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Box Elder County

Box Elder County

Quick facts
Cool facts
What is the land like?
A bit of prehistory
A bit of history
A bit of economic info

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Quick facts

Area: 5,614 square miles 
County seat: Brigham City
How it got named: Lots of box elder trees there
Main cities/towns: Brigham City, Tremonton, Garland, Perry, Willard  
Economy: agriculture, aerospace/defense
Points of interest: Willard Bay, Crystal Hot Springs, Brigham City Museum and Gallery, Golden Spike National Historic Site, Box Elder LDS Tabernacle in Brigham City, Willard Historic District.

Cool facts


An apple orchard near Brigham City in 1904. Brigham City still is a center of fruit production.

What is the land like?

farm machinery

Dave Peterson's farm, southeast of Tremonton, in 1945.

Box Elder County forms the northwest corner of Utah. This large county is part of the vast Great Basin. It includes the northern part of the Great Salt Lake and the Great Salt Lake Desert. Marshlands surround the place where the Bear River runs into the Great Salt Lake. Some of these form the Bear River National Migratory Bird Refuge.

The Promontory Mountains, Raft River Mountain, Grouse Creek Mountains, and Pilot Range give the county its high points. The valleys contain farmlands (in places where there is enough water), rangelands, and desert.

A bit of prehistory

Hunters and gatherers roamed the area as early as 9,000 years ago. The Fremont Indians lived in this area until about 1200 A.D. Archaeologists have found artifacts from these earliest inhabitants of Box Elder County in caves near the Great Salt Lake (Danger Cave, Promontory Cave, and Hogup Cave) and at Shallow Shelter in the Grouse Creek Mountains.

The closely related Shoshone and Goshute Indians lived in the area for several centuries before contact with Euro-Americans.

A bit of history

During the 1820s and '30s, fur trappers, including Peter Skene Ogden and Joseph R. Walker, explored the eastern and northern parts of the county.


man and ducks

Treating sick ducks at the bird refuge near Brigham City, 1930s. Utah Writers Project photo.

Permanent white settlement began in 1851, when a group of Mormons took up land in North Willow Creek (Willard).  Brigham City, which later would become an important center of the Mormon cooperative movement, was settled that same year.

The settlers moved into land occupied by the Shoshone Indians, and their presence began to destroy Shoshone food sources. In return, the Indians raided livestock, and sometimes the settlers and Indians fought. These problems continued until July 30, 1863, Territorial Governor James Duane Doty negotiated the Treaty of Box Elder in Brigham City.

In 1856 the territorial legislature created Box Elder County from part of Weber County. Later, in 1880, the legislature divided the water and islands of the Great Salt Lake among Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Tooele, and Box Elder counties.

Joining of the rails

young woman studying

A student at the Intermountain Indian School at Brigham City studying in her dorm room, c. 1960.

The most significant event in Box Elder history was the “joining of the railroads” on May 10, 1869. The Central Pacific Railroad had built tracks from the west, and the Union Pacific Railroad built tracks from the east.  The two tracks met at Promontory Summit. On May 10, 1869, officials drove a ceremonial “Golden Spike” to finish the first railroad to cross the country from east to west.

Corinne, a feisty non-Mormon boomtown, became the freight transfer point for goods shipped to Idaho and Montana. In July 1870 Corinne residents founded a new political party, the Liberal party, to oppose the Mormon People's party.

A bit of economic info

Agriculture has always played an important role in the economy of Box Elder County. About 40 percent of the county's land is used for farming or ranching. Common crops like hay, grain and alfalfa are still grown. Starting in 1901, many farmers planted sugar beets. Two sugar factories, one in Garland and the other in Brigham City, operated for many years, but they have closed now. Box Elder also has abundant fruit orchards and vegetable crops.


Minuteman ICBM (missile) on the launch pad in Florida, 1960. The first stage--which would launch the missile--was built by Thiokol Chemical Corporation Utah Division.

In 1957, Thiokol Chemical (now Morton-Thiokol) began operating in Brigham City. Morton -Thiokol builds motors for missles and rockets. The company chose to come to Box Elder County because it needed a large desert area for testing its motors. Defense and aerospace have become the most important part of the county's economy.