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Missoula History, Montana

Missoula History – Missoula in the Early 19th Century

The second major metropolitan area in the state of Montana (state capital Helena) and a city with a bohemian reputation, Missoula has its own story to tell. Missoula’s history begins with an interesting encounter between the Salish Indians and the members of the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805. The area around Missoula was known between the Native American tribes as ‘Nemissoolatakoo’ or ‘river o ambush/surprise’, name that was later transformed into ‘Missoula’. The region around Missoula and its neighboring canyon used to represent a battlefield for the Blackfeet and Flathead (two Native American tribes) territorial disputes, hence the Indian and also the town’s first official name (French trappers called it 'Hellgate' when they first arrived, because they found many human remains scattered across the land).

Missoula History – Founding Fathers and Institutions

The first permanent settlers came to Hellgate Village in 1860 when C.P. Higgins and F.L. Worden established a trading market, followed by a flour mill and a sawmill. On the 14th of May, 1866, the name was changed to Missoula. As the Northern Pacific Railway extended and the US Army establishment at Fort Missoula secured the area, the town became an important trading centre. The rich soil was perfect for farming and the abundant wood determined logging to become Missoula’s main industry for decades.

But there were two isolated events that gave the real boost to Missoula’s economy. In 1895, the Montana University (with campuses in Bozeman and Billings) opened its gates, facilitating the access to higher education. Then the Forest Service established its headquarters in Missoula (1908) and began to train their smokejumpers squads here (smokejumpers are firefighters that are parachuted in the proximity of a wildfire).

Today, Missoula’s economy is based a lot on tourism, as the city is caught in the middle between Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks, not to mention the surrounding state parks.

Missoula History – Famous Inhabitants and Local Events

Missoula’s history continues with a series of exceptional facts: Jeanette Rankin is America’s first Congresswoman and the only legislator who voted against entering WWI and WWII. She was first elected right before World War I started, at a time when women didn’t have the legal right to vote. Missoula is considered today as the most liberal city in Montana and it has an intense cultural life. There were many musicians originating from Missoula who moved to Seattle and contributed to the appearance Grunge; so were members of Pearl Jam, Green River or Silk Worm.

Annually Missoula hosts the International Wildlife Film Festival, the most important film festival focused on animal life in the world.

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