Photograph of M on mountain outside of Missoula.
The M on Mount Sentinel, outside of Missoula, Montana. More than seeing the M, I’m excited about the horizontal lines on the slope, revealing lakeshore erosion when this valley was Lake Missoula.

…and now back to our regularly scheduled program. I’m still not done telling you about my great trip to Montana and Idaho the first week of August. Let me get back to that:

Sunday morning Tanner cooked breakfast for all of us, including sister-in-law Laurie when she got home from her overnight shift. I was able to chat with her a little more, and shared some of my photos from the day before, when Tanner and I explored the Bannack ghost town, and also the Big Hole National Battlefield. Today we couldn’t figure out a way to hide from the kids, so we had to bring them with us. Tanner’s daughter decided it was a great day to go to the mall. “We’re not going to the mall!” the adults said.

Tanner found a parking lot and since it was right next to a giant playground, we checked it out. The kids were mostly too big to play there, but since we adults were goofing around on stuff, the kids decided to make the most of it.

It’s harder to entertain guests in Missoula during a pandemic. The carousel was shut down. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation was closed. There was no farmer’s market. We walked around downtown and tried to think of places to go. We walked across the bridge over the Clark Fork River. The scenery was beautiful and Missoula is a cute little town. From the bridge I was excited to see the horizontal lines on Mount Sentinel, and the zig zag trail up to the M (photo at top). The ‘M’ on Mount Sentinel has been a Missoula landmark since 1908. I recently learned about those lines in a documentary about the Missoula Floods of 15,000 to 12,000 years ago. The floods were caused when ice dams melted and released the water in Lake Missoula. The ice reformed and the lake refilled, over and over. While there was a lake, the surface waters lapped at the shore and eroded those horizontal lines that you see. That helps a person imagine how big the lake was, and how there could have been enough water to carve the shape of the Columbia River Valley today. On the other side of the bridge was the Boone and Crockett Club, founded by Theodore Roosevelt in 1887. The Club worked on legislation for establishing the country’s first national parks, and scientifically-based wildlife management and land management, including conservation. Tanner was excited to take us there, but it too was closed.

A store for me!
Graffiti of a rooster in an alley is right up my alley.
Clark Fork River in Missoula, Montana.
The Boone and Crockett Club, across the river. The Headquarters is in this historic building, built in 1910 for the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railway Company.

Tanner’s next idea finally paid off. He took us to the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula. Established in 1877, this fort had no walls like one imagines a fort, but it was there for what you’d expect: to provide protection to those delicate settlers from the violent Indians, who did not like them setting up towns in the middle of their lands. The true story is that settlers stole land, often initiated the violence, and then when the local American Indian tribes proved too much of a challenge for them, the settlers begged the U.S. Army to come and save them. It did. In an interesting connection between today and the day before, one of the first things the soldiers at Fort Missoula were asked to do was to disarm and capture the Nez Perce under Chief Joseph as they fled toward Canada. This story is told in my previous post about the battle at Big Hole. The Nez Perce scouts found the military blockade in Lolo Pass, and the tribe simply went around them. Ha! The 25th Infantry at Fort Missoula was an all-Black regiment (under white officers). Members of this unit formed the country’s first military Bicycle Corps, which I didn’t even know existed. The 25th was one of the first units to fight in the Spanish-American War of 1898 (which put an end to the bicycle experiments), and they also served in Cuba and the Philippines.

Fort Missoula’s use as a standard military fort ended after World War I, and was used as a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) training camp for years, where volunteers (unemployed, unmarried men ages 17–28) were trained by the U.S. Forest Service, the National Park Service, and the Bureau of Reclamation. In 1941 the fort was used as an Alien Detention Center for Italian men who, in the course of working as merchant seamen or hotel workers, etc., became trapped in the U.S. because of WWII. When their visas expired, they were rounded up and dumped here as prisoners. Around the same time, the fort was used as a Japanese Internment Camp, for people of Japanese descent who lived in America, rounded up and imprisoned after the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor because Americans are racist. *sigh*

Today the museum consists of 32 acres holding historic military buildings and within some of those buildings it holds artifacts of military history, particularly as it relates to this region. Due to COVID-19, the main building is closed, but a lot of the grounds remain open. My best discovery of the day was finding a photo of the original raising of the flag at Iwo Jima, not the famous photo that was staged, and learning abut Louis Charlo. Charlo, a member of the Salish tribe and born in Missoula, was an 18-year-old Marine serving aboard the USS Missoula. He was one of the original few who took a flag from the ship and attached it to a pipe, and erected it at the top of Mount Suribachi in 1945. The photo is signed and gifted to the city of Missoula by the photographer, Louis Lowery. Charlo was killed a month later.

There is interesting railroad history at the museum grounds. We were often able to explore inside buildings and railcars without other visitors, but when we did share spaces, we put our masks on. We saw a car called a “crummy,” for hauling workers into the woods for logging. It was self-propelled, could go either direction, and could climb a 6% grade. This one was built to haul 45 men. I can see why they called it crummy. We walked inside a restored library car for loggers from the 1920s-50s, set up with shelves of books, a reading table, a wood stove, and a check out counter for the librarian. Then we walked through a building that was the old Drummond train depot, with a great little ticket office filled with period-appropriate furnishings, complete with stereotypical Plains Indian calendar. There was a model train inside a glass case, that serviced imagined logging operations.

When we stood on the bridge looking at the Boone and Crockett Club, we wondered about the history of the building. Here at Fort Missoula, we learned it was a train depot.
What’s a good train museum without a train to climb on?

Finally we explored an old U.S. Forest Service fire lookout tower. These lookouts are scattered all over the Western United States and were popular in the early 1900s to keep a set of human eyes on the forests, providing an early warning system to identify wildfires. Today, only a fraction of these towers are used as active early warning sites. Most have fallen into disrepair, and some are maintained and rented out to wilderness adventurers who are willing to hike to them and stay a few nights. The museum lookout is set up as though it might have been during the heyday of tower use. As a person with her own U.S. Forest Service china collection, I enjoy seeing bits of it in other places. It’s hard for me to imagine my government investing in something like a line of branded china.

Tanner’s son had been having a pretty good time at the museum. His class had been there on a field trip, and he enjoyed telling us what he remembered from that visit. Tanner’s daughter was bored out of her friggin’ mind. However, she never once complained, and tried to keep her sighs to a minimum, and facial expressions to acceptable ones. When we went over our options for a late lunch, we chose a place near the mall, and then, yes, rewarded those great kids with mall time. We went through a candy shop, a clothing store, and other stuff they wanted to do, before heading out to our final stop of the day: a walk among one thousand Buddhas. But you’ll have to read my next post to hear about that.

14 thoughts on “Missoula

  1. Awesome post. I learned a lot and now want to visit.

    Montana was one of the places we considered when we looked to move out of Michigan (we opted for Colorado). Will probably head that way for a visit . . . you know, once it’s safe to travel.

    1. I’m glad you liked the post. And I think Montana is a good idea for a road trip from Colorado. In what city do you live? I lived in Colorado Springs for awhile, when I was in the Air Force. I did a ton of exploring Colorado in the 1990s.

    2. Sorry for the confusion . . . we lived in Colorado for 11 years after leaving Michigan. In 2016, we left Colorado and moved to Hawaii. In 2019, we moved back to the mainland and are currently in Illinois.

      While in Colorado, we lived in Monument (not the city proper). We actually lived at the top of Monument Hill (pretty much atop the Palmer Divide). Sorry about the confusion.

    1. Thank you! I do love the geological stuff. It was especially exciting for me to be here in Missoula, where those massive lakes were, because the geography of where I currently live was shaped by those lakes when the dams burst. It’s this epic story of Early Earth, and it’s actually pretty easy to see, when one looks at a landscape, things like erosion lines, and cliffs here, that formed because of the water.

    1. I know what you mean. I have been getting around still (this trip is an example), but I’ve made an effort to go to low population areas and I wear my mask in every public setting. As far as being free to just go wherever…I’m hoping that will happen by the end of 2021. Ugh. I’m guessing vaccines will start being available by late spring maybe summer. Then available to regular people by late summer fall? And there will be lots of reasons people don’t get them, but schools will require it next fall for enrollment (well, that is, as long as Captain Cheeto isn’t reelected), so by Christmas maybe. Oy. That’s a long, frustrating slog ahead of us.

  2. Mmmmmissoula. I like the name already and would hike up to that M to take photos. 😀 But really, they had a camp for Italian prisoners of war? 😮 Did any survive it or were they just all killed? I love it how you know to have a good time, despite it all. With the happy ending for the daughter and all. 🙂

    1. Based on your question, I did a search and this article is the first that popped up. I think the writing leaves something to be desired, but the story is fascinating. I had to answer a survey to see the article, so I hope it works for you: https://missoulian.com/news/state-and-regional/che-bella-vista-missoula-resident-and-italian-detainee-during-world-war-ii-offers-memories-and/article_a0b64709-9070-530d-bc50-25a49106fb5f.html

      Yes, Megan got to go to the mall in the end. I had to chuckle when she was here last week and started whining on night #2 about going across the river into the bigger town to look for a mall.

      I wanted to hike up to that M too! Tanner would have happily made the climb with me, but the two kids – not likely without a battle. I’ll go back again and will definitely climb up there and take a look at the valley.

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