Old Missoula

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Front Page Drawings - Missoula's History

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Centennial Edition Front Page

The first page of this edition is almost a complete page of drawings.

How do you present Missoula's history with a few drawings?  The task would not be easy. Some talented local artists are still trying to do it today. The dynamo, Edgar Paxson, attempted to do it on a grand scale a half century prior to this. He spent thousands of hours painting his history. We are lucky his work survives.

If the Missoulian page meant to send us a short message, what was it?

The difference between a page's worth of drawings versus a page of photographs is a question the Missoulian editor surely did not take lightly. That he chose this series of drawings presents a dimension we don't always get to see. Hopefully, this page can find its way to the digital world some day.

What sort of things could visually signify Missoula's pioneer story?

Here, the artist's approach was a lot different than Paxson's. The drawings are simple, 2 colored, blue tinted and labeled 1860 – 1880. These almost look like charcoal drawings and are presented without a great deal of detail.

They include a placer miner bent over his pan with a few inches of colored water swishing out the bottom and being poured into a small creek. Beside him is a small log hewn cabin with a single window, a door at one side and a small chimney at the back.

In the far top corner a covered wagon with 2 passengers is moving downhill toward the pioneer cabin. A mounted Indian stands in its path with 2 travois poles trailing behind her horse, loaded with blankets.

Next to her are two settlers, he with a whip in one hand, her wearing a bonnet, directly behind a small ox-drawn cart.

Next to them comes a Wells Fargo Stage Coach, with the driver’s whip snapping over 4 blazing horses and heading down an open road in front of 2 story structure that could be the center of town.

Just below this is a single, half-drawn, leafless tree that has a newly executed bandit swaying off of one limb from a short rope. Three unidentified mounted cowboys are riding off toward the hills behind him. You can't tell if the dead man is still wearing his boots.

The artist, A. Jette, proudly put his signature at the bottom of the hanging tree.

Just opposite the sordid tree is a more detailed scene with a single teepee backing up what is the artist’s rendering of a kneeling priest who has just drawn a cross in the dirt. Next to him bends a native chief (war bonnet in place) within touching distance. It's probably Father De Smet proselytizing for Jesus. Behind them at a safe distance a faceless brave stands with a lance in his grip which is pointing toward the sky.

The final scene is a pretty good drawing of the Higgins and Worden sawmill and gristmill, both of which were built near Rattlesnake Creek in Missoula in late 1864 - 1865.

The overall effect of the drawings is lean and  sparse, but that is probably just as well if we need something to visually define the beginning of Missoula. We should not forget that the name Hell Gate had its origins in a bloody and brutal era.

For many decades Missoula’s visitors were not intent on staying for any length of time, rather they were on their way somewhere else.

The earliest European/American visitors were Lewis & Clark at Lolo and none of their successors stayed at Missoula until James Hamilton built the first cabin in Missoula in 1858, and he didn’t stay beyond 1864. He was gone by the time the Hellgaters moved their town 5 miles east to Missoula and he gets little credit for his first effort.

Until the Higgins and Worden mills were built, the new pioneers were mainly interested in the Bitter Root and it boasted many of them long before Missoula’s inception.

The Mullan Road changed all that when it was finished in 1862.

A huge trail ran right through the center of what later became downtown Missoula and it led thousands through the area, effectively beginning with the discovery of gold in Idaho in 1860.

So, if the drawing did not adequately harken back to Lewis & Clark or David Thompson, that is as well, since their inclusion wouldn’t have borne the importance of the image of this emblematic, lonely placer miner anyway. He represents what became an explosion of people to Montana.

Their advance was not subtle.

He and his fellow Argonauts, within a short period of a few years, had more of an impact on what would become Missoula than all the foreign visitors before them put together.

Gold ignited the propellant that drove most of Missoula's early migrants and the show lasted for at least a decade after it was discovered in Montana in 1862. Missoula finally became more than a camping spot on the way to somewhere else - on the way to Idaho or to the Flathead or the Bitter Root or to the Black Foot and the Buffalo country.

Last Updated on Sunday, 07 August 2016 13:52