Scientists have identified the remains of extinct Pleistocene species such as the sloth, horse, mammoth, bison, and camel in Wayne County and dated Archaic and Fremont Indian sites (Cowboy Caves) to between 6300 B.C. and 450 A.D. Horseshoe (Barrier) Canyon and the Maze section of Canyonlands in eastern Wayne contain spectacular pictographs. In historic times the county was part of the Ute Indians’ domain.
Wayne was created in May 1892 from Piute County. Most of its towns were settled after 1880 because of the remote location and limited resources. A delegate to the constitutional convention gave it the name of Wayne County in honor of his son who was dragged to death by a horse. Raising livestock is the oldest and most important industry. Beef cattle produce the most income, but dairy cows, sheep, and poultry have all contributed to the local economy in the past. Getting cattle to market was difficult. Until good roads were built in the 1930s stock was driven some 100 miles north to the railroad at Nephi and later to a Denver & Rio Grande branch line in Sevier County. The creation of national forests in the early 20th century reduced the number of cattle that could be grazed in western Wayne County.
20th Century to Now
The lumber industry became another major source of income. Wayne County is logged at a higher elevation than any place in the U.S. This area has long been famed for its hunting and fishing quality. With the completion of highway 24 through Capitol Reef National Park and scenic highway 12 over the Boulder Mountain, Wayne County is enjoying in more recent years tourism. This also provides income for some residents. Almost every town in the county has excellent accommodations for the tourist. There are two airports in the county. One is owned and maintained by the county near Bicknell and the second is government maintained and located at Hanksville. Uranium has been mined, and tar sands, another energy-related resource, await development. The state operates two fish hatcheries in Wayne.
During the Great Depression the Works Progress Administration (WPA) provided funds to build a county courthouse in Loa. County officials originally met in private homes and rented quarters and later converted a store into office space. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), another federal program during the depression, operated three camps in the county. The CCC built roads, campgrounds, and small water projects. Road building has been a major concern of local government from the beginning. Modern highways now make it easy for tourists to drive to many scenic attractions and give residents easy access to the nearest commercial center and medical and other services in Richfield.
For a more detailed history of Wayne County see “A History of Wayne County (1999)” by Miriam B. Murphy which can be purchased at the County Clerks Office at 18 S. Main in Loa.