Southern Utah is rich in historical lore. The first inhabitants, the Indians, had been in the area thousands of years prior to the white man. The archeological record--pictographs, petroglyphs, dwellings, and artifacts--attests to the presence of these native populations. Evidence shows an early Desert-Archaid culture developed, one of hunters and gatherers. Later cultures to follow were the Fremont and Anasazi, more sedentary and mainly agricultural. The latter, known as the "Ancient Ones" lived in pueblos and for protection from marauding tribes and the elements they often built cliff dwellings high on the inaccessible canyon walls of Colorado River tributaries. This group vanished before the coming of the white man; but their stone huts, locally known as "Moqui Houses" remain in the high ledges. Many of these "Houses" are visible from the roads near Escalante.
The first white men were met by the Pah-Utes or Paiute Indians. This nation of many clans ranged the country from Utah Lake south to Navajo-land. In the beginning these Indians posed a serious threat to the settlers. Father Silvestre Veles de Escalante, a courageous Spanish priest, was the first white explorer to record his travels through Southern Utah, while searching for an overland route to California. He described the Dixie geography in 1776. Other Spaniards followed Escalante's footsteps, and by 1800, the Old Spanish Trail was an established route. It somewhat paralleled present Highway 91 for miles through Southern Utah. Used for many years by the Spanish, who traded horses for Indian slaves along the route, it was known also as the Slave Trail.
Between about 1835 and 1850, trappers, traders, gold hunters, and adventurers traveled this road regularly. In 1844, John C. Fremont found this to be a "well-defined trail" over which travel was possible with little difficulty, except for marauding Piute Indians.