Bitterroot Valley, approximately 96 miles long and 20 miles wide at
mid-valley, was the ancestral home of the Salish (Flathead) Indian tribe
long before the white man ever set foot in the valley. The Indians
gathered and ate the starchy root of the succulent Bitterroot plant. The
small pink blossoms of this plant prompted the naming of the Bitterroot
River and surrounding mountains and earned further prominence by becoming
The first white men came to the valley on
September 4, 1805 when the Lewis & Clark expedition entered the valley
near Lost Trail Pass. Approaching the present day location of Sula,
the expedition met a party of Salish Indians.
Captain Clark wrote
"These people received us friendly. I was the first white man on the
water of this river." The expedition camped at Traveler's Rest at the
mouth of Lolo Creek before venturing over the Bitterroot Mountain
Range on their way to the Pacific.
In 1824 the Hudson Bay Company sent a party under the command of
Alexander Ross into the valley.
In 1842 Father Pierre, Jean DeSmet and 5 associates entered the valley
at the request of the Salish Indians. The St. Mary's Mission and the
first church in
were built in Stevensville in 1845. Father Ravalli came to the Mission
in 1845. He was the first doctor in the area and the county bears his
name today. Fort Owen, the first white settlement in Montana
was established at Stevensville in 1850. The Catholic priests called
the river "St. Mary's". However, the valley, river and mountain range
are now named after Montana's
state flower, the Bitterroot. The flower has a fleshy root and
provided a steady food supply for the Indians long ago.
warriors and their families passed through the valley in their futile
flight to freedom in Canada, in what is known as the
Indian War of 1877. Their attempt to maintain their freedom and avoid
the reservation was the only time theNez
fought the whites.
Marcus Daly, one of Montana's
famous copper kings, came to the Bitterroot in 1888, lured by timber
needed for his Butte mines and our mild climate. He purchased 22,000
acres, established the Bitterroot Stock Farm, and built the now famous
Daly Mansion east of Hamilton. In 1890 Daly brought James Hamilton and
Robert O'Hara from Minnesota to develop a planned community. The town
was named after Hamilton and O'Hara was the first mayor. Hamilton was
incorporated about 1894.
In 1891 Chief Charlo and the Salish
Indians, who had befriended the white settlers for 86 years now, were
forced from their ancestral home. They were one of the few tribes to
never do battle with the white man. In October of 1891, the Salish
tribe traveled 66 miles north of Stevensville and were settled on the
Flathead Reservation in the Jocko Valley north of Missoula. The valley
now belonged solely to the white settlers. The Salish people still
come to the valley on a religious pilgrimage to visit the "Medicine
Tree", an important religious symbol for their people located along
Hwy 93 south of Conner.
About the Author:
Tony Derricott is a computer consultant in
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