Beaver, muskrat, mink, and other fur bearing animals lured French trappers to this valley. They found it so flat that the river spread out in a chain of marshes and lakes. They called the area Riviere des Lacs, French for River of the Lakes.
These trappers were not the first humans to discover the treasures of the Des Lacs Valley. Plains Indians sought shelter from harsh winter storms in the wooded draws, or coulees. They left stone tipi rings and ceremonial effigies, some shaped like turtles, that survive to this day. Some are up to 30 feet across.
Herds of bison, pronghorn, and elk grazed on the prairies surrounding the Des Lacs Valley. Ducks flew overhead from the many small wetlands. The Des Lacs valley was formed as meltwater flowed out of glacial lake Regina thousands of years ago.
Settlement in the late 1800s brought intensive farming, ranching and coal mining. The face of the land changed and some wildlife species declined. Drought during the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s caused waterfowl numbers to plummet to record low levels. In response, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established many National Wildlife Refuges, including Des Lacs National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in 1935.