Lewis and Clark came through the Missoula Valley in 1805, but it wasn't until 1860 that Europeans settled here (although a Jesuit priest, DeSmet, opened a mission south in the Bitterroot Valley in 1841).

Before settlers arrived, Western Montana was home to the Salish, Pend d'Oreille, and Kootenai tribes.

In 1860, C.P. Higgins and F.L. Worden opened a trading market that they called the Hellgate Village. (Today you can buy wine, espresso and huge deli sandwiches at Wordens Market on Higgins Street downtown). The name hellgate came from French trappers, who found carnage from warfare, including bones and bodies, in the canyon on the east edge of town. The Blackfeet and Flathead used the close confines of the canyon to battle one another. The canyon is still called Hellgate today, but only winter winds are a threat now.

Hellgate Village was a success, followed by a flour mill and a sawmill, which the new settlers dubbed Missoula Mills. Mills was eventually dropped, leaving the town with the name Missoula. Which, by the way, comes from a butchered version of the Salish name for the area, "Nemissoolatakoo."

Jeanette Rankin, the nation's first Congresswoman, was reared in Missoula in the late 1800s. She was elected to Congress before women could vote, on the eve of the first World War. She served one term, then was re-elected to Congress on the eve of the second World War. She is the only legislator to have voted against entering both wars.

The town is still steeped in active politics. And its economy is still based on retail trade -- people from hundreds of miles around use Missoula as their base for shopping and for finding medical and other professional services. The University of Montana and the Forest Service are also heavy economic hitters here.

Be sure to visit our historical "photo album" featuring fifteen photographs of Missoula from the early 1900's.


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