Missoula History

Founders of Missoula

The first inhabitants of the Missoula area were American Indians from the Salish tribe. They called the area "Nemissoolatakoo," from which "Missoula" is derived. The word translates roughly to "river of ambush/surprise," a reflection of the inter-tribal fighting common to the area. The Indians' first encounter with whites came in 1805 when the Lewis and Clark expedition passed through the Missoula Valley.

There were no permanent white settlements in the Missoula Valley until 1860 when C. P. Higgins and Francis Worden opened a trading post called the Hellgate Village on the Blackfoot River near the eastern edge of the valley. It was followed by a sawmill and a flour mill, which the settlers called "Missoula Mills". The completion of the Mullan Road connecting Fort Benton, Montana with Walla Walla, Washington and passing through the Missoula Valley meant fast growth for the burgeoning city, buoyed by the U.S. Army's establishment of Fort Missoula in 1877, and the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1883. With this Missoula became a trading center in earnest, distributing produce and grain grown in the agriculturally prosperous Bitterroot Valley. Businessmen A. B. Hammond, E. L. Bonner, and R. A. Eddy established the Missoula Mercantile Company in the early 1880s.

The city's success was aided by two other factors. First was the opening of the University of Montana in September 1895, serving as the center of public higher education for Western Montana. Then, in 1908, Missoula became a regional headquarters for the Forest Service, which began training smokejumpers in 1942. The Aerial Fire Depot was built in 1954, and big industry came to Missoula in 1956, with the groundbreaking for the first pulp mill.

Until the mid 1970s, logging was a mainstay industry with log yards throughout the city. Many ran teepee burners to dispose of waste material, contributing to the smoky haze that sometimes covered the town. The current site of Southgate Mall was once the location of the largest log-processing yard within several hundred miles. The saws could be heard over two miles away on a clear summer night. However, by the early 1990s, changes in the economic fortunes in the city had shut down all the Missoula log yards.

Missoula is located within the fly fishing Golden Triangle and is a popular area for hunting deer, elk, bear, moose, and other game animals. This provides Missoula with an ample tourism industry based on hunting and fishing.

General Timeline

Sept. 4, 1805
The valley's first residents, the Salish Indians, had their first encounter with the Caucasian race when a party of 400 met up with the Lewis & Clark Expedition just south of what is now Darby, Montana. The Salish people treated them well and showed great kindness not only to Lewis and Clark, but to settlers who would follow.

July 4, 1806
During the expedition's return trip, Meriwether Lewis and his party passed through what is now Missoula, stopping to camp along the Blackfoot River approximately 8 miles east of Missoula.

The Washington Territorial Legislature created Missoula County, with the county seat "temporarily located at or near Worden & Co. Trading Post in Hell Gate Ronde." Hellgate was the site of the first settlement in the Missoula valley, located approximately 4 miles west of the current downtown. It was an ideal location as it was the crossroads for north-south and east-west travel.

Worden & Co. erected a saw mill and grist mill on the river 4 miles east of Hellgate. In 1865 they moved their store to the new location called Missoula Mills (now the north end of the Higgins Avenue Bridge). The construction of the mill marked the beginning of Missoula as we now know it.

Emma Stack (Dickenson) was hired as Missoula's first teacher.

Missoula's first newspaper, "The Missoula and Cedar Creek Pioneer" went to press.

The first Higgins Avenue Bridge was constructed. St. Patrick Hospital was opened.

Fort Missoula was established. The first Fire Department was organized.

A Library Association was formed.

The first telephones were installed.

A charter for the Town of Missoula was approved by voters and formed as an aldermanic form of government. Frank Woody was elected as the first mayor. The Northern Pacific railroad arrived.

The first telephone exchange was opened.

First City Hall was constructed at the corner of West Main and what is now Ryman Street.

Montana became a state. Electricity arrived to Missoula. Electors voted in favor of re-incorporating Missoula as a city.

First horse drawn streetcars went into service.

The Missoula Public Library was opened.

The University of Montana was opened with 50 students enrolling on the first day.

The U.S. Forest Service Office was established. Missoula experienced it's worst natural disaster - the flood that washed away the Higgins Avenue bridge.

First electric streetcars went into service.

The second City Hall was opened at 230 Woody Street. The City adopted a commission-council form of government.

Eugene Ely took off in his Curtiss biplane on June 25, 1911 from the ballpark at Fort Missoula, the city's first aviation event.

The first plane flew into Missoula (from Milltown).

Missoula's Jeannette Rankin was sworn in as the first woman elected to the United States House of Representatives.

City opened its first public swimming pool.

Community Hospital was opened. Juliet Gregory was elected the first and only woman mayor.

Parking meters were placed into use.

President Eisenhower dedicated the Aerial Fire Depot. The City Fire Department relocated from the old City Hall to its new headquarters at the corner of West Pine Street and Ryman Street. The City's form of government changed to commission-manager.

The City returned to an aldermanic form of government.

Missoula voters approved a $2,657,000 bond issue to build Missoula's sewage treatment plant. The plant was operational by 1964.

The current City Hall at the corner of West Spruce and Ryman Street was completed.

Mayor Shoup resigned as Mayor to begin his successful campaign for the U.S. Congress.

Mayoral and Council elections were changed from May to November and increased from two-year to four-year terms.

Last passenger train left Missoula.

New City Fire Headquarters (Station 1) was opened at 625 East Pine Street.

May, 1995
After four years of a huge volunteer effort, the Carousel for Missoula opened its doors to the young at heart.

Nov, 1995
The City electorate approved a $5 M Open Space Bond for the preservation of open space natural areas in and around the City.

June, 1996
Charter form of government approved by City of Missoula electorate.

Jan. 1, 1997
Missoula City Charter went into effect.

Montana State Symbols

Nickname: "The Treasure State"
Montana is also known as "Big Sky Country," "Land of Shining Mountains," "Mountain State," and "Bonanza State." The nickname "Treasure State" originated with all of the mining that occurred in the state. In 1962 the State Highway Department was having a promotion and needed a name. One of the men working there had read a book called 'The Big Sky", written by a Montana author, Alfred Bertram Guthrie Jr. about trapping and the outdoors. Mr. Guthrie gave the State Highway Department permission to use the name. Montana has been "Big Sky Country" ever since.

State Motto
"Oro y Plata" Spanish for "gold and silver".

State Flag
The Montana flag shows the state seal on a blue rectangle with yellow edges. The look of the flag was copied from one taken into battle during the Spanish-American War in 1898 by Montana Volunteers. The name "MONTANA" at the top wasn't added until 1981.

State Seal
The Montana state seal is a round picture designed to show Montana's history and natural beauty. At the top, a sunrise shines over snowy mountains. Waterfalls, the Missouri River, mountains, hills, trees, and cliffs are shown behind three tools. A pick, a shovel, and a plow are symbols of Montana's mining and farming, past and present. The plow stands for Montana's farming history. Montana farmers grow apples, wheat, mint, sugar beets, cherries, and other crops. When Montana changed from a territory to a state in 1889, the seal changed, too. Montana's first seal had a buffalo where the trees stand and the falls and river were different, but very similar to today's version.

State Song: "Montana"
"Montana," the state song, was written in one night by a Montana newspaper editor and a famous songwriter in 1910.

Ballad: "Montana Melody"
Montana is one of the few states to have a state song and a state ballad. A ballad is different from most songs because it tells a story. The song was written by LeGrande Harvey. "Montana Melody" was adopted in 1983. Helena students from Jefferson school were instrumental in getting the bill passed. Hal Harper introduced and carried the bill.

State Flower: "Bitterroot"
Long before explorers Lewis and Clark wrote about the beautiful purplish-pink flower of the bitterroot, Native Americans were using its roots for food and trade. Tribes dug up the roots and dried them so they could be kept and used for months. The root was too bitter to eat unless it was cooked, and it was usually mixed with berries or meat. An Indian story tells how the bitterroot came to be. It says the sun heard a mother crying because she couldn't find food for her family. The sun changed her tears into the bitterroot so she would always have food for her children. You can find the bitterroot growing near the mountains and boulders of western Montana in spring and summer.

Tree: "Ponderosa Pine"
The ponderosa pine is the most common tree in Montana and early settlers used it to make most of their buildings. The ponderosa can grow 200 feet tall and eight feet thick. Wild turkeys eat its seeds. It can be seen almost everywhere along the roads of western Montana.

Animal: "Grizzly Bear"
Adult grizzlies can grow to weigh 1,500 pounds and be eight feet long. Their claws are sharp as knives and about four inches long. Their back feet leave paw prints as big as magazines. Grizzlies have been seen killing and eating over 100 fish in one day. They can run as fast as a horse for short distances. They are the biggest meat-eating land animals in America. Wildlife experts say fewer than 1,000 grizzlies are left in the western United States. When grizzlies are seen in northwestern Montana, it's usually in places like the Cabinet and Mission Mountains, or Glacier National Park.

Fossil: "Maiasaura (Duck-billed Dinosaur)"
Some of the most important fossils in the world came from Montana. Scientists digging in Choteau, Montana, found "Egg Mountain." The mountain, and the area surrounding it, was filled with fossilized eggs, babies, and adult dinosaurs from 80 million years ago. It was the first proof that some dinosaurs took care of their babies the way birds do now. That's how the Maiasaura got its name, which means "good mother lizard." Their round nests were six or seven feet wide and could hold 25 eggs. The hatched babies weighed about as much as a phonebook and were about one foot long. Adult Maiasaura weighed almost 6,000 pounds (or about the same as a car with six people in it) and were almost 30 feet long (about as long as the inside of most movie theaters).

Gemstone: "Sapphire and Agate"
Montana's sapphires look like bright, blue glass and are cut like diamonds to make jewelry. They are mostly found in western Montana. There are Montana sapphires in the Royal Crown Jewels of England. Montana sapphires weren't always valuable, though. In the gold rush days, miners threw the sapphires away because they clogged up the screens they used to separate gold from sand and dirt. Now sapphires are the most valuable jewels found in America. Agates are found in southern and eastern Montana. They're polished, not cut, to make gemstones and jewelry. Agates are usually white with swirls of gray and black spots.

Fish: "Blackspotted Cutthroat Trout"
Trout are the favorite fish to catch in Montana. There are many kinds, but the blackspotted cutthroat trout was chosen as state fish to let people know it was in trouble. Changes in the environment and too much fishing had made the blackspotted cutthroat hard to find. The name comes from the black spots that run down its back and a pinkish-red splotch on its jaw. The cutthroat trout is a favorite food for grizzly bears.

Bird: "Western Meadowlark"
This bird is known for its loud, cheerful chirps. It is about as big as a robin with a bright yellow chest and throat under a black collar. It builds its nest on the ground and lays between three and seven white eggs with purple and brown spots. The eggs only take two weeks to hatch. It can be found in spring and summer along most dirt roads, sitting on fence posts singing to other meadowlarks nearby. Lewis and Clark were the first to write about the western meadowlark in 1805 and it was chosen for the state bird in 1931.

Butterfly: "Mourning Cloak"
The mourning cloak, or Nymphalis antiopa, is Montana's state butterfly. The North American common name for this species, mourning cloak, refers to its resemblance to a traditional dark colored cloak worn when one was "in mourning."
The mourning cloak's dark brown wings are characterized by bright blue shimmering spots along the inner edge of a yellow or beige border. If viewed closely, you may see that their wings reflect purple highlights. The underside of the wings are dark brown with lighter brown edges.

Grass: "Bluebunch Wheatgrass"
Bluebunch is found all over the state and all through the West. It can be found mostly in flat areas and below mountains. It grows in large bunches up to three feet tall and is typically a blue-green color. It is a staple of both wild and domestic animal diets, and the dry, golden stalks are often grazed through the winter. It's important to cattle and sheep ranchers as food for their animals.