Will Cave in Spanish American War uniform

Will Cave, right, first lieutenant with Troop F, Third U.S. Volunteer Cavalry in the Spanish American War, sits with fellow officers Frank Higgins, captain, and 2nd Lt. Charles Hall in 1898. 

Archives and Special Collections, Mansfield Library, University of Montana

Will Cave led a fascinating life.

He was born near Virginia City in 1863 in the months after gold was discovered in Alder Gulch and moved to Missoula with his mother Caroline and stepfather Alfred Cave in 1872. Cave spent most of the rest of his life here, dying in 1954 at age 90.

As he came of age, so did Missoula. Cave had a front-row seat to the Nez Perce scare in 1877 and the coming of the railroad in 1883. He worked for the Missoula Mercantile Company from 1884-1891, then was appointed Missoula County's first auditor. Later he served as assessor and deputy county clerk.

In 1897 Cave spent seven weeks in the gold fields of the Klondike and was headed that way again the following January when the steamship he was on wrecked off the coast of British Columbia. He survived but returned with the other 245 passengers to the states.

Back in Missoula two months later, with America's participation in the Spanish-American War imminent, Cave began raising a company of volunteers. On March 30, 1898, he secured 50 pledges in a few hours, thus organizing the nation's first volunteer company. When the U.S. did declare war a few weeks later, Cave was mustered in as First Lieutenant in what became known as the Montana Squadron of Grigsby's Cowboy Regiment.

They trained at Camp Thomas in Chickamauga, Georgia, but never did go overseas. Cave mustered out with the rest of his squadron that September. He was in the abstract business in Missoula for years, selling it in 1943 when he was 80 years old.

By the 1920s the Missoulian put Cave's background and keen observation skills to use as a contributor of local history pieces. In May and June 1922, the paper published a four-Sunday series by Cave on western Montana place names.

He introduced the series with a summary of the beginnings of Missoula County and Missoula, based on the writings of the late Judge Frank H. Woody, Missoula's first mayor. Cave said he was offering Salish designations for places in the region with "the frank admission that there may be easily room for difference of opinion as to the correct spelling of any one or all of them."

Virtually all the information relative to Indian names in the series came from his friend, Duncan McDonald. McDonald (1849-1937) was born at Fort Connah near St. Ignatius, the last Hudson's Bay Co. post established in the U.S. His father Angus was a native Scotsman who ran the post. His mother Catherine was daughter of a Nez Perce chief and a mixed blood French Canadian and grew up speaking Salish.

Cave wrote of the younger McDonald, whose descendants are numerous today: "While the greater part of his life has been passed on the Flathead reservation, mingling continually with Indians, yet he has kept himself intimately informed concerning the affairs of the world in general. His knowledge of Indian traditions exceeds that of most full-blood Indians of today."

Some names Cave referred to in 1922 are out of use. For instance, the river that flows westward through Missoula wasn’t the Clark Fork but the Hellgate until it met the Bitter Root (two words). Then it became the Missoula River. Cave spelled the local tribe's name "Sailish" at McDonald's suggestion, reasoning that it better "fit an anglicized pronunciation." In these reprints the spelling has been changed to the accepted spelling of "Salish."

Sunday Missoulian, May 14, 1922


New Series On Nomenclature Begins In Edition Today

How Did Missoula Get Its Name? In How Many Territories Have We Been?


Duncan McDonald Lends Valuable Assistance in Tracing Origins


As introductory to tales relating to names of local points, for the following which might have been obtained by consistent research elsewhere, I am indebted to the pen of the late Judge Frank H. Woody. It is not undeserving of place.

“The Territory of Oregon” was organized by act of congress in 1848. Within its boundaries lay the region which is now that part of Montana west of the summit of the Rocky mountains.

March 2, 1853, congress divided the Territory of Oregon, this district then becoming a portion of Washington territory.

Named in honor of Captain William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition, one of counties (“Clarke”) created by the first territorial legislature, embraced the country from near Fort Vancouver on the Columbia river to the summit of the main range of the Rockies. Then it was that western Montana first became within the limits of an organized county. Eventually Clarke county was divided, this eastern portion being attached to Skamania county. Again there was a division and our country was included within the lines of Walla Wall county. When Walla Walla county was divided, we became a part of Spokane county. Don December 14, 1860, the legislature divided Spokane county and created Missoula county, with the county seat at or near the trading post of Worden & Co., Hell’s Gate Ronde. Missoula county, as originally established, comprised that portion of Montana now being all of Silver Bow, Deer Lodge, Powell, Granite, Ravalli, Mineral, Sanders, Flathead, Lincoln and Missoula counties. Missoula county remained a component part of Washington territory until March 3, 1863, when it became a part of the Territory of Idaho, at that date organized.

Idaho’s first legislative assembly practically continued Missoula county locating the county seat at “Wordensville.” Montana territory was created by congress on May 26, 1864. In session at Bannack on February 2, 1865, the first legislature of Montana territory established Missoula county, designating Hell’s gate again the county’s seat. Meanwhile, in 1860, C.P. Higgins and F.L. Worden, under the firm name of Worden & Co., brought a stock of general merchandise by pack train from Walla Walla, intending to begin trading at the Indian agency; but upon reaching this valley, concluded it a better place at which to locate, built a log house and opened a store at Hell’s gate, five miles west of the site of our present city. This was the first building a that point, the store being the first mercantile concern, not distinctively a trading post, established within the present Montana boundaries. A small village grew up around it.

Probably the first marriage in the territory of two white persons was that of George P. White and Mrs. Josephine Meininger at Hell’s Gate on March 5, 1862, the ceremony being performed by Henry Brooks, justice of the peace. Before Justice Brooks in that same month of March 1862 was tried the first lawsuit in the territory. The principals to the controversy were a Frenchman nicknamed “Tin Cup Joe” and C.C. (Baron) O’Keeffe, the suit occasioned by a dispute arising from the untimely demise (accidental or otherwise) of a horse owned by “Tin Cup.”

It may be observed that western Montana has been within the limits of four territories, Hell’s Gate, better known as Hell Gate, as a trading center survived but five yeas. Still it was widely known. Perhaps its sanguinary history was chiefly contributory to its diffusive renown. As a matter of fact, 10 tragedies in five years, attributable to a village whose population averaged but a dozen persons, justified some claim to reputation. In the town there were five hangings, three homicides and one suicide, addition to which “Handsome Harry” Hawkins, after confessing to the robbery of “Grizley” Higgins, was taken from the town by two men, one purporting to be a deputy sheriff from Walla Walla, and shot to death near Rattlesnake creek, for “attempting to escape.”


It is regrettable that the trail-blazers of Montana appear to have taken little interest in the preservation of Indian names for even conspicuous points. Consequently but few streams, lakes, mountains, valleys or trails carry aboriginal designations. There may be no legitimate argument why names applied by their builders to towns and cities should not be accepted as being appropriate, but to those of us who possess any sentiment whatever concerning tradition of the primal order of things, it is evident that little thoughtfulness was displayed when no attempts were made to perpetuate the names by which at least the more prominent objects were known to the original inhabitants. I doubt if anywhere in the state white residents have any conception whatever concerning local geographical names or significance thereof as known to the Red Man before the pale faced brother appeared on the horizon.

Along these lines we of Missoula differ in no wise from those of other localities. With this in mind, I am here submitting that which may be termed the nomenclature of Missoula and vicinity in so far as I have succeeded in obtaining it.

One finds it extremely difficult adjusting to the tongue the twists peculiar to local Indian pronunciation, and experiences even greater difficulty in the endeavor correctly to adapt to Indian words the letters of our alphabet, particularly where attempting to present for reproduction the sibilant and the guttural. In introducing here names which principally are of “Sailish” origin, it is with the frank admission that there may be easily room for difference of opinion as to the correct spelling of any one or all of them. Very possibly these difficulties, appealing to early white sojourners in the land, inspired them to adopt names more readily adjusted to the Anglo-Saxon tongue. While on this question of orthography, I must take emphatic issue with writers generally respecting the spelling of the name applied to themselves by the Flathead “Selish.” Captain Lewis in 1806 spelled it “Shalees.” Judge Woody spelled it “Salish.” Last year, while discussing the matter, Duncan McDonald suggested that to fit an anglicized pronunciation, “Sail-ish,” comes perhaps nearest to the correct manner of spelling it. I have adopted this as the word “Selish,” especially when pronounced “Seel-lish” is manifestly incorrect.

Duncan McDonald.

At this point I desire to acknowledge the courteous assistance rendered me by Duncan McDonald, to whom I am indebted for practically all of the information following, relative to Indian names.

Angus McDonald, Duncan’s father, was a native of Inverness, Scotland. He went to Canada in 1838, reaching the United States the following year. Soon he was in the employ of the Hudson Bay company in the Puget Sound country, thence along the coast to the north; from that section drifting to the region now a part of Idaho, I.E., Snake river, Boise and Fort Hall. He came to Post creek in 1847, there building the first trading post on what eventually became the Flathead Indian reservation, he later becoming a factor of the company. In 1846, at Boise, he took a wife, according to tribal custom, from among the Nez Perces, though in 1856 at Fort Colville, Washington territory, he insisted on a “white” marriage ceremony, which was performed by Rev. F. Josett. On his mother’s side, Duncan’s grandfather, Baptiste, was a mixed blood: French, Mohawk and Iroquois; the grandmother was the daughter of a Nez Perce chief. Duncan was born at Post creek, March 31, 1849, being three-eighths Indian. He received something considerable of an education in English at the hands of his father; was also taught by employes of the Hudson Bay company at Fort Colville. His wife is a Sailish woman to whom he was married at Camas Prairie by Rev. Father Banderee May 26, 1875. While the greater part of his life has been passed on the Flathead reservation, mingling continually with Indians, yet he has kept himself intimately informed concerning the affairs of the world in general. His knowledge of Indian traditions exceeds that of most full-blood Indians of today. I deem it a privilege to count as a personal friend a man with the excellent characteristics of Duncan McDonald.

As Hal G. Evarts might say: The cross-pull of divergent life streams surge strong within McDonald’s veins. The possession of conflicting emotions and tendencies has developed keenly his innate sense of justice. No man with Indian inclinations so intense has been a more steadfast and consistent friend to the white race, to which during the years he has rendered ofttimes signal service. He is in no wise deaf to advantages due to the inventive genius and progressiveness of the whites; at the same time he has ever been loyal to his mother’s race, bitterly condemning the injustices which he was known to have been visited upon it by the more powerful people ever since the advent of the latter into the Occident; and he does not hesitate to voice at any time a defense of his convictions.

At his house one finds no lack of genuine hospitality, and, if one’s ears be attuned to recitals of events fast merging into tradition, he will lack not for entertainment.


Never having heard that which might be accepted as an unimpeachable version of the derivation of the name Missoula, some years since I asked Duncan McDonald if he could give it. Without hesitation he answered: “Certainly! It was derived from the Sailish name for the identical stretch of the stream which carries the name Missoula today, the same being from the junction of the Hell Gate and Bitter Root to its confluence with the Flathead, and which name interpreted means ‘Sparkling River.’ ”

Some have “supposed” Missoula to have been an attempted pronunciation of Missouri. In his “Following Old Trails,” A.L. Stone, dean of journalism of the Montana State University, quotes from Rev. S. J. Palladino the theory of the name having been derived from “Nm-i-sul-etqu,” which he translates freely to mean “at the stream of surprise or ambush,” ascribed because of frequent sanguinary encounters between Indian antagonists staged within the mouth of the Hell Gate canyon.

While I must acknowledge the eminence of both Dean Stone and Rev. Palladino in matters pertaining to the history of this part of our country, I must differ with them upon the point in question, first, I am satisfied that Duncan McDonald is thoroughly informed in the Sailish traditions, and further: the name “Missoula” was in use designating that part of the river as described years before it was adopted as a name for the town; no point along the river so designated being nearer than eight miles to the spot which might have been considered “at the stream of surprise or ambush.”

And do you know, I am rather of the opinion that the Dean may not challenge me to mortal combat because of this difference, for, to be truthful, through his courtesy I have been aided materially in the presentation of the story of the “Coyote,” taken from a copy which he allowed me to use of a speech delivered at the university some years since by Duncan McDonald.

The territorial legislature of Washington gave to this county the name Missoula in 1860, five years before the town of Missoula was founded. The Sailish name for the river was “In-mae-soo-latkhu.” Early-day rovers readily contracted this into its present form, only pronouncing it “Mis-soo-la,’ not “Mizzoula.”

Before the days of mining along its upper reaches, the waters of the river were transparent and sparkling, their crystalline ripples refracting the rays of the summer sun, peculiarly substantiating the native appellation. Among the Sailish there is an ancient legend relative to the christening of “Sparkling river.”

Imagery or history, by the aboriginals oftentimes whimsically interwoven, was transmitted by means of the story-telling propensities of the people, passing their camp-fire tales from father to son down through the mists of countless snows.

Throughout the ages, peoples of the earth have brought with them their mythologies, of which the skepticism of science has not robbed us completely of pleasure in the reading. Even so was Indian mythology a source of pleasurable entertainment about the tepee fires.

A Bit of Indian Mythology.

Because of the acknowledged cunning and shrewdness of the coyote, his mythological prototype, in the Indian imagination, was clothed with extraordinary powers. At will he cold transform himself to appear as some other manner of being, and could perform prodigious feats of strength and valor. He was vain, conceited and aspired to be a great “Lothario;” yet with all his accomplishments he found little favor with the fair sex, though persevering in his adventures. His bosom friends was his cousin, the fox,. Now, Mr. Fox was as shrewd and crafty as Mr. Coyote. He also was endowed with marvelous powers, among these the restoring of life to one but recently dead. He was possessed of more canny wisdom than Coyote and was less roistering and reckless. Coyote was a persistent rambler. While on a journey from the Columbia river to the “Sooughtipkine” (Missoula valley), nearing the prairie at the foot of “Spah-oo-leaugh” (Burnt Hill) just below the canon now called Spring Gulch, in Mineral county, he one day beheld a troupe of maidens, comely and rapturous, dancing in a circle. He drew near and being fascinated by the entrancing beauty of the sirens and the weird and mystic charm of their dance and song, glided into the circle where dancing, he became enchanted to bewildering intoxication. Coyote soon noticed that the circle was rapidly nearing the river. He requested that he might be allowed to top and remove his moccasins, but the maidens kept him dancing until all had circled into the water, when taking Coyote unawares they pounced upon him and bore him beneath the surface. Despite his struggles he was held under until drowned. The beautiful nymphs were but ravenous cannibals who sought to feast upon whoever they might lure into their clutches. As life departed, Coyote’s body resumed its true form. The odor of the dead coyote was not pleasing to the maidens. They said: “We will not eat such foul-smelling flesh.” They let go the body, which floated down the stream until it drifted upon a gravel bar. Presently Mr. Fox happened to pass that way. Discovering Coyote’s bedraggled body, surmising what had happened he said, “Ho, you fool! How often have I admonished you to a greater exercise of prudence? But you never would take my advice. This time I think I will let you stay right where you are.” He turned away, taking but a few steps however when it occurred to him that it was going to be exceedingly lonesome without his old-time crony; for Coyote ever had been a jolly good fellows. Fox meditated a while then said to himself: “I liked Old Coyote, even if he was such a reckless chap. After all, perhaps it will be better if I bring him back to life.” He jumped over Coyote, the while saying: “You are having a long sleep.” Coyote stretched himself yawned and opened his eyes. He said: “Good morning, Fox. Why did you waken me? I have had a delightful dream. I was dancing with a bevy of wonderful girls.” Fox smiled as he returned: “Coyote, you have been dead. That was not a dream. Those girls drew you into the river and you were drowned.” Coyote jumped up, saying: “I am going back to those entrancing creatures.” Fox said: “No! If you may be drowned again, my power will not revive you a second time.” Fox considered for a moment, then continued: “I will tell you what to do. Go back, watch until the maidens dance out upon the prairie where the grass is long. Set fire about that they may not escape and you will rid the earth of this band of rapturous-appearing but stone-hearted sprites.” Coyote laid back his ears, puckered up his nose and deliberated. Finally he said: “Fox, you are right. I will do as you advise.”

Again nearing the prairie, he watched the maidens until in their dance they circled its center; then again changing his appearance that he might not be recognized he went close to the dancers, who at once put on their most winning smiles and with captivating gestures beckoned him to join their company. Instead, he ran swiftly, striking together as he ran two flints which he had picked up betimes. When finished he had left a trail of fire the entire prairie around. As the tiny flames shot up, at first the maidens laughed in glee while they turned to an ever increasing ecstacy of their alluring dance. But came a breeze and the tiny flames quickly waxed exceeding fierce,. The maidens saw their danger, but too late. They huddled together in the middle of the prairie where they were caught in the fiercest swirl of the flames. When the fire had all died down, there remained of the sirens fair naught but a pile of glistening shells. Coyote gathered the shells all into his robe, dragged them down and tossed them into the river; as he did so, saying: “I wanted not when mankind shall be created, that you should devour everyone who might pass your way.” As they fell into the stream, glimmering in the summer’s sun, the shells glittered and sparkled, reminding Coyote of the glint of the fluttering foliage of the Aspen in its grove, and, as he finished his task, he stretched his hands over the water and proclaimed: “As you glitter and glisten like unto the leaves of the Quaking Asp, so henceforth shall you be called “In-mae-soo-latkhu,” Sparkling River.

Establishing the Town.

In 1865 the handful, constituting the population of old “Hell Gate,” having become convinced that this location possessed superior advantages, moved bag and baggage, establishing a new town up here. At the river’s edge, over which now extends the northern approach to the Higgins avenue bridge a mill was builded where was sawed the lumber for the construction of the first buildings. A flour mill was then built alongside. Attaching to these the county’s name, they were called Missoula Mills. In a year or two when the saw-mill was removed, the “Mills” was dropped and we have the present name.

Dean Stone writes of “Missoula”: “It is a beautiful name.” And so it is. On that point certainly there may be no controversy. Old-time residents concede no more ideal location for a midland city. Then why not its designation: liquid, sibilant, musical, in keeping with its superb setting? Sustained, as we have seen, by testimony satisfactorily convincing may not cherish that name, not as an allusion to a sinister “place of fright or Ambush,” but rather as an acknowledgement of its being essentially a continuance of the Indian Sparkling River”?

Missoula Valley.

The Indian designation for the basin accepted now as the Missoula valley, extending west from the mouth of Hell Gate canyon to the Grass Valley hills, was “Soough-tip-kine,” a name difficult to concise interpretation. Prior to settlement, the only conspicuous woods on the floor of the basin was a somewhat triangular mass of brush and timber, the irregular base of which extended north from the junction of the Hell Gate and Missoula rivers a distance of something like one and a quarter miles, the apex to which triangle is a point along the Hell Gate river, about half mile west of the present city limits.

Hill and prairie were covered with a luxuriant growth of good old bunch grass, a delight to the eye of man, while to the animals that loved sweet grasses, what a paradise it was without a question!

The Indians then, observant of the wedge of woods, when referring to the valley, spoke of it as the basin “where the dense timber runs to a point,” at the same time conveying the inference of there being no timber elsewhere in the valley. Perhaps a terse interpretation of Sooughtipkine is “Where timber runs out.”

When the French named the canyon opening into it the “Porte de l’Enfer,’ they also called the valley “Le Ronde du Porte re l’Enfer,” which partly interpreted gradually become the “Hell Gate Ronde.”

 Grass Valley, and Council Grove.

As you travel the old Mullan road from Missoula west and have passed one and a half miles beyond the hills into grass valley, you may note a scattering grove of pines. These are the trees remaining of “Council Grove,” the place where on July 18, 1855, Governor Isaac I. Stevens and staff after being in council, somewhat turbulent, continuously for 11 days, finally succeeded in peacefully concluding a treaty with the confederated tribes of Indians consisting of the “Skalsae” (Kootenais), “Slitkatcoomschint” (Pend Oreilles) and “Sailish” (Flatheads), which treaty secured to the whites the undisturbed settlement of the country, and which has never been violated by the Indians, though so much may not be truthfully asserted for the government. “Council Grove” bears no Indian designation separate from that of the valley in which it is located. Evidence somewhere about, probably in the grove mentioned, there was a tree distinctly noticeable because of its having practically no limbs. The Indians in naming it “Chill-mae” implied it as the valley of the tree “without branches.” In this valley, at the place now known as the Deschamps ranch, was born the first white child in this territory of which we have authentic record. Jefferson H. Pelkey, January 15, 1862. However, in 1855 a Mrs. J. Brown while “crossing the Rocky mountains” in Montana, gave birth to a child. She traversed the country with her two little girls and the baby boy, riding alternately a steer and a pony, on the way to the territory now embraced within the state of Washington. If that were actually in Montana, the child was then the first born within the confines of our present state, but also it has been written that it was born in the Coeur d’Alene mountains, possibly on the “Idaho side.” Until the birthplace of the Brown child may be authenticated, to Grass valley may be accorded the honor of being the point in our state at which the first child, purely white, opened his eyes to the light of the Montana sun.

 Frenchtown Valley.

That district which is accepted as being the “Frenchtown valley,” beginning at the point of hills called “Cape horn” near the station of Primrose and continuing down to Huson or Six Mile, was known to the Sailish by the simple designation, “Qua-elth” basin. In the 60’s French Canadians were attracted to the valley and many settled, the town and basin acquiring their present designations as a matter of course. Had someone sometime happened to suggest “Peaceful” as a name for the valley, his shaft would have flown not wide the mark. Whether the consistency of the atmosphere has a tranquilizing effect upon everything down there, I do not know, but if be a placid vale in our commonwealth, it is there. Even in the aboriginal days there seems never to have been energy enough required to invoke a special designation. And since its settlement? Well, now, I will admit that when in Frenchtown some of the brands of “Red Eye” when imbibed in sufficient quantities, were more often that occasionally provocative of violent pugilistic endeavor, yet with all that, as I write, I do not recall a single tragedy in the entire valley in half a century.


Note—This is the first of a series of articles upon western Montana nomenclature by Will Cave, whom readers of The Sunday Missoulian have come to know well as a writer of local history. The next article – and we can promise that it will be as interesting as this one – will appear next Sunday, May 21.

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