By Jim Harmon

The 1900 census placed Missoula’s population at 4,329.

A newspaper writer of the day forecast that in 10 years or so, “it would be a city of between 15,000 and 20,000 inhabitants if conditions remain as favorable as they are now.”

Newspaper Clipping - 1900 census numbers
Newspaper Clipping - 1900 census numbers

Both the writer and the publication, the Missoulian newspaper (published by the Fruit-Grower Publishing Company), were heavily into the “boosting” business, describing Missoula’s inhabitants as “thrifty, energetic people” although acknowledging “there are a few drones.”

The Fruit-Grower newspaper believed that “Missoula County, being an agricultural section,” would have a certain amount of “permanency that cannot be hoped for in stock-raising and mining communities.”

The writer said his intention was not to review the progress of the last century, as is “generally done in more pretentious New York papers” but to merely “sketch an outline and furnish a view here and there that will be attractive.”

Orchardists - Missoulian/Fruit-Grower newspaper November 29, 1900
Orchardists - Missoulian/Fruit-Grower newspaper November 29, 1900

His subjects included schools, banks, the new university, hotels, businesses, palatial homes, theaters, orchardists, power suppliers and more.

The town’s businessmen were praised as “progressive,” its workers were said to make “good wages,” and pride was taken “in support of home Industries.”

The community, he said, had “good schools, churches, and pleasant homes.” Its merchants were said to be generous, “always willing to extend assistance in the right direction to anyone, who in benefiting himself, also helps to benefit others.”

The paper also quoted from a story published a year earlier (the writer was not identified) describing the beauty of the Garden City.

That particular writer noted, “The basin in which Missoula lies was fashioned when nature was in a pleasant mood. The Missoula river issuing from Hellgate canyon, divides the city in twain.”

“A passenger and a railroad bridge span the river both within the corporate limits of the city, each visible from the other, and the views from either are admired and admirable.”

“Rattlesnake creek, issuing from the north traverses a portion of the eastern part of the city and its verdured banks add beauty.”

In the terms of a playwrite, the city’s landmark mountains served as “Missoula’s backdrop.”

Mount Woody (now known as Mount Sentinel) was the painted canvass behind the University of Montana. Mount Jumbo (easily recognized because of its resemblance to an elephant) guarded “the Eastern Gate of the city…and was saluted every morning by all good Missoulians.”

The town itself was composed of “gleaming church spires … cupolas of handsome school buildings, and “vine-embowered and flower-surrounded cottages.”

Everything about the city was seen through lenses of rose-colored glasses. “The streets, as a rule, are of ample width and well shaded.” Even the city’s sewer system was termed “first-class.”

The writer was absolutely enamored with Missoula’s public schools, because of the inclusion of “nature study or elementary science, including the study of native flowers, forest trees, and insects.”

Clipping - Schools praised
Clipping - Schools praised

The school art programs were praised: “A complete course is given in freehand-pencil, using as subjects flowers, animals, and various inanimate objects.”

The Fruit-Grower publication applauded “the taxpayers of Missoula (who) have always been exceedingly generous in their support of public schools. Special taxes have been voted whenever the regular levy did not provide sufficient funds.”

Also celebrated was The University of Montana, where “five hundred shade trees were planted with appropriate exercises.”

The Fruit-Grower paper was proud of the progress made by orchardists. “It is only within the last few years than many farmers of western Montana could have roast apples, or applesauce from fruit grown in their own orchards to eat with their Thanksgiving turkey, but (by 1900) probably 90% of them have apples of their own growing.”

In fact it was estimated that Ravalli and Missoula counties “raised enough apples to furnish 25 pounds worth to every man woman and child in the state. In short, there is no country where fruits are finer or more productive than in our own western Montana.”

Though none of us will be around to witness it, one can hope that writers, a century from now, will look back at Missoula in 2024 and conclude that we, too, maintained that same sense of community and pride in this place where we live; pride in our orchards, schools, hotels, businesses, homes, theaters, and our university.

Jim Harmon is a longtime Missoula news broadcaster, now retired, who writes a weekly history column for Missoula Current. You can contact Jim at His best-selling book, “The Sneakin’est Man That Ever Was,” a collection of 46 vignettes of Western Montana history, is available at