Prior to European settlement, the area around Mareeba was inhabited by the Muluridji people. They maintained a hunter/gatherer existence in the area between Mount Carbine, Mareeba, Rumula and Woodville, mainly concentrated between Bibhoora and Mount Molloy.
In the local Aboriginal language, Mareeba means meeting of the waters - referring to the point at which the Barron River is joined by Granite Creek.
On 26 May 1875 James Venture Mulligan became the first European officially to see the future site of Mareeba when he rode up the eastern bank of the Barron River, and passed the junctions of Emerald Creek and Granite Creek.
The Mareeba area was first settled by Europeans in 1877 by John Atherton, who arrived with cattle at Emerald End, which is just north of the town today. Mareeba quickly became a busy coach stop for Cobb & Co on the road from Port Douglas to Herberton. When the railway arrived in 1893, Mareeba grew into a busy town.
From 1942 to 1945, up to 10,000 Australian and US service personnel used Mareeba Airfield as a staging post for battles in New Guinea and the Pacific. The Americans referred to it as Hoevet Field in honour of Major Dean Carol "Pinky" Hoevet who was killed on 16 August 1942. Units that were based at Mareeba during World War II included No. 5 Squadron RAAF, No. 100 Squadron RAAF, the Australian 33rd Light A-A Battery, 19th Bomb Group USAAC, 43rd Bomb Group USAAC and 8th Fighter Group USAAC. 
News item from The Northern Miner (Charters Towers)
Wednesday 5th April 1893
A Place for a Holiday Tour
It is an accepted idea that when a Western, Towers, or Townsville man wants a spell he must " go South," although he is within two days journey of the finest scenery in Queensland, and if he goes 100 miles or so further inland he can travel through the country of gold, silver and tin to the land of lime and copper, and view the marvelous caves which have rendered famous the Chillagoe district. The route is steamer to Cairns, railway past the Barron Falls to Mareeba, and thence coach through the scrublands at Atherton and Carrington, the tin country at Herberton and Watsonville, silver fields at Montalbion and Muldiva, and the lime and copper at Chillagoe. From April to October the climate of the country westward from the Barron Falls is as temperate as that of Victoria; the roads are good, the accommodation excellent, and the expenses light. We give elsewhere a view of one of the hundreds of limestone cliffs which rise precipitously from the plain country and in which are situated caves of great beauty, and wide and unexplored extent.
News item from The Cairns Post
Saturday 22nd April 1893
The New Goldfield
(FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT.)
Mr. A. Mackenzie and party have secured a water right on Tinaroo Creek, half a mile from the prospectors' claim, and will proceed immediately with the construction of a dam and the erection of a fifteen-head stamper battery, to be driven by water power. Present indications point to the field being payable and permanent. The brewery at Mareeba promises well, what with good water, splendid climate, and a populous and thirsty neighbourhood. The only thing required is, good beer, and that being forthcoming, the dollars might flow in. The railway bridge over the Barron at Biboohra, will be ready for testing in about a week. It is a fine structure, the spans of steelwork being the largest yet constructed in Queensland.
Mareeba, April 20th 1898