The first seasonal inhabitants were most likely located in the Granby-Grand Lake area between 900 and 1300 AD as determined by excavation conducted in 1948 by the Smithsonian Institution prior to flooding for the Granby Reservoir. To this day, no determination has been made regarding which tribe these natives may have belonged as evidence of their existence comprised only a few teepee rings and fire pits.
Middle Park was a prime summer hunting ground for several modern day Native American tribes. The Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples frequently crossed the divide from the eastern plains to hunt an abundance of buffalo, elk, deer and antelope in the area. Ute tribes predominantly summered here on a regular basis before the white man’s appearance in the mid 1800’s.
Grand lake is heavily shrouded in Native American Folklore. The most well known legend tells the tale about an attack on the local Ute tribes by an Arapaho/Cheyenne war party. The Utes were living along the shores of Grand Lake when the war party somehow snuck past Ute lookout stations and engaged the main body of Ute warriors. The women and children were put on a raft and cast into the lake for safety while the battle raged. During the battle a mysterious and curiously strong wind began to raise monstrous waves on the lake capsizing the raft, all aboard drowned. The Ute’s lost the initial battle. One warrior escaped. After gathering reinforcements the Ute warrior tracked down their aggressors and defeated them. In 1867 Judge Joseph L. Wescott, the first white settler of the Grand Lake area, arrived at the lake and encountered a Native American camping there who told him the story of the battle. Wescott, with the aid of a Kentuckian named John Barbee recorded the story in a poem entitled “The Legend of Grand Lake”.
The wild Cheyennes and Arapahoes! To this day the lake is considered “bad medicine” by the Utes. As the legend goes, once the lake has frozen over for winter, visitors can still hear the urgent cries of the women and children beneath the ice.
Interestingly, the Arapaho gave the lake the name Holy Lake or Spirit Lake: batan-naache. One year in December the lake began to freeze and the nights were so cold that the ice was thick enough to support a large herd of buffalo. Snow covered the ice except at the very center of the lake which remained open. Tracks of many buffalo were visible in the snow. The Arapaho witnessed the tracks of one particular buffalo much larger than the others that appeared to come from the open water onto the snowy ice and then return back into the water. The Arapaho believed this to be a supernatural buffalo that lives in the lake and thus originated the “Legend of the Buffalo”.