Earlier this year, the Higgins Avenue Bridge was officially renamed the Beartrack Bridge, to honor the Bitterroot Salish peoples who crossed the river over a hundred years ago on their own ‘trail of tears’ to what is now the Flathead Reservation.

Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier was the first to forward the idea after the bridge remodeling project got underway.

“Maybe we need to use this rededication of the major piece of infrastructure as an opportunity to recognize and honor native heritage and history, and that dates back to 1891, when the U.S. Government conducted a forced relocation of the Bitterroot Salish people to the Jocko Reservation, or what is now called the Flathead Reservation,” said Strohmaier.

Strohmaier introduced the family for whom the bridge has been renamed.

“At least one of the bands of the Bitterroot Salish on that journey, either across an earlier version of that bridge or adjacent to it,” he said. “That party was led by an individual named Louis Vanderberg, who was a sub-chief of the Bitterroot Salish. His wife, whose English name was many Beartrack, and so hence the Beartrack family is very revered and honored.”

Strohmaier said many different agencies agreed on the new name for the bridge.

“In consultation with the CSKT and the Salish Kalispell culture committee, they chose Beartrack as the name that would be memorialized as the name of this bridge going forward,” he said.

Strohmaier said one date stands out as the ideal time to dedicate the new name of the bridge.

“As we speak, we are looking at trying to organize a rededication ceremony for the bridge,” he said. “This might be after it fully reopens or close to that. However, the date that has real significance is October 16. That is the anniversary when the Bitterroot Salish either would have cross over that bridge or one adjacent to it.”

The bridge reconstruction is scheduled to be completed next December.

 

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