Fort Missoula, established in 1877 to provide military control over western Montana's Indian tribes and protect local settlers, was the only permanent military post west of the Continental Divide. There was little conflict, but the fort's non-combative service was long and diverse. From 1888 to 1898, the black 25th Infantry Regiment was stationed at the fort. Twenty of the men explored potential military applications of the bicycle, riding 1,900 miles from Missoula to St. Louis in forty days. During the Spanish-American conflict in 1898, volunteers known as Grigsby's Cowboys were garrisoned at the fort. Citizens protesting its closure in 1904 prompted U.S. Senator Joseph Dixon of Missoula to successfully lobby for the fort's reconstruction. Eighteen Mission style buildings from this period (1904 to 1912) form the core of the present complex. The fort served as a technical training center during World War I, and between 1933 and 1941, it became the nation's largest regional headquarters for the Civilian Conservation Corps. During World War II, it was the nation's largest civilian detention camp interning Japanese Americans, Italian nationals taken from merchant and luxury ships in New York's harbor, and World's Fair employees. Italian internees affectionately dubbed the fort "Bella Vista." After World War II, the fort served
as a medium security army prison. Closed in 1948, the fort had a military service that long outlasted other early Montana forts. The army began to sell and lease portions of the property, but adaptability and strong community involvement has assured the buildings at Fort Missoula an active future. Most of the district's buildings are now administered by the Northern Rockies Heritage Center.