In 1893, Missoula was chosen as the location of the state's first university, the University of Montana.The need for lumber for the railway and its bridges spurred the opening of multiple saw mills in the area and, in turn, the beginning of Missoula's lumber industry, which remained the mainstay of the area's economy for the next hundred years.From the 1700s until European settlements began a hundred years later, it was primarily the Salish, Kootenai, Pend d'Oreille, Blackfeet, and Shoshone who used the land.
The Clark Fork River enters the Missoula Valley from the east through Hellgate Canyon after joining the nearby Blackfoot River at the site of the former Milltown Dam.
The Bitterroot River and multiple smaller tributaries join the Clark Fork on the western edge of Missoula.
The rivers around Missoula provide nesting habitats for bank swallows, northern rough-winged swallows and belted kingfishers.
Killdeer and spotted sandpipers can be seen foraging for insects along the gravel bars.
Other species include song sparrows, catbirds, several species of warblers, and the pileated woodpecker.
The rivers also provide cold, clean water for native fish such as westslope cutthroat trout and bull trout.The city also sits at the convergence of five mountain ranges: the Bitterroot Mountains, Sapphire Range, Garnet Range, Rattlesnake Mountains, and the Reservation Divide, thus is often described as being the "hub of five valleys".Located in the Northern Rockies, Missoula has a typical Rocky Mountain ecology.Fort Missoula was established in 1877 to help protect further arriving settlers.Growth accelerated with the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railway in 1883, and the Town of Missoula was chartered the same year.Local wildlife includes populations of white-tailed deer, black bears, osprey, and bald eagles.