This area was settled very early, when Major D.C. Oakes established a sawmill in Riley’s Gulch in 1859 to take advantage of the rich timber there. It was the second settlement in what was to become Douglas County, and the nearby “Pretty Woman Ranch” was a stage stop on the First Territorial Road from Denver to Colorado Springs. Riley Hill, named for an early pioneer, was said to be a popular lookout for outlaws spotting stages to rob in the early days.
In May 1868, the famous scout Kit Carson was traveling home to Taos, New Mexico, to die. He and his friend Major Oakes stopped on Riley Hill to cook their noon meal. Carson offered to build the fire, calling it his “last campfire.” He died a few days later, without reaching his home. A monument was dedicated July 1, 1923, by the Territorial Daughters of Colorado. Said to be a monument to the last frontier of the white race, which, like the campfire and the man, was slowly dying, it marked the end of an era of westward expansion.
“… the white frontier, more slowly, flickered and is even now smouldering. The white race will build millions on millions of fires in the centuries to come, but its frontier fires, that twinkled in the night like stars on the ground… are almost out, and one of the last of these fires was that day lit by Kit Carson on this spot where stands this granite stone…”
—from the dedication speech by Chauncy Thomas
In the 1920s, the initial 40 acres of the park was a destination and picnic spot known as “Auto View” and “Wildcat Point” and famous for its views of the Front Range. It was donated by Miss Florence Martin, a family friend of Major and Mrs. William Cook Daniels, for whom the park is named. Major Daniels was a partner in the Daniels & Fisher stores. After Miss Martin’s ranch house burned in 1936, she donated the additional 960 acres to Denver.