There is much evidence of human adaptation to this wild open land. Remnant teepee rings, projectile points and other artifacts indicate that the Plains Indians lived here, evolving a lifestyle centred on the great herds of bison. It was also a favourite bison hunting area for the nomadic Métis, during the early days of the Red River Settlement. Sitting Bull and his Sioux followers took refuge here from the U.S. Army after the battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. The North West Mounted Police and European settlement followed.
Throughout history, the Grasslands National Park area was considered the last frontier of the Canadian prairie west. Prairie people sought the land for different treasures.
The lure of grass and open range enticed ranchers and large cattle operations developed. By the 1880's, Euro-Canadian settlement had pushed farther west, bison herds were declining and so were other native species. Cattle herds replaced bison on the open range. Large ranches, like the 76 Ranch, held lease to thousands of acres of grazing lands. The cowboys who worked these ranches were the cowboys of the old west, their lifestyles romanticized on the silver screen.
Ranching and the cowboy way of life survived relentless hardships. Nevertheless, the Homesteading Act of 1908 closed the open range in favour of farming. Cattle were fenced in and ranching lost some of its freedom forever. The weathered remains of long abandoned homesteads stand testament to those early attempts to adapt to a demanding environment. The ranchers and homesteaders who persevered, combined farming, ranching and country hospitality to create the prairie communities surrounding the park today.