Missoula is the home of the University of Montana. It is the birthplace of Jeannette Rankin (1880-1973), the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Missoula is nicknamed the Garden City.
Geography and climate
The city has a total area of 23.9 square miles (61.9 km²), of which, 23.8 square miles (61.6 km²) of it is land and 0.1 square miles (0.3 km²) of it (0.46%) is water. Missoula is located in a deep valley near the Clark Fork River, the Bitterroot River and the Blackfoot River. The city is the namesake of Glacial Lake Missoula, which caused catastrophic floods across the northwest between 15,000 and 13,000 years ago.
As of the census of 2000, there were 57,053 people, 24,141 households, and 12,336 families residing in the city. (A 2004 estimate puts the city's population at 61,790.) The population density was 2,397.1 people per square mile (925.6/km²). There were 25,225 housing units at an average density of 1,059.8/sq mi (409.2/km²).
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 flourmill, 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 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 flyfishing Golden Triangle and is a popular area for hunting mule deer, elk, bear, moose and other game animals. This provides Missoula with an ample tourism industry based on hunting and fishing.
Missoula is located near the Rattlesnake Wilderness and Rattlesnake National Recreation Area, two areas that protect Missoula's municipal watershed and serve as wildlife habitat and recreational areas. The nearest ski area is Montana Snowbowl. The U.S. Forest Service's smokejumper base, the largest of its kind, is located near the Missoula airport. Free tours of the base are popular with tourists during the summer wildfire season. A walking bridge over the downtown railroad yards of the Montana RailLink railroad is a popular destination for railfans. The Missoula Osprey are the local minor league baseball team.
Missoula is home to the main campus of the University of Montana. There are three public high schools: Hellgate High School, Sentinel High School, and Big Sky High School, and two private schools: Valley Christian School and Loyola Sacred Heart High School.
Missoula has a thriving arts scene. The International Wildlife Film Festival, the largest animal-themed film festival in the world, is held annually at the historic Wilma Theatre. The Missoula Children's Theatre is an international touring program that visits nearly 1,000 communities per year. The Children's Theatre routinely has residencies in all fifty states, Canada, Japan, Germany, Italy, and many other countries.
The city is frequently mentioned in novels of Ernest Hemingway, Stephen Frey, Chuck Palahniuk, James Lee Burke, James Crumley, and Norman Maclean.
Missoula is home to a diverse and influential music scene. Members of bands such as Deranged Diction, which formed in Missoula, later moved to Seattle and became key members of groups such as Green River, Mother Love Bone, Pearl Jam, Silkworm, and Love Battery, playing an important role in the birth of the grunge movement. The city is prominently featured in "Apology Song" by Oregon indie-band The Decemberists.