Missoula's Historical Museum

Learn about the origins of Missoula, Mont., through a large collection of artifacts and restored buildings. 

1923 Shay locomotive, Historic Museum at Fort Missoula, Mont., image

A 1923 Shay locomotive lures fort visitors.

"When I picture early Missoula, I see gunfights and the rough-and-tumble life—but that’s only part of our history,” says Robert Brown, executive director of Montana’s Historical Museum at Fort Missoula. Permanent exhibits, in a former quartermaster’s storehouse, display such items as silver dinnerware used by city founder Christopher P. Higgins— “about as far from rough-and-tumble as you can get,” Brown says.

Also shown is a rebuilt bike from 1897 used by the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps, a U.S. regiment with black soldiers and white officers. In a readiness test, members of the corps rode the 400 miles to Yellowstone and back again, an event captured in a photo of the soldiers with their bikes on Minerva Terrace, one of the park’s geothermal features.

Around the grounds are 20 restored buildings, most moved from sites nearby. A weather-beaten log church (1863), a one-room schoolhouse (1907), a detention barracks (1941), and a sawmill scrap burner (1946) are highlighted on a free cell-phone audio tour (406-952-3005).

In a barn stands a partially restored electric trolley that from 1912 to 1932 hit a blazing 16.4 mph on its route to and from Bonner. The fort grounds are always accessible; the buildings open Tues.–Sun. noon–5 p.m. (406) 728-3476, fortmissoulamuseum.org.

Photography by Andrew Geiger

This article was first published in September 2013. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.

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