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Figure 4

"A singular plant"

Western Montana's Bitterroot Valley

Looking south toward the town of Hamilton

aerial photo of a broad valley with snow peak mountains on each side

Lewis and Clark led the the Corps of Discovery northward through this part of the valley on September 8-9, 1805, camping on the ninth two miles upstream from the mouth of a western tributary, at an ages-old Indian site that Lewis dubbed "Travelers' Rest." On July 3, 1806, the Corps of Discovery was divided into two contingents that would explore the Yellowstone and Marias Rivers, rendezvous at the confluence of the Yellowstone, and proceed back to St. Louis together.

At right in the above photo are are the Bitterroot Mountains, at left the Sapphires.

The plant commonly called bitterroot is found throughout the Rocky Mountains from British Columbia and Alberta south to California and Colorado, but it is especially abundant in western Montana. By 1889 the valley and its river, bordered by the eastern slopes of a great mountain range, had all three gotten their names from the bitterroot plant. In 1889 they became a part of Montana, the forty-first state in the union.

Out of the scientific floral exhibit displayed at the Columbian Exposition of 1893, in Chicago, Illinois, grew the National Floral Emblem Society of America. State chapters of the society conducted informal balloting, and referred the winners to their respective legislatures for endorsement. In Montana the bitterroot handily won over thirty-one other contenders, and was officially designated the state flower in 1895.