was large. They again cut the wild grass for hay for their animals and were better prepared for the second winter.

    Then came a setback due to the trouble with the Federal Government in what became known as the Utah War with news of an army coming to Utah with speculation and rumors that they intended to destroy the Mormons. The Church leaders planned resistance and set forth a plan to abandon the northern settlements and move south. Word came to Maughan’s Fort early in April of 1858 to remove to Brigham City and await further word. This action and its immediacy were urged on by either the fact or the suggestion that the valley Indians were becoming dangerous. The Fort’s settlers could not take all of their wheat with them and decided to hopefully store it more securely in their houses. Then they loaded some of their possessions and foodstuffs on their wagons, took all their stock and trekked back through the canyon to Brigham City. They remained here and late in July six men went back to their fort and found the Indians had stolen all the grain stored in the houses along with other items. They discovered that there was much volunteer grain ready for harvest and the men harvested it, and they planted some turnips, thinking they may be returning soon. The trouble with the government was resolved in October, but President Young deferred the official resettlement of Cache Valley until the spring of 1859, citing the potential of Indian troubles. However, a small party (four families and four individuals and two young boys) of the fort’s original settlers chose to return to the valley that fall and winter in their old settlement. They occupied their cabins and made repairs. With what foodstuffs they carried back with them, the harvested turnips and some more of the volunteer grain and wild game, they experienced another hard winter. In January of 1859 they were forced to go to Brigham City for more food supplies and a bad storm made the return trip with loaded wagons very difficult.

    Peter Maughan with his family and the majority of the original settlers plus some newcomers returned to Maughan’s Fort in April of 1859 via the low pass at the northern end of the Wellsville Mountains. They resumed their settlement which would not have further interruptions. On November 13, 1859, Apostles Orson Hyde and Ezra T. Benson came to Fort Maughan and placed William H. Maugham as the bishop of a new ward renamed Wellsville after Daniel H. Wells, the second counselor to President Young. The new Bishop Maughan’s father, Peter Maughan, had earlier been selected by the territorial legislature as the first probate judge and top administrator of Cache County. Judge Maughan organized the county and chose the site of the county seat to be Wellsville where county business was conducted until March 5, 1860. Then Logan was made the county seat, and the census of that year recorded that Wellsville had 574 residents and Logan had 533.

    In the meantime, in 1859 a flood of new settlers came to Cache County and formed five additional settlements at Mendon, Providence, Logan, Richmond and Smithfield. The following year five more places were established at Hyrum, Paradise, Millville, Hyde Park and Franklin (part of Utah until Idaho Territory was established in 1863).

    The Mormon settlers were instructed in regard to the native Americans to feed them rather than fight them as far as possible, and to construct their settlements as fortification for safety’s sake. Still there were minor skirmishes with a few killed, stock killed or run off, white children kidnapped by Indians and with constant and increased demands by the Indians for food for the use of lands they claimed. By 1862 the white settlers had occupied or claimed most of Cache Valley except that small portion west of Bear River.

    Then came a series of troublesome incidents including the Indians making increased demands for food from the white settlers with the Mormons resisting, coupled with an increase of overland emigrants, miners and traders crossing Indian claimed land with resultant attacks on such parties by the Indians. This culminated in a clash between federal troops and the Indians in the Battle of Bear River in southern Idaho in early 1863 that greatly decimated the Indians’ influence and claims in Cache Valley and northern Utah.

    A decade later the narrow gauged Utah Northern Railroad between Brigham City and Logan was completed in early 1873 and was later extended into Idaho and on into Montana. A branch line at Brigham City to Corinne then tied the county to the transcontinental railroad. Railroad construction and the railroad provided jobs for Cache residents plus opened new markets for their farm produce, especially grain, eggs, butter and cheese. New developments in agriculture such as dry farming and large scale construction of canals and reservoirs brought increased farm production. By 1900 the raising of sheep and dairy cows became important factors in the economy of the county with commercial enterprises—creameries, flour mills, woolen mills and knitting factories—developing around the county’s leading farm productions. A century later the county remains the state’s leader in dairy products and high on the list in growing hay, alfalfa and grains.

* * * *

Land Ownership:
Federal – 36 percent; State – 4.5 percent: Private – 59.4 percent.
Dominant Industries - education, agriculture, cheese production.
Agricultural Information:
Number of farms: 1189
Land in farms: 267,924 acres
Harvested cropland: 120,044 acres
Irrigated land: 87,475 acres
Major Agricultural Enterprises and Their Ranking in the State:
All grain production: 2nd
Winter wheat: 2nd
Spring wheat: 2nd
Barley: 1st
Oats: 3rd
Corn silage: 3rd
Alfalfa: 3rd
Total cattle: 2nd
Dairy cattle: 1st
Farm cash receipts $100.5 million: 1st
Livestock cash receipts $83.1 million: 1st
Crop cash receipts $17.4 million: 5th

Some Cache County Facts and Figures:

Cache County towns, precincts and districts populations or taxes at various dates:

Locality 1895 Map1897 Tax List 1922 Map1930 Census 1950 Census 2000 CensusRemarks
AltoNo $556.64No 229225 427Amalga
AvonNo $693.88Yes 105123 306 -
BaxterNo $360.69No -- --
BensonYes $899.19Yes 279482 1,451 -
Cache Jct.No - No - Yes37 -
CannonYes No No - - - part of Cornish
ClarkstonYes $1,479.92Yes 687526 688-
College WardNo $1,303.72No 432276 - -
CornishNo NoYes 384181 259-
CovevilleYes $990.00Yes 259252 443Cove
GreensvilleNo $1,063.62No 360535 6,163North Logan
Hyde ParkYes $1,897.40Yes 767644 2,955-
HyrumYes $3,611.48Yes 1,9731,704 6,316-
La PlataYes NoNo -- -Mining camp
LewistonYes $2,261.76Yes 1,7831,533 1,877-
LoganYes $29,621.20Yes 10,06116,904 42,670-
MendonYes $2,305.17Yes 472369 898-
MillvilleYes $1,819.94Yes 434401 1,507-
NewtonYes $1,394.86Yes 696497 699-
NibleyNo NoNo 277304 2,045-
ParadiseYes $1,621.00Yes 505401 759-
PetersboroYes $1,500.57Yes 233150 230-
ProvidenceYes $2,396.04Yes 1,2671.055 4,397-
RansomYes NoNo -- -part of Trenton
RichmondYes $3,625.93Yes 1,3101,091 2,051-
RiversideNo $812.66No -- -part of Benson
River HeightsNo NoNo 283468 1,496-
SmithfieldYes $4,317.75Yes 2,4462,383 7,261-
StephensonNo $1,091.64No -- -part of Lewiston
StirlingNo $422.68No 8692 -Mt. Sterling
TrentonYes $1,376.76Yes 531451 449-
WebsterNo NoYes -- --
WellsvilleYes $3,615.48Yes 1,4521,241 2,728-
WheelerNo $751.95No -- -part of Lewiston
Young WardNo NoNo 171- --
Locality 1910 Census1920 Census 1930 Census
Mt. Home160 118blank – enrolled elsewhere
Stephenson255 323blank " "
Wheeler236 245blank " "

1895 Map of Utah – U.S. Atlas by Rand McNally
1897 tax listing from Utah Journal of April 3, 1897
1922 Map of Utah – New World Atlas and Gazetteer 1922 Edition
U.S. Censuses - 1910, 1920, 1930, 1950 and 2000

* * * *

Significant Events in and for Cache County:

Fur trade in early Utah -

1857-58 – The Utah War -

1863 The Battle of Bear River in southern Idaho -
-- Shoshoni version
-- U.S. Army version

1869 Completion of the Transcontinental Railroad -

1873 the narrow gauged railroad into Cache County; then into Idaho and on to Montana –

1882 James H. Martineau, "The Military History of Cache County."
Tullidge’s Quarterly Magazine Vol. 2 no. 1 (April, 1882): 122-131.

1888 the land grant agricultural college – Utah Agriculture College –

Interesting Features:

Mormon Battalion Veterans - brief sketches on veterans

Early School Districts

Dams, Reservoirs and Lakes
     a. Newton Dam (1872) & Newton Project Utah (1941-1946) -
     b. Hyrum Project Utah (1933-34) -
     c. Porcupine Reservoir (1964) -
    d. Lakes in Cache County -

Lake Bonneville -

Shoreline of Lake Bonneville - 

Mountain Men Rendezvous Sites -

Bear River -

Early irrigation practices –

Development of dry-farming techniques –

United Orders -
The United Order in Mendon and Newton with Insights on other Cache County Branches - by Larry D. Christiansen [Word doc with endnotes, new window]

Old Ephraim -


Jim Bridger -

Henry Ballard -

William Hyde’s Journal - Cache County period -*.html

John Jenkins -

Marriner W. Merrill -

Peter Maughan -

Charles W. Nibley -

Oliver C. Ormsby - by Larry D. Christiansen

Simon L. Smith - by Larry D. Christiansen

Hezekiah Thatcher - A Pioneer of Cache Valley Commerce

John A. Widtsoe -

Ezra T. Benson -

William B. Preston -

Chief Washakie -

Chief Bear Hunter - brief biography Cache Valley era

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Updated: 24 Jun 2015

Copyright 2006 by Larry D. Christiansen
Produced for Cache Co. UTGenWeb