Emery County
Museum of the San Rafael Swell, in Castle Dale
Museum of the San Rafael Swell, in Castle Dale
Official seal of Emery County
Map of Utah highlighting Emery County
Location within the U.S. state of Utah
Map of the United States highlighting Utah
Utah's location within the U.S.
Coordinates: 38°59′N 110°41′W / 38.99°N 110.69°W / 38.99; -110.69Coordinates: 38°59′N 110°41′W / 38.99°N 110.69°W / 38.99; -110.69
Country United States
State Utah
FoundedFebruary 12, 1880
Named forGeorge W. Emery
SeatCastle Dale
Largest cityHuntington
 • Total4,472 sq mi (11,580 km2)
 • Land4,462 sq mi (11,560 km2)
 • Water9.5 sq mi (25 km2)  0.2%
 • Total9,825
 • Density2.2/sq mi (0.85/km2)
Time zoneUTC−7 (Mountain)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−6 (MDT)
Congressional district3rd

Emery County is a county in east-central Utah, United States. As of the 2010 United States Census, the population was 10,976.[1] Its county seat is Castle Dale,[2] and the largest city is Huntington.



Barrier Canyon Style rock art found in Emery County
Barrier Canyon Style rock art found in Emery County

Occupation of the San Rafael region dates back thousands of years to include people of the Desert Archaic Culture who were followed by those of the Fremont culture who inhabited present-day Emery County through the sixth through thirteenth centuries AD. Evidence of these civilizations is extant in numerous pictograph and petroglyph panels, such as those in Temple Mountain Wash, Muddy Creek, Ferron Box, Black Dragon Canyon, and Buckhorn Wash - all sites listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Ute Indians also occupied sites in Castle Valley,

Old Spanish Trail

The first non-indigenous persons to view Castle Valley were undoubtedly Spanish Traders and Explorers. The first of record was Silvestre Vélez de Escalante; in 1776 he crossed northern Utah through the Uintah Basin. Spanish traders and explorers soon found a more southerly route, and their path became known as the Old Spanish Trail. It began at Santa Fe, to Durango, Colorado, crossed the Colorado River (then known as Grand River) near present-day Moab, then to the Green River-crossing where Green River is now located, thence westerly to Cedar Mountain. It went on the South side of Cedar Mountain, across Buckhorn Flat, passed the Red Seeps to Huntington Creek, crossing about a mile below where the present bridge crosses; thence to Cottonwood Creek. It crossed the Ferron Creek where Molen now stands. It passed through the Rochester Flats about one mile (1.6 km) east of present-day Moore and crossed the Muddy Creek about two miles (3 km) due east of the present town of Emery.

Route of the Old Spanish Trail within southeastern Utah.
Route of the Old Spanish Trail within southeastern Utah.

It then went over Salina (Salt Creek) Canyon. It then turned south and went through Parowan, Mountain Meadows, Las Vegas, Barstow California and to the coast.[3] This Trail had to traverse Castle Valley, to skirt the steep-walled canyons of the San Juan, Colorado, Green, Dirty Devil, and San Rafael Rivers.

Slavery was the principal trade which developed between Santa Fe and the Utah region. The trading of Indian women and children to the Spanish, although illegal, was the purpose of the Spanish coming into the area which was to become Utah. The other use of the trail was to herd livestock, mostly horses, from California to Santa Fe. Since the slave trade was illegal, the traders kept neither records of their activities nor the extent of their travels and explorations.[4] Travelers along the Old Spanish Trail gave Castle Valley its names, as the travelers marveled at the imposing rock formations.[5]

Early explorers

The first Americans to come to Castle Valley were fur trappers, including the "lost trappers", James Workman and William Spencer, who had been separated from their trapping party by Comanche Indians and had wandered all the way to the Moab crossing of the Colorado River hoping that they would find Santa Fe. Here they met a Spanish caravan of forty or fifty people going to California. They joined the caravan and traveled through Castle Valley in 1809 and went on to California. In 1830, William Wilfskill came to Castle Valley along the Spanish Trail. He and his party were fur trappers but found little in the area to keep them here.[6]

Following the trappers in the late 1840s and early 1850s, government explorers came to the valley seeking usable overland routes across the continent. Kit Carson was the first of these famous men. He was looking for a direct route for the mail to be carried overland from St. Louis to California. Carson carried through Castle Valley to the nation the news of gold being found in the Sierra Nevada in 1848.[7]

Gunnison's trail through Utah
Gunnison's trail through Utah

In 1853 John W. Gunnison, an Army Topographical Engineer came through Castle Valley, plotting a railroad route. He was commissioned for this assignment by US Secretary of War Jefferson Davis. He left detailed descriptions of his travels, and carefully laid out his route through Castle Valley. Gunnison's route first met the Spanish Trail at the Green River crossing. He followed this trail for a short distance west of the Green River, but when the Spanish Trail entered a rugged rocky region (Sinbad Reef) he charted a route around this feature.[8]

The third government explorer was John C. Fremont, in the winter of 1853–54. His trip was heavily impacted by the cold weather. They suffered from lack of food and from the inhospitable landscape. There was no relief from their difficulties until they left Castle Valley and made their way to the small Mormon settlement of Parowan.[7]

Arrival of pioneers

In 1875 livestock growers from Sanpete County brought cattle and sheep into Castle Valley to graze, and several recognized the settlement potential of the region. With a shortage of sufficient land and water in Sanpete County and a strong desire by LDS Church leaders to acquire unoccupied land in the region before non-Mormons did, young families began moving into Castle Valley in the fall of 1877 to homestead in the future sites of Huntington, Ferron, Castle Dale, and Orangeville.[5]

In late August 1877, Brigham Young, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), issued an order to the Sanpete LDS Stake president seeking ". . . at least fifty families [to] locate in Castle Valley this fall." The order led to the last Mormon colony settled under the direction of Brigham Young. One week later on August 29, Young, the Great Colonizer, died. During his 30 years as leader of the LDS Church, Young had overseen and directed the establishment of almost 400 towns and villages. The settlement of Emery County was his last.

Soon after issuance of Young's order, several bands of settlers moved out from the Sanpete region headed for Castle Valley (Emery County). They settled along Huntington Creek, Cottonwood Creek, and Ferron Creek. The following spring (1878) several more families arrived. In the spring of 1878, Elias Cox and Charles Hollingshead set up a sawmill in Huntington Canyon to support the colony. On Ferron Creek, settlers plowed lands and began construction of a ditch for irrigation. Most of the early settlers in Castle Valley claimed easily watered bottom lands along the creeks and rivers, and by 1879, most of the best lands had been taken up.[6]

Emery County was created by the Utah Territorial Legislature on February 12, 1880. The description included the future Carbon County area. It was named for George W. Emery, the Utah Territory governor whose term was ending as the act was being debated.[9] The 1880 census showed 556 people and 84 farms in Emery County, but this figure is likely short as many prominent settlers were inadvertently left off the county rolls. By 1890, the population of Emery County had risen to 2,866. Between 1880 and 1900, many significant canals were constructed, including the Huntington Canal (1884), Emery Canal (1885), Cleveland Canal (1885), and the Wakefield Ditch (1880). Many of the early canals are still in service.[7] The county boundaries were altered in 1880 and 1890. In 1894 the north portion of the county was partitioned off to create Carbon County. The county boundaries remained intact after that, except for a small adjustment in the city of Green River in 2003.[10]

In the early 1880s, the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad contemplated possible routings through the Emery County region. Early plans to locate the railroad through the heart of Emery County were thwarted when the route over the Wasatch Range proved to be too steep. The route was moved to the NE part of the county, bypassing most of the settlements. Most of the county thus missed on economic opportunities brought by the railroad, but Green River, on the east county border, quickly boomed after the rails arrived.[6]

Twentieth Century

Moore, Utah school house circa 1912.
Moore, Utah school house circa 1912.

Emery County population passed 4,600 by 1900, with 450+ farms and 25,000 acres (100 km2) under cultivation. Irrigation systems were being expanded to bring new lands into production, bringing with them problems which would plague the region for several decades. Water rights conflicts frequently arose, and water theft, known as "midnight irrigation," became common. Most disputes were settled by decree, but a few were contested by violence.

The underlying soils in Emery County consist of ancient seabeds which contain high levels of salts. Poor drainage and over-irrigation causes the salts to collect on the surface, rendering large areas of land unsuitable for agriculture. The problem first appeared in the 1890s, and in 1903, a Department of Agriculture report stated that over 30% of the developed farmland in Emery County had been abandoned due to degradation.

With expanded irrigation development came expanded settlement as several new towns were established. In addition, the coal industry, which had consisted of small mines to cover local demand, had significantly expanded, with several large-scale operations starting in the county. The US entry into The Great War created a minor boom in Emery County as agricultural prices rose and manpower shortages caused wages at the mines to rise. Following the war, prices dropped significantly, leading to hard times throughout much of the 1920s. Things improved somewhat during the later years of the decade, but an even more significant collapse came with the onset of the Great Depression in the early 1930s. In addition, severe drought in 1931 and 1934 intensified the economic hardship in the county.

San Rafael Bridge in Emery County
San Rafael Bridge in Emery County

The 1930s were difficult for Emery County residents. The county population dropped by 5% from 1920 to 1930, although it remained somewhat steady after that. Agricultural prices dropped 40% from their 1929 level, and coal production dropped by half. Water shortages and land degradation continued to be problems. In 1935, only 16,462 acres (66.62 km2) out of 41,725 acres (168.86 km2) produced crops.

The residents did benefit from several depression-relief programs, including the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which established several CCC camps in the county. Company 959 established a camp in Joes Valley in May 1933. The camp moved several times in the following years before establishing a permanent camp near Ferron in 1935. A second camp was established at Castle Dale in 1935, and another camp was established at Green River in 1938. During its tenure in Emery County, the CCC built road, bridges and trails as well as building ranger stations and other projects on public lands. Many enrollees settled in Emery County after their discharge from the Corps.

Following the end of World War II, Emery County veterans returned to find relative economic prosperity. County farm income in 1946 was double that of 1940, and the coal mines were operating at fairly high levels. During the post-war years, the county matured and modernized as modern water and sanitation systems were constructed, roads were improved, and many of the luxuries enjoyed by people in less rural areas, like telephones, reached Emery County. While many things in Emery County improved, some things did not. The agricultural sector still suffered from inconsistent water supplies and a lack of significant long-term water storage. And in the mid-1950s, the region again experienced near-drought conditions. It was during this period that a water reservoir in Joes Valley was completed.[6]

Riding the crest of national economic growth during the 1970s Emery County's population grew significantly as a result of the construction of large coal-fired power plants in Castle Dale and Huntington by Utah Power & Light Company (PacifiCorp) and the expansion of coal mines to fuel them.[5]


On August 6, 2007, at 2:48 A.M., UtahAmerican Energy's Crandall Canyon Mine, 15 miles (24 kilometers) west north-west of Huntington, collapsed; trapping 6 workers inside. The mine, located just off State Route 31, is about 34 miles (55 km) southeast of Fairview, and 140 mi (230 km) south of Salt Lake City (100 mi or 160 km). The workers were approximately 3.4 mi (5.5 km) from the mine entrance and 1,500 ft (460 m) underground. The collapse registered recorded seismic waves in magnitude 3.9 to 4.0, by seismograph stations of the University of Utah. Emery County, the state's No. 2 coal-producing county, was also the site of a fire that killed 27 people in the Wilberg Mine in December 1984.[11][12][13]


The Green River flows southward along the east side of the county. The Price River flows southeastward through the northeastern corner of the county to its discharge point into the Green on the county's east border. The San Rafael River rises in the northwestern part of the county and cuts its way across the county's central areas before discharging into the Green, several miles south of the city of Green River.[14] The county terrain is rough flat areas broken by mountain ranges and ridges and carved by water erosion, generally sloping to the south and east. The county's highest point is 10,743' (3274m) ASL, in the Central Utah Plateaus on the county's main north border.[15] The county has a total area of 4,472 square miles (11,580 km2), of which 4,462 square miles (11,560 km2) is land and 9.5 square miles (25 km2) (0.2%) is water.[16] The Wasatch Plateau, a mountainous area, sits along the western boundary. The main population of the county lives along the base of these mountains. The San Rafael Swell occupies most of the area to the east.

The San Rafael Reef

The western side of the county is the most populated and contains numerous small communities residing in an agricultural valley that roughly parallels the Manti National Forest to the west. Streams originate in the Wasatch Plateau on the forest and their headwaters are stored in several reservoirs. Agricultural areas depend on these reservoirs and waterways for survival and some farmland communities struggle with excess salinity. The east side of the county is dry with rough terrain. Green River, the largest community on this side of the county, is more closely tied to the communities and economy of Grand County. Emery County's maps show the importance of the forest lands to the local communities as there are few significant groundwater aquifers in the area.

Emery County contains three areas: the mountainous Wasatch Plateau to the west; Castle Valley, where the major settlements are located; and the desert of the San Rafael Swell, the San Rafael Reef, Cedar Mountain, and the remote stretches on the east.

The San Rafael River, the life blood of the county, originates in the Wasatch Plateau where the headwaters are stored in several reservoirs for agricultural and industrial use. It flows into Castle Valley in three branches—Huntington Creek, Cottonwood Creek, and Ferron Creek—which unite to form the San Rafael River after they pass the communities and adjacent farm land. It then twists its way through the rock and desert to its junction with the Green River.

Geographical names feature Native American, Spanish and English influences. Two Ute Indian names: Wasatch, a gap in the mountains; Quitchupah, a place where animals fare poorly. Wasatch is the name of the plateau between the Sanpete Valley and the Castle Valley. Quitchupah is a small creek south of Emery. The Spanish name which is still used is San Rafael which means Saint Ralph. During Spanish times the name Rafael was also given to the present Ferron Creek. In 1873, A.D. Ferron, the surveyor sent by Washington to perform cadastral surveys of eastern Utah, named this creek, but prior to this time it was the Rafael. The Ute Indians called it the Cabulla, which refers to the small edible part of a cactus pear. Huntington Creek was originally called San Marcus; Ute Indians called it Sivareeche, and the Spanish called it Mateo. The Indians called Castle Valley Tompin-con-tu or rock house land which relates to the present Castle Valley. The Spanish named the valley St. Joseph's Valley.[6]


Range Creek rises in Emery County, and has recently been shown to have pristine remains of the Fremont culture. The State of Utah owns the site and is currently identifying the remains and developing a long-term conservation plan.

Major highways

Adjacent counties

Protected areas



Historical population
Census Pop.
US Decennial Census[17]
1790–1960[18] 1900–1990[19]
1990–2000[20] 2010–2018[1] 2020[21]

As of the 2000 United States Census, there were 10,860 people, 3,468 households, and 2,798 families in the county. The population density was 2.43/sqmi (0.94/km2). There were 4,093 housing units at an average density of 0.92/sqmi (0.35/km2). The racial makeup of the county was 95.64% White, 0.18% Black or African American, 0.65% Native American, 0.31% Asian, 0.10% Pacific Islander, 1.87% from other races, and 1.24% from two or more races. 5.23% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 3,468 households, out of which 45.90% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 69.80% were married couples living together, 7.20% had a female householder with no husband present, and 19.30% were non-families. 17.60% of all households were made up of individuals, and 8.10% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 3.10 and the average family size was 3.53.

The county population contained 35.40% under the age of 18, 9.60% from 18 to 24, 24.10% from 25 to 44, 20.90% from 45 to 64, and 10.10% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 30 years. For every 100 females there were 100.80 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 97.50 males.

The median income for a household in the county was $39,850, and the median income for a family was $44,086. Males had a median income of $39,059 versus $18,929 for females. The per capita income for the county was $14,243. About 9.40% of families and 11.50% of the population were below the poverty line, including 14.00% of those under age 18 and 8.10% of those age 65 or over.

As of 2015, the largest self-reported ancestry groups in Emery County, Utah are:[22]

Largest ancestries (2015) Percent
English 35.0%
German 14.8%
Danish 14.5%
Irish 10.6%
Scottish 6.6%
Swedish 5.5%
Dutch 5.0%
French (except Basque) 4.3%
Italian 3.9%
Welsh 3.8%
Norwegian 2.5%
Swiss 1.6%


Pacificorp's Hunter Plant near Castle Dale
Pacificorp's Hunter Plant near Castle Dale

Livestock and farming were the mainstays of Emery County's economy for much of its history. The opening of large coal mines and the construction of large power plants in Castle Dale and Huntington in the 1970s changed the economy significantly and the population grew sharply. High wages in this sector initially created high average incomes, but depressed markets for coal and coalbed methane, along with improvements in mining technology, have slowed or postponed this sector for some time.

As a result, unemployment has remained higher than that of the State since 1990. The County still contains extensive natural resources that could be tapped, but the jobs produced from new mining activity may be at a similar level as those replaced by technology.[23]

A proposed nuclear power plant, the Blue Castle Project, is set to begin construction near Green River in 2023.[24]







Politics and Government

Like most of Utah, Emery County is reliably Republican. In only one national election since 1964 has the county selected the Democratic Party candidate.

State Elected Offices
Position District Name Affiliation First Elected
  Senate 27 David Hinkins Republican 2008[25]
  House of Representatives 69 Christine Watkins Republican 2016[26]
  House of Representatives 70 Carl Albrecht Republican 2016[27]
  Board of Education 14 Mark Huntsman Nonpartisan 2014[28]
Presidential election results
Presidential elections results[29]
Year Republican Democratic Third parties
2020 85.9% 4,207 11.7% 572 2.4% 119
2016 79.4% 3,425 8.8% 380 11.8% 510
2012 84.9% 3,777 12.8% 569 2.3% 103
2008 75.0% 3,358 21.7% 973 3.2% 145
2004 80.8% 3,781 17.8% 831 1.4% 66
2000 73.7% 3,243 21.8% 958 4.5% 197
1996 49.3% 2,033 33.3% 1,371 17.4% 718
1992 36.4% 1,643 29.9% 1,349 33.7% 1,518
1988 56.0% 2,322 43.2% 1,788 0.8% 34
1984 69.4% 3,081 29.9% 1,326 0.7% 32
1980 67.2% 3,076 28.7% 1,315 4.1% 188
1976 47.1% 1,717 48.6% 1,771 4.3% 155
1972 65.3% 1,666 30.2% 769 4.5% 115
1968 50.9% 1,223 42.4% 1,019 6.7% 161
1964 43.5% 1,103 56.5% 1,434
1960 50.9% 1,283 49.1% 1,238
1956 64.0% 1,679 36.0% 943
1952 56.8% 1,552 43.2% 1,181
1948 42.9% 1,147 56.5% 1,511 0.6% 15
1944 40.6% 974 59.4% 1,427 0.0% 1
1940 34.5% 1,006 65.1% 1,901 0.4% 12
1936 32.7% 938 66.5% 1,909 0.8% 22
1932 39.0% 1,112 56.6% 1,613 4.3% 123
1928 57.1% 1,317 41.8% 965 1.1% 26
1924 43.0% 979 40.2% 916 16.8% 383
1920 53.6% 1,285 42.9% 1,029 3.5% 84
1916 37.4% 896 58.7% 1,406 3.9% 94
1912 37.0% 760 37.0% 760 25.9% 532
1908 54.7% 1,097 37.4% 749 7.9% 158
1904 56.7% 905 36.5% 583 6.8% 109
1900 45.3% 666 54.3% 798 0.3% 5
1896 19.0% 231 81.0% 985


Map of Emery County municipalities
Map of Emery County municipalities



Unincorporated communities

Former communities

In popular culture


See also


  1. ^ a b "State & County QuickFacts". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on June 6, 2011. Retrieved December 29, 2013.
  2. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Archived from the original on May 31, 2011. Retrieved June 7, 2011.
  3. ^ Jorgensen, John. History of Castle Valley Prior to Mormon Settlement. 1990
  4. ^ Hafen, LeRoy and Hafen, Ann W.; Old Spanish Trail; pp. 109-129; University of Nebraska Press; 1993; ISBN 978-0-8032-7261-3
  5. ^ a b c Utah History Encyclopedia, Allan Kent Powell
  6. ^ a b c d e Wm. Joe Simonds; The Emery County Project; Bureau of Reclamation History Program
  7. ^ a b c Roberts, David (2001), A newer world: Kit Carson, John C. Fremont and the claiming of the American west, New York: Touchstone ISBN 0-684-83482-0.
  8. ^ Beckwith, E.G.; Gunnison, J.W. (1856). Report of explorations for a route for the Pacific railroad: near the 38th and 39th parallels of north latitude : from the mouth of the Kansas River, Mo., to the Sevier Lake, in the Great Basin. Washington [D.C.]: War Dept. OCLC 8497072
  9. ^ Gannett, Henry (1905). The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States. Govt. Print. Off. p. 119.
  10. ^ "Individual County Chronologies/Emery County UT. [[Newberry Library]] (accessed March 29, 2019)". Archived from the original on March 6, 2016. Retrieved March 30, 2019.
  11. ^ "6 miners trapped in Utah coal mine collapse" Archived March 9, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, CNN.com
  12. ^ "Six miners trapped after Utah coal mine collapses"[permanent dead link], Yahoo! News
  13. ^ "Utah mine owner: Rescue will take 3 days", from AP at Yahoo! News
  14. ^ a b c Emery County UT Google Maps (accessed 29 March 2019)
  15. ^ "Utah County High Points/Emery County UT. Peakbagger (accessed 29 March 2019)". Archived from the original on March 27, 2019. Retrieved March 30, 2019.
  16. ^ "2010 Census Gazetteer Files". US Census Bureau. August 22, 2012. Retrieved March 27, 2015.
  17. ^ "US Decennial Census". US Census Bureau. Retrieved March 27, 2015.
  18. ^ "Historical Census Browser". University of Virginia Library. Retrieved March 27, 2015.
  19. ^ Forstall, Richard L., ed. (March 27, 1995). "Population of Counties by Decennial Census: 1900 to 1990". US Census Bureau. Retrieved March 27, 2015.
  20. ^ "Census 2000 PHC-T-4. Ranking Tables for Counties: 1990 and 2000" (PDF). US Census Bureau. April 2, 2001. Retrieved March 27, 2015.
  21. ^ 2020 Population and Housing State Data | Utah
  22. ^ "Selected Social Characteristics in the United States: 2011-2015 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates: Emery County, Utah". US Census Bureau. Archived from the original on February 13, 2020. Retrieved March 25, 2017.
  23. ^ Emery County Profile, Utah Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget. 2003
  24. ^ Stoddard, Patsy (January 24, 2017). "Update on the Nuclear Power Plant for Green River". Castle Dale, Utah: Emery County Progress. Archived from the original on February 11, 2017. Retrieved February 9, 2017.
  25. ^ "Senator Hinkins Utah Senate". senate.utah.gov. Retrieved November 16, 2021.
  26. ^ "Rep. Watkins, Christine F." Utah House of Representatives. Retrieved November 17, 2021.
  27. ^ "Rep. Albrecht, Carl R." Utah House of Representatives. Retrieved November 17, 2021.
  28. ^ "Mark Huntsman". www.schools.utah.gov. Archived from the original on November 15, 2021. Retrieved November 15, 2021.
  29. ^ Leip, David. "Atlas of US Presidential Elections". uselectionatlas.org. Retrieved March 31, 2018.
  30. ^ "Emery County plays a role in new Star Trek flick," Emery County Progress, May 19, 2009
  31. ^ Cinema southwest: an illustrated guide to the movies and their locations By John A. Murray. Northland Publishing, 2000
  32. ^ Human Music Video on YouTube. Universal Music Group. October 22, 2008. Retrieved April 28, 2009.

Further reading