Missoula, Montana began in the early 1860's as an insignificant settlement known as Hellgate Village (after the Hellgate Canyon), when a couple of guys by the names of C.P. Higgens and Francis Worden thought they could make a few bucks trading with local indians.They opened a store down in the valley to trade with the Salish, Pend d'Oreille, and Kootenai tribes originally found in Western Montana. Hellgate Village was a success, and was soon followed by a flour mill and a sawmill. Eventually it was renamed "Missoula Mills", and after an even shorter period of time, it was shortened to just "Missoula".
What about the Population?
After the completion of the Mullan Road in 1863 which linked Fort Benton, Montana to Walla Walla, Washington, Missoula's population continued to grow. The U.S. Army established Fort Missoula just south of the town in 1877, and in 1883 (the year Missoula was incorporated) the Northern Pacific Railroad reached town making it the main trading center of the western part of the state (just like today). In 1895 the University of Montana opened, bringing in 50 students from the surrounding areas on the first day.
Now, with a population of about 65,000 people (of which about 12,000 are students at the university), Missoula is just a small, comfortable, fairly happenin' place to be.
What's the Geography like?
Montana is great pretty much the whole time you stay on the west side of the divide, but really, Missoula is pretty special. If you ever hear of Missoula refered to as the "town of rivers", it's because Missoula is pretty much settled into the center of the Clark Fork, Bitteroot and Blackfoot rivers. It has also been refered to as the "Garden City" because of how green everything is, and because of our outrageous number of public parks. Imagine all of this in a valley, surrounded by the Sapphire and Mission mountains, and you end up with a pretty dramatic picture.
Yeah, but what do you all do?
In a spot like this? Missoula is located in a pretty prime area. There are 6 ski resorts anywhere from 15 minutes to 3 hours away from downtown. You don't like to ski? How about fishing? Missoula happens to be something of a fly-fishing mecca, and even if you are just along for the view, the North-fork of the Blackfoot river is nothing to be hemmed and hawed at. Also close by is the Bitteroot river which makes for decent fishing and fun family float trips. You have a fear of water? No Worries! Montana has NATIONAL PARKS! Two, actually: Yellowstone (which stretches out to cover parts of Idaho and Wyoming) and Glacier(which extends up into Canada... if you're into that kind of thing). Also in abundance are recreation areas, and if you are into Astronomy... the Blue Mountain Observatory's open houses may be just the thing.
Do you eat?
Of course. I couldn't tell you about the town without touching on the cuisine... not that it is defining or anything, but because if you actually come out here, you'll have to have some ideas of where you can safely go. I suggest:
Mongo's: It's a Mongolian grill (thus the name Mongo's, I guess) where you basically pick what you want, and they slap it onto a grill and cook it for you. They have variations of these all over the place, but I have a soft spot for Mongo's.
The Uptown Diner: Does a pretty decent job of taking you back to the sixties. Located downtown, I recommend their burgers, and their killer milkshakes.
Food for Thought: Local college dining with really good sandwiches (stay away from the coffee pot! STAY!!) Anyway, they are a great place for breakfast and lunch, but dinner can be sketchy at best.
The Raven Cafe: Local coffee shop... you go more for the atmosphere of starving, self-torturing artists and the pool tables than anything else. Occasionally they have really good live shows on Fridays. (if you are into acoustic)
The Catalyst: Another coffee shop downtown, specializes in homemade soups and salads.
Anything else interesting? How about Politics?
Sure, I'll make a quick case of it before I leave you to pop off somewhere else. Montana's only real claim to fame was born on June 11, 1880 near Missoula, Montana. Jeannette Rankin was the very first woman to serve in the U.S. Congress, and actually, one of the very first women in the WORLD to be elected into a major legislative body (keep in mind that this was before women in most states could vote). A very peace-oriented person, she was the only person to vote against United States involvement in both world wars, and she led a resistance movement against involvement in Vietnam. After a lifetime of serving in various protest movements and two congressional terms, Jeannette Rankin passed away on May 18, 1973, and a bronze statue of her now stands in the U.S. Capitol.
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