Geologically, Fidler noted the Empress coal deposit in 1792, Hector described the Drumheller Badlands in 1858 and in 1884 Tyrell first identified the dinosaur beds near Drumheller.
To prairie travelers the river was a barrier, a demarcation line and a landmark. It was crossed multiple times by missionaries like the Rev. Robert Rondal who conducted a mass baptism on its banks during his prairie tour from 1840 to 1848. Father Dusmett crossed it in 1845. In 1861 Father Lacombe crossed it and so did George and John MacDougall who came to the prairies in 1865.
Notable non-missionary prairie travelers who crossed the Red Deer River included the Hudson Bay Company’s governor, Sir George Simpson, who crossed it on his round-the-world tour of 1841. James Sinclair, who brought Oregon settlers out from the Red River Settlement in 1841 and again in 1854, also crossed it. The first tourist to visit the area was the Earl of Sussex who arrived in 1859.
Settlement on the river was late. Because the river did not lead to a Rocky Mountain pass, its first settlement did not occur until Addision MacPherson arrived in 1869. Permanent settlement was even later starting in 1882 with the arrival of settlers McClelland and Mackenzie at Three Mile Bend. Rev. Gaetz, agent for the Saskatchewan Land Company, came in 1884.
Fort Normandeau was built at the crossing in 1885 as part of the defenses for the second Riel Rebellion. Permanency was guaranteed when the Calgary and Edmonton Railway crossed the river in 1890.