The Powder River Basin has a rich history and prehistory spanning at least 12,000 years. Humans migrated into the region from the north, through an Ice-free corridor approximately 12,000 years ago. Campsites, stone circles, meat procurement and processing sites and rock art sites in both the basin and foothills identify that presence, and those since then.
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|Prehistoric pictograph located at the Sweem Rockshelter.|
The Powder River Basin is also the site of several Euro-American and American Indian battles of the mid and late 19th century including Red Cloud's Wars and the Fetterman Battle of 1866. Cantonment Reno was established as a military fort in 1876 as the Bozeman Trail was used as part of the U.S. military campaign, for entry into the Powder River Basin. The Fort was occupied until 1878, when it was relocated to the present-day Fort McKinney in Buffalo, Wyoming. After the military campaign, the trail was used for emigrant settlement in the Powder River Basin in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
American Indian groups with ties to the region included the Arikara, Crow, Lakota/Dakota, Arapaho, Kiowa, Comanche, Blackfeet, Cheyenne and Shoshone. Cultural sites on public lands in the Powder River Basin include Outlaw Cave and portions of the Bozeman Trail and Cantonment Reno.
The Bozeman Trail, used from prehistoric time to today, crosses the Powder River Basin. What is today known as the Bozeman Trail was established in 1863 for travel to the Montana gold fields. The trail is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.