Captain Lewis in the Missoula Valley
The narrow river canyons upstream from here have a long and bloody past.
As the Salish, Nez Perce and other western mountain Indian tribes passed through these canyons enroute to buffalo hunting grounds east of the Rocky Mountains, they were often ambushed by raiding parties from the Blackfeet, Hidatsa and other more aggressive eastern plains Indians.
Captain Lewis wrote in his journals: "all the nations... on the west side of the mountains... & who visit the plains of the Missouri... pass by this rout."
On July 4th, 18076, just a few miles downstream, six Nez Perce Indian guides would travel no further into what is now the Missoula Valley, They warned Captain Lewis that his life and the lives of his time men were in grave danger if they insisted on traveling east, to the great falls of the Missouri River.
Luckily, Lewis and his band of men passed safely through the confined canyons, but many other traveler were not as fortunate.
(sidebar on right:)
After Lewis & Clark
By the 1820s, the local French-Canadian trappers were calling the dangerous canyons to the east Porte d'Enfer, meaning Gates of Hell or Hell's Gate, and the stream running through it, the Hell Gate River. By 1860, the valley's main trading post and village was also named
Hell Gate. But four years later, the town moved to its present location and the name was quietly changed to the more civilized Missoula Mills, and then just Missoula.
Over a century later, the Hell Gate term is still being used by local businesses, organizations, and two schools - Hellgate Elementary and Hellgate High School.