When the Europeans first explored this area they found it mostly populated by a couple of Indian tribes, the Tubatulabals and by a few Paiute-Shoshone. The Tubatulabals were a happy, friendly people. The name, "Tubatulabal" means "those who go out and gather Pinyon nuts". They were referred to by other Indians as the 'happy talkers' because their language was lilting and full of laughter. The Paiutes were from the deserts to the north east across the Sierras. The two tribes were closely related by marriage ties. 'Paiute' is taken from an Indian word meaning 'fly eaters'. An important part of the Paiute diet was a flour made from dried ground up brine-fly larva. These larva swarm thickly in the salt lakes of the desert basins.
The Tubatulabals coexisted peacefully with the white settlers for the most part. In 1863 there was a massacre of the Tubatulabals and some Paiutes by the U.S. Cavalry. A casual researcher will find differing accounts of this massacre.
The area east of the lake, along the South Fork, was first settled by cattle ranchers in the early 1850s. As the ranching operations grew and prospered, they began to raise hay in the lower, temperate valley to feed the cattle in the winter. From spring until autumn the cowboys would tend the cattle up in the high country of the Sierras. In this dry mountain area there are many lush mountain meadows in nearly every direction from Lake Isabella.
In 1857 a gold rush to the Whiskey Flat area in the early 1850s brought a flood of new faces to the lower North Fork area, and in the mountains and canyons nearby.
The town of Isabella was founded by Steven Barton in 1893 and named in honor of Queen Isabella of Spain while her name was current during the 1893 Colombian Exposition.Lake Isabella was created by a dam on the Kern River in 1953 forcing the town to move about 1.5 miles south of the original site. The Isabella post office, which had opened in 1896, operated at the new site until the name was changed to Lake Isabella in 1957.
The dam's reservoir also inundated Kernville, a later name for Whiskey Flat. Most of Kernville was relocated to higher ground nearby.