Beltana Station was first taken up by Robert Barr Smith in 1862 when he bought it from John Haimes including its 17,705 sheep and some cattle. It derived its name from an Aboriginal word meaning 'running water'. In the early years, because of its enormous size, many of the local people were either directly or indirectly employed on the station. Jobs such as fencers, boundary riders, bookkeeper, well sinkers, blacksmith, saddler, cook, teamster, dogger, shearer or cameleer were in great and constant demand. In 1878 for instance, ninety shearers were employed at the station. Often sheep from nearby stations were also shorn at Beltana, including several thousand from the Killalpaninna Lutheran mission on the Birdsville Track.
The first camels and their Afghan handlers came to Beltana station in 1866. Samuel Stuckey had been to India in 1862 looking for camels and assessing the possibility of bringing them out to South Australia. Thomas Elder, Barr Smith's partner, was also greatly interested in them. The first 109 camels and 31 drivers went to Elder's station Umberatana, where Stuckey was the manager at that time. After acclimatisation the camels were brought to Beltana for use on the station. In 1869 Thomas Elder and Samuel Stuckey formed a transport company, operating hundred camels and thirty donkeys, to carry goods between Port Augusta and Lake Hope, his most northern station.
A camel breeding programme was initiated at Beltana station and camels exported to Queensland, New South Wales, and later even to Arabia. Many Afghans were hired to handle these 'ships of the desert' during exploration trips. During the 1880s it were Targe and Gool Mahomet who kept the life lines open between Beltana and Cordillo Downs.
With the progress of time, and the adverse results of droughts many properties were taken over by larger ones who had been able to survive intact. Such stations, after being taken over, often became outstations. Many of these outstations were even more isolated than the head station. Outstations such as Warrioota, Winnowie, first taken up by Samuel Stuckey and his brother in 1857, Mount Deception or Mount James all became part of the Beltana run.
During the 1870s Beltana station played a vital part in the provision of stores, livestock and equipment for some of the other stations belonging to Thomas Elder in particular Lake Hope, Finniss Springs, Umberatana, Mount Lyndhurst, Manuwalkaninna and Blanchewater. Excellent records were kept by the station's bookkeeper, T.J.C. Hantke for many years, giving at times a valuable insight of the station's activities.
In January 1868 half a ton of salt was bought from Charles Faulkner. In July 1869 the arrival of John Parker Buttfield was recorded and a year later the arrival of 'rations for the blacks'. In October 1870 it was Charles Todd during the construction of the Overland Telegraph Line to Darwin. Several northern expeditions, which started from Beltana, are also recorded including those of Warburton, Gosse and Giles.
Changes were not always for the better. Many stations after being taken over did not benefit from change. Fencing in the end meant fewer jobs. There was no real reason to make costly improvements to these outstations. Often the occupants knew that eventually they would have to go. It was especially during hard times that these people resented the larger station owners.
A good example of this resentment was during the 1890s depression when numerous people in the town of Beltana signed a petition for the resumption of Beltana station and part of nearby Moolooloo station, for the purpose of having it cut up into smaller blocks. It was argued that these blocks would be readily taken up and provide a greater revenue for the government than what it now obtained in rent. The petition included nearly thirty applications for such blocks.