The area that is now Great Falls was documented well during the Corps of Discovery because of the amazing falls on the Missouri River that caused the expedition to portage around them. The tenacity of the 32 men, and 1 woman, Sacajawea, is a cornerstone to our history in Great Falls, and displayed at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. The efforts of the Corps lead to westward expansion and a beautiful, prosperous city along the Missouri River to develop.
Envisioned by Paris Gibson in 1884, and incorporated in 1888, Great Falls was strategically designed in a grid pattern, ensuring precise, arrow-straight patterns with wide boulevards. Gibson was deliberate in focusing 886 acres for city parks, and planting trees at specific intervals through the town, now an Arbor Day Tree City USA.
As Great Falls grew, famed cowboy artist, Charles M. Russell, captured the rugged independence of the people, and the breathtaking diverse landscapes of the region in his paintings. With his wife Nancy’s business acumen, Charlie’s art became part of the world. Beyond the art, Charlie was a historian, writer, conservationist, philosopher, environmentalist, outdoorsman, and advocate of the Northern Plains Indians.
Great Falls is home to the headquarters of the Little Shell Chippewa tribe, and has the largest urban Native American population in Montana, with several tribes represented. As the first people in this region, many Native American historic, and cultural sites are present in Great Falls and the surrounding area. Hill 57, a nationally known Indian “shanty-town”, was where many landless, poverty-stricken Native Americans resided.
At First People’s Buffalo Jump you can find a traditional dance arbor that is used still for the August Little Shell Chippewa Pow-wow and Traditional Round Dances are held frequently at Montana ExpoPark.
Saint Peter’s Mission, north of Cascade, played a pivotal role in the uprising of Cree and Metis against the Canadian government in 1885; and the memorial to the 1903 World Champion Fort Shaw Indian School girl’s basketball team is present in the Fort Shaw community and the pieces of that history and can found at The History Museum.
The fabric of Great Falls is woven by many others. Check our blog to learn about these amazing people.