An 1823 expedition led by Major Stephan Long and geologist William Keating explored the Big Stone Lake region. Shortly after entering present-day South Dakota, they met an American Indian village on a rocky island (Big Island). This island is now the 100-acre nature area.
During the 1800s and early-1900s, resort hotels dotted the shore and excursion boats frequented the island's brothel. In an attempt to close the facility, irate women reportedly burned and sank a boat. In the 1940s, military aircraft practiced landing and take-off from a short runway on the island in preparation