1) The Prehistoric Era dates backs up to 12,000 years. This is the time when Paleo-Indians first inhabited the area as the last ice age was ending. The prehistoric era spans across multiple millenniums. Human activity followed the Bad Pass Trail, as these peoples took part in seasonal migrations from the Bighorn Basin of northern Wyoming to extreme southern Montana where they found rich bison hunting grounds.
2) The next era commences with the coming of the Crow Indians. Dating as far back as the late 16th century, when the Crow made this land their home.. This period lasted up until the beginning of the 19th century, when first contact was made with white people. Even before this though, the Crow were already influenced by the Euro-American presence. The horse had already found its way into their culture. Assorted trade goods brought about radical changes in lifestyles, as well as the coming of disease, namely smallpox, which ravaged tribal communities.
3) In 1805, fur trader Francois Antoine Larocque made it all the way to the mouth of Bighorn Canyon. This inaugurated the era of first contact between whites and Crows. This period is best defined by the mountain men using the Bad Pass Trail to carry beaver fur packs back from rendezvous in 1824, 1825, & 1833. This era also saw the initial exploration of the canyon. In 1839 the Bad Pass Trail would appear on a map for the first time.
4) The era of exploration, expeditions, and surveys started with the fur traders and reached its peak from 1859-1879. These years saw a series of military expeditions that literally put the area in and around Bighorn Canyon on the map. This era would last through the 1890’s when surveys by the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad intensively mapped the twists, turns, and dizzying heights of the canyon.
5) By the late nineteenth century ranchers had found their way to the Bighorn Basin beginning a new era of the canyon's history. The open range brought men such as Henry Lovell, who used the financial backing of Anthony Mason to run over 24,000 cattle across the area. They were followed by homesteaders who developed modest family ranchers. At the same time the ranching era was beginning, prospectors attempted to extract gold from the Bighorn Canyon region. Their efforts would fail, but men such as Erastus Ewing and Grosverner W. Barry would turn to ranching instead.
6) It was Barry who first recognized and exploited the recreation potential of Bighorn Canyon. He used his Cedarvale Dude Ranch as a base to launch excursions along the waters of the Bighorn. This era has been marked by usage of the river and canyon area for recreational purposes. Trips along the river took place as thrill seekers attempted to run the turbulent waters through the canyon during spring runoff. The last river trip was taken in 1965.
Did You Know?
Long before the Bighorn River was tamed by the Yellowtail Dam, the roiling waters through the canyon were feared. During spring snowmelt, the water turned into a raging torrent, a combination of whirlpools, rapids, and eddies. Conversely, the river through the canyon had a reputation for being placid by late summer, when dry heat and lack of rainfall turned it into a sedate stream. More...