Since the last great Ice Age, the Rocky Mountains were home first to Paleo-Indians and then to the
indigenous peoples of the Apache, Arapaho, Bannock, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Crow, Flathead, Shoshoni, Sioux, Ute, Kutenai (Ktunaxa in
Canada), Sekani, Dunne-za, and others. Paleo-Indians hunted the now-extinct mammoth and ancient bison (an animal 20% larger than
modern bison) in the foothills and valleys of the mountains. Like the modern tribes that followed them, Paleo-Indians probably
migrated to the plains in fall and winter for bison and to the mountains in spring and summer for fish, deer, elk, roots, and
berries. In Colorado, along the crest of the Continental Divide, rock walls that Native Americans built for driving game date back
5,400-5,800 years. A growing body of scientific evidence indicates that indigenous peoples had significant effects on mammal
populations by hunting and on vegetation patterns through deliberate burning.
Recent human history of the Rocky Mountains is one of more rapid change. The Spanish explorer Francisco
Vásquez de Coronado — with a group of soldiers, missionaries, and African slaves — marched into the Rocky Mountain region from the
south in 1540. The introduction of the horse, metal tools, rifles, new diseases, and different cultures profoundly changed the Native
American cultures. Native American populations were extirpated from most of their historical ranges by disease, warfare, habitat loss
(eradication of the bison), and continued assaults on their culture.
Colorado RockiesIn 1739, French fur traders Pierre and Paul Mallet, while journeying through the Great
Plains, discovered a range of mountains at the headwaters of the Platte River, which local American Indian tribes called the "Rockies",
becoming the first Europeans to report on this uncharted mountain range.
Sir Alexander MacKenzie (1764 - March 11, 1820) became the first European to cross the Rocky Mountains in
1793. He found the upper reaches of the Fraser River and reached what is now the Pacific coast of Canada on July 20 of that year,
completing the first recorded transcontinental crossing of North America north of Mexico. He arrived at Bella Coola, British Columbia,
where he first reached saltwater at South Bentinck Arm, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean.