By the middle of the 17th century, Miami-speaking tribes of Native Americans entered the region of Rock Cut State Park after the Iroquois drove them from territory on the southern end of Lake Michigan.
From about 1655 until 1735, the Rock River was within the range of the Mascouten, who were also pushed westward by the Iroquois. The Winnebago ranged southward from Wisconsin to the Rock River from the 1740s until 1837, while the river’s upper portion was on the periphery of the Fox and Sauk territory from about 1765 to 1833. By 1800, the Potawatomi, Ottawa and Chippewa nations had extended their range into the area, but they ceded their lands to the United States 32 years later following the Black Hawk War.
Settlement of Winnebago County began after the Black Hawk War. The region that is now Rock Cut State Park was settled partly by Scots around Argyle - named for their Scottish home of Argyllshire - and partly by Canadians, New Yorkers and New Englanders around the town of Harlem - named for New York City’s Harlem. The Illinois version of Harlem was moved in 1859 when the Kenosha-Rockford Rail Line was built. The dammed waters of Pierce Lake now cover much of the railroad bed within the park, although portions of the railroad grade are visible along Willow Creek below the spillway. But blasting operations in a rock outcrop that railroad crews conducted during the 1859 construction left lasting impressions here - they cut through rock to provide a suitable roadbed and gave Rock Cut its name.