Boise: History

Gold Brings Prospectors, Settlers

In 1834 the Hudson's Bay Company founded a trading post for wagon trains along the Oregon Trail on the Snake River northwest of Boise's present site. The region that is now Boise was originally a small forested area along the Boise River, an oasis in the arid northwestern mountains. The spot was called "Les Bois," which means "wooded" in French, and thousands of emigrants passed through on their way to settle in Oregon. Gold was discovered in the area in 1862, bringing a number of prospectors, and the site became a convenient supply point for the mining camps in the mountains.

The U.S. Army constructed Fort Boise in 1863, and the town became the territorial capital in 1864, when it was also incorporated as a city. Several more gold strikes occurred in the next few years, and by1868 the town had more than four hundred permanent structures, more than half of which were residential. The Idaho Penitentiary was built in the town in 1870 and at one time or another housed many legendary western desperadoes.

Gold Dries Up; Irrigation Systems Bring Farms

After the gold boom ended, the population declined, and Boise faced an uphill battle for survival. The town was in an isolated location, far off the major lines of transportation, and the climate was too dry to support farming. A determined core of citizens set out to make the area livable by developing irrigation systems, planting crops, and mapping out a town with shady streets running along the river.

Boise approached the twentieth century as a remote place, reachable only by the difficult wagon trails. The city became the state capital when Idaho entered the Union, and the Capitol building was erected in 1920. A long struggle to obtain railway service finally succeeded when the elegant Union Pacific Depot (now the Boise Depot) was built in 1925. A number of dams and reservoirs were constructed in the years before World War II to improve the agricultural outlook and provide a water supply and hydroelectric power for the growing city.

During World War II the military became a strong presence in the Boise area when a flying and training base was established at Gowen Field. In the 1960s, a new city charter was drawn up, allowing the city to annex many of the suburban areas and doubling the population. The 21st century has brought continuing population growth due to Boise's desirable climate, urban renewal, job opportunities, quality of life, and favorable climate.

Historical Information: Idaho State Historical Society Library, Library and Archives Building, 450 North Fourth Street, Boise, ID 83702; telephone (208)334-3356; fax (208)334-3198; email archivist