Box Elder County

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: Great Salt Lake, 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 in1904. Brigham City is still a center of fruit production.
  • Porter Rockwell established a ranch in Box Elder County in 1849.
  • The railroad town of Corinne had Utah’s first Protestant church, built in 1870 and still standing.
  • A group of Molokans from Russia came in 1914 to begin a cooperative settlement near Kelton (the settlement failed).
  • The Berlin Candy Bomber—a pilot who dropped candy during the Berlin Airlift of 1948—came from Garland (his name was Gail Halversen).
  • A World War II military hospital in Brigham City became the Intermountain Indian School, a boarding school where American Indians received vocational training from 1950-1984.
  • The county has both the Sun Tunnels and the Spiral Jetty, famous land-based works of art.

What is the land like?

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.

First Peoples

Recent evidence indicates that hunters and gatherers roamed the area dating back more than 12,000 years ago. The Fremont Indians lived in this area until about 1200 A.D.—800 years ago. Archaeologists have found artifacts from these peoples 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 Native Americans lived in the area for several centuries before contact with Euro-Americans.

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

History

During the 1820s and 1830s, fur trappers, including Peter Skene Ogden and Joseph R. Walker, explored the eastern and northern parts of the county.

Settlers

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, when the 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

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

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 People’s Party, which consisted primarily of Latter-day Saints.

Economy

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.