Prior to 1820 – Colorado’s northern Utes claimed North Park and the surrounding area as home. Living on deer, buffalo, antelope and other wild game during the warmer months, the Utes would migrate with the wildlife to lower altitudes late fall through winter. Fierce defenders of their native lands, the Utes would frequently raid white settlers who were encroaching on their territory, and steal horses and other items before slipping back to their North Park environs. For the most part, these early marauding expeditions took them over the low Medicine Bow Pass, which is known today as Ute Pass. The Arapaho also hunted in North Park, coming in from the southwest over present-day Arapaho Pass, a pass described by Lt. John C. Fremont as “one of the most beautiful (he had) seen”. Some evidence of Native American “pre-settlement” life in North Park can be found at the north end of the Park, where several large wiki-ups still stand in a sheltered and secluded spot, left by a band of Utes who fled into North Park after the Meeker Massacre of 1879. Reports indicate that the last of the Utes were moved out of North Park 1880-1881.
1820s – A bit before and throughout the 1820s, early explorers and trappers began discovering and exploiting the natural resources of what they called “New Park” and, later, “North Park” (not to be confused with the Middle Park/Granby area they had been frequenting for years). Beaver, in particular, were abundant along North Park streams. After encountering “good trapping” while with the Chateau-DeMunn expedition, Joseph Bisteau touted North Park’s pelt-rich environment in 1820. And, the trapping successes of a party organized by Alexander Sinclair and Robert Bean in 1825, and Jacques Laramie with the Northwest Fur Company around the same time, increased the flow of other trappers to North Park for its bountiful game. These others included names now embedded in the history of America’s Frontier West: Thomas “Peg-Leg” Smith (so-called because he lost a leg when Milton Sublette was forced to amputate it because of gangrene), John Gantt, James O. Pattie, Christopher (Kit) Carson, Jim Baker, Jim Bridger, and William (Old Bill) Williams – to mention a few.
1840s – By 1840, trapping in North Park was declining, and by 1844, the fur trade in North Park and throughout Colorado was no longer profitable. The decline in the fur trade has been linked primarily to a change in fashion. In the early 1800s, the popularity of the beaver hat worldwide created enormous demand for the pelts of beavers, a North Park fur-trading staple. When fashion changed and demand practically disappeared overnight, the American fur trade declined accordingly. The advance of settlements into the frontier and the depletion fur-bearing animals, hunted relentlessly for centuries, also contributed to fur-trading’s demise. However, even though America’s fur trading era ended in the 1840s, the geographic knowledge and Native American learned gathered during that era, significantly contributed to the character and culture of the American West.
1844 – Lt. John C. Fremont, with guide Thomas “Broken Hand” Fitzpatrick, came through North Park as part of a mapping and information-gathering expedition. He described North Park as being abundant in wildlife and wrote that “no river could ask for a more beautiful origin than the (North) Platte.” While in North Park, members of the Fremont Expedition reportedly discovered gold at Independence Mountain.