Around 17,000 years ago, the large ice sheets of the last great Ice Age that covered much of North America began to recede. Sometime before 12,000 years ago people arrived on the continent as they followed large herds of mammoths and bison across the Bering Strait and down through Canada to the Great Plains and the Southeast. As the ice melted, the oceans rose, the climate warmed, and new plants appeared. The large mammals such as mastodons and camels that had roamed the southeastern grasslands and forests died out and deer and other small mammals began to flourish. Indian cultures changed as they adapted to these new resources.
By about 7,000 years ago, the land around Fort Bragg looked very much like it does today with sandy soils and longleaf pines. Although Indian people did not live in the Sandhills in great numbers, this region was an important source of plants and animals. They hunted deer and small mammals, and collected nuts and berries. Indians made stone and bone scrapers, knives, pounders, and grinders to process food. They made bone pins, awls, needles and drills for making clothes, and pottery from local clays to cook and store food. By the time Europeans arrived in the 16th century, there were dozens of different Indian tribes living across the Carolinas. The largest Indian groups were the Tuscarora, the Catawba, the Cherokee, the Eno, the Saponi, the Sara, and the Shakori. Warfare, European diseases, and the Indian slave trade would soon decimate many of these tribes.
The first European to explore North Carolina may have been Lucas Vasquez de Allyon in 1526. Both Spanish and English explorers made forays into the coastal areas of North Carolina but struggled to establish a permanent presence. English explorers settled along Albemarle Sound in 1650. The first permanent settlement in southeastern North Carolina was established near Wilmington in 1725 by Scottish, Irish and English immigrants and their African slaves. By the early 1740s, colonists had moved up the Cape Fear River and settled in the Sandhills. For the next 200 years, the longleaf pines of the Sandhills were an essential source of income for the region’s Scottish, English, German, African American, and American Indian communities.
In 1917, as World War I raged in Europe, United States Army officers began a search for a place to build a new field artillery range. The rural landscape of the Sandhills was exactly what they were looking for. Camp Bragg, completed in 1918, became Fort Bragg in 1922.