It is presumed the Native Americans’ presence in the county flourished and faded several times during the past 11 millennia. From approximately 2,000 years ago until the arrival of white men in the West, the county’s residents were the Fremont who were eventually replaced by the Shoshonean Paiute. The Goshutes, who have a reservation in the county today, are their descendents.
Historians credit mountain man Jim Bridger for discovering the Great Salt Lake in 1824, but it was the following year when the first white man is believed to have entered Tooele County. That man was James Clyman, who with three other men, searched for freshwater streams and beaver around the southern shores of the Great Salt Lake. In 1827, mountain man Jedediah Smith, while traveling east from California, walked across Tooele County and reportedly met the Goshutes in Tooele Valley.
From that year on, Tooele County’s fascinating Old West history began to emerge. After the mountain men came notable explorer John C. Fremont, and then pioneers on their way to the promised land of California. In 1846 the ill-fated Donner-Reed Party nearly perished while crossing the Great Salt Lake Desert. Later, stranded by deep snow in the Sierra Mountains, many of them died while survivors resorted to cannibalism.
By July of the next year, Brigham Young stood above Salt Lake Valley with his faithful Mormon followers and declared what he saw below as home. By late 1849, Mormon pioneers established a settlement in Tooele Valley near the mouth of Settlement Canyon.
The county’s close ties to American Old West history are made even more extraordinary by the famous Pony Express Trail, which crossed Tooele County from 1860 to 1861. Moreover, there were confrontations between Native Americans and the pioneers, plus numerous boom and bust eras of mining operations in the nearby mountains.