Archaeological remnants, such as spear tips, knife blades, bits of basket work, and pottery shards, attest to a human presence in the Guadalupe Mountains that goes back about 12,000 years. When people first came to the area, during the decline of the last Pleistocene ice age, the climate was wet and humid. The first people who lived here probably foraged for food and hunted such animals as camels and mammoths.
By the time Spanish explorers appeared (around 1550), wandering Mescalero Apaches often made their camps at springs near the base of the range.
Apache and Spanish legends about great treasures of gold and silver hidden in the mountains eventually drew American prospectors to this desert. In the years after the Civil War, they were followed by farmers, ranchers, and the U.S. Cavalry.
In the Guadalupe Mountains, the Mescalero Apaches made their last stand, but by 1890 virtually every Apache had been killed or forced onto a reservation. Initially the territory was taken over by private ranching and mining interests. Over time, enough land was donated to create a park, which is still being expanded as more land becomes available to the Park Service.