Missoula is a city in the U.S. state of Montana and is the county seat of Missoula County. It is located along the Clark Fork River near its confluence with the Bitterroot River in western Montana and at the convergence of five mountain ranges, thus is often described as the "Hub of Five Valleys". The United States Census Bureau estimated the city's population at 69,122 and the population of the Missoula Metropolitan Area at 111,807 Since 2000, Missoula has been the second most populous city in Montana. Missoula is home to the University of Montana, a public research university.
Missoula was founded in 1860 as Hellgate Trading Post while still part of Washington Territory. By 1866, the settlement had moved five miles upstream and renamed Missoula Mills, later shortened to Missoula. The mills provided supplies to western settlers traveling along the Mullan Road. The establishment of Fort Missoula in 1877 to protect settlers further stabilized the economy. The arrival of the Northern Pacific Railway in 1883 brought rapid growth and the maturation of the local lumber industry. An element of prestige could be claimed ten years later when what was already called the City of Missoula was chosen by the Montana Legislature as the site for the new state's first university. Along with the U.S. Forest Service headquarters founded in 1908, lumber and the university would remain staples of the local economy for the next hundred years.
By the 1990s, Missoula's lumber industry had gradually disappeared, and today the city's largest employers are the University of Montana and Missoula's two hospitals. The city is governed by a mayor-council government with twelve city council members, two from each of the six wards. In and around Missoula are of parkland, of trails, and nearly of open-space conservation land with adjacent Mount Jumbo home to grazing elk and mule deer during the winter months. The city is also home to both Montana's largest and its oldest active breweries as well as the Montana Grizzlies, one of the strongest college football programs in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Notable residents include the first woman in the U.S. Congress, Jeannette Rankin, and the United States' longest-serving Senate Majority Leader, Mike Mansfield.
Archaeological artifacts date the Missoula Valley's earliest inhabitants to the end of the last ice age 12,000 years ago with settlements as early as 3,500 BCE. From the 1700s until European settlements began a hundred years later, the land was primarily used by populations of the Salish, Kootenai, Pend d'Oreille, Blackfeet, and Shoshone tribes. Located at the confluence of five mountain valleys, the Missoula Valley was heavily traversed by local and distant native tribes that periodically went to the Eastern Montana plains in search of bison, leading to inevitable conflict. The narrow valley at Missoula's eastern entrance was so strewn with human bones from repeated ambushes that French fur trappers would later refer to this area as "Porte d' Enfer," translated as "Hell's Gate". Hell Gate would remain the name of the area until it was renamed "Missoula" in 1866.
Western exploration to the area began with the Lewis and Clark Expedition, which stopped twice just south of Missoula at Traveler's Rest (first from September 9–11, 1805, and again from June 30-July 3, 1806) before splitting up on the return journey, with Clark taking the southern route along the Bitterroot River and Lewis travelling north through Hellgate Canyon on July 4. In 1860 Hell Gate Village was established just west of present-day Missoula by Christopher P. Higgins and Frank Worden as a trading post to serve travelers on the recently completed Mullan Road, the first wagon road to cross the Rocky Mountains to the inland of the Pacific Northwest. The desire for a more convenient water supply to power a lumber and flour mill led to the movement of the settlement to its modern location in 1864.
The Missoula Mills replaced Hell Gate Village as the economic power of the valley and replaced it as the county seat in 1866. The name "Missoula" came from the Salish name for the Clark Fork River, "nmesuletkw", which roughly translates as "place of frozen water" and possibly refers to the ancient Glacial Lake Missoula once located in the valley. Fort Missoula was established in 1877 to help protect further arriving settlers. Growth accelerated with the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railway in 1883, and the Town of Missoula was chartered the same year. Ten years later, Missoula was chosen as the location of the state's first university, the University of Montana. The need for lumber for the railway and its bridges spurred the opening of multiple saw mills in the area and, in turn, the beginning of Missoula's lumber industry that would remain the mainstay of the area's economy for the next hundred years. The continued economic windfall from railroad construction and lumber mills led to a further boom in Missoula's population. A.B. Hammond and Copper Kings Marcus Daly and William A. Clark competed fiercely in the region over lumber share and Missoula investments, and in 1908 Missoula became the district, and later a regional, headquarters for the United States Forest Service, which also began training smokejumpers in 1942.
Today, education and healthcare are Missoula's leading industries with the University of Montana and the city's two hospitals acting as three of the largest employers. St. Patrick Hospital and Health Sciences Center, founded in 1873, is the region's only Level II trauma center and has undergone three major expansions since the 1980s. Likewise, the University of Montana grew 50% and built or renovated 20 buildings from 1990-2010. It is expected that these industries as well as expansions in business and professional services, and retail will be the main engines of future growth.