© The Historical Museum at Fort Missoula
Fort Missoula was a fort established in 1877 by the United States Army to protect settlers in Western Montana from the local Native American Indians. In addition to acting as a protector for the settlers, the fort also played host to the famous Buffalo Soldiers of the 25th Infantry Regiment in 1888, was a prison camp for Italian POWs during the World War II and for Japanese soldiers arrested as enemy aliens after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Built in response to urgent requests from the settlers and local townspeople wanting protection from marauding Western Montana Indian tribes, Fort Missoula was established as a permanent military post in 1877. Designed as an ‘open fort’ without walls, which was common to the west of the Mississippi, troops were required to take the offensive and patrol the surrounding areas opposed to simply sitting and watching. In 1888, the 25th Infantry Regiment arrived at Fort Missoula, one of four individual units formed after the Civil War and spent over a decade at the Fort testing the military potential of bicycles with arduous journeys such as a 1,900-mile trip from Fort Missoula to St. Louis.
Under the leadership of Congressman Joseph Dixon of Missoula, the Fort was remodeled into a modern complex of concrete buildings with several additions added between 1908 and 1914, including barracks, a new Officer's Row, and Post Hospital. During World War I, the Fort was used as a military training center to train mechanics and truck drivers of the Student Army Training Corps (SATC), and later as the Northwest Regional Headquarters for the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933. It went on to become an alien detention center for non-military Italian men such as merchant seamen and crew during the Second World War in 1941 and was fondly known as ‘’Camp Bella Vista.’’ Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, over 650 Japanese-American men who were considered high risk were stationed at the camp for a short period before being moved on to other internment camps.
The camp continued to be used as a prison for military personnel awaiting court-martial following World War II until it was decommissioned in 1947 and formally again in 2001. Today the Fort is open to the public to explore and learn more about the history of the Fort and the role it played in the development of the area around it.