The first inhabitants of the Grand Valley were Ute Indians. After Western Colorado was open to white settlement, fruit orchards were established. The first settler in the Palisade area was J.P. Harlow who raised fruit and vegetables on his ranch on Rapid Creek beginning in 1882. W.A. Pease is credited as the first settler in Palisade. In 1884, he homesteaded 160 acres that came to be the south and west parts of Palisade.
Proximity to water is important for growing crops in this arid land. Harlow diverted water from Rapid Creek into the Grapevine Ditch and the Crawford Ditch for his crops. Other ranchers hauled water in barrels from the Grand River and began to explore how to effectively build irrigation systems to water their orchards.
Early peach growers soon learned frost protection from the palisades, and the early morning “million dollar” katabatic winds from DeBeque Canyon, meant orchards near Palisade more consistently survive spring frosts. This is why most of Mesa County’s 2,200 acres of peaches are east of Mount Garfield.
Named for its dramatic steep cliffs of Mancos Shale bordering the valley, Palisade’s early economy also benefitted from the abundance of valuable low-sulfur bituminous coal.