The Kashia Pomo people were the earliest known residents of the area. Their aboriginal lands extended from what is now the Gualala River in the north to just south of what is now the Russian River, and inland about 30 miles. The Kashia Pomo are expert artisans who are known worldwide for exquisite basketry. Historians estimate that at the time of the first European contact with the Russians, the Kashia Pomo numbered about 1,500 people. The Kashia moved seasonally through their territory, following various food sources. Over the years, the Kashia Pomo people have been able to preserve much of their traditional culture. Today many Kashia descendants reside at a 40-acre Rancheria inland from Stewarts Point. In 2016, 688 acres of coastal land were returned to the Kashia after more than 100 years under private ownership.

On April 8, 1846, Ernest Rufus received a Mexican land grant for 17,500 acres along the coast. The area, called Rancho German, encompassed the land from about six miles north of Fort Ross to the Gualala River. The southern portion of the rancho included what is now Salt Point State Park and Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve. Beginning in 1849, the land changed hands several times, becoming the site of several active sawmills from 1853 to 1859. Lumber was shipped on schooners to San Francisco. In 1870, the southern section of Rancho German was sold to Lewis Gerstle and Frederick Funcke to mill tanoak and other hardwoods.

Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve was part of a large ranch established in 1880, on which a family raised sheep and carried on logging and tanbark harvesting operations. A descendant of that family, Edward P. Kruse, donated the land to the people of California in 1933 as a living memorial to his father, a founder of San Francisco's German Bank.