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Boise History

In the Boise history books, there are two stories that explain how the city got its name (we’ll start with our favorite of the two). Capt. B.L.E. Bonneville came calling here with an expedition party in 1833. After long, laborious travels through tough, parched terrain (did you have a chance to stop at Craters of the Moon National Monument on your way here?), the group reached an overlook with sweeping views of the lush and tree-filled Boise River Valley. A French-speaking guide muscled his way to the front, pointed, perhaps even jumped up and down with excitement, and cried: “Les bois! Les bois!” (Contrary to popular belief, “bois” doesn’t mean tree—that’s arbre—but “The woods! The woods!) You can see the spot from which Bonneville and company first spied the valley at Bonneville Point.


The second version is that French-Canadian fur trappers working in the area in the 1820s named the river flowing through the valley “la rivière boisée,” or “the wooded river.” The river’s name was then applied to the entire area. In 1834 of Boise history, Hudson’s Bay Company, to protect their fur trade in the area, erected a defense, Fort Boise. It was 40 miles to the west though, near the Boise River’s confluence with the Snake River. As the fur trade declined and Indian raids increased, Hudson’s Bay Company’s desire to maintain a fort in the middle of nowhere waned. This Fort Boise, now known as Old Fort Boise, was abandoned in 1854.


After gold was discovered in the Boise Basin in 1862 and traffic on the Oregon Trail, which wound through the southern part of Boise, was kicking up, the U.S. government decided it was time for a new fort. In 1863, a fresh Fort Boise was established at the intersection of the Oregon Trail and roads leading to two major mining areas (Silver City and Idaho City). The city that sprang up around the fort was named Boise and it grew quickly. It grew so quickly, in fact, that in 1864 the same territorial legislative session that officially established Boise as a city also named it capital of the Idaho Territory. But then the gold rush ended. By 1870 in Boise history, the city's population was down to 995. The opening of the U.S. Assay Office in 1872 and the construction of the capitol building (finished in 1886), a streetcar system (finished 1887) and irrigation canals brought in some new residents, but it was more of a trickle… at least until the 1930s, when Basque people really began to move to Boise.


Basques first discovered Boise in the late 1890s, but didn’t begin to immigrate here en masse until four decades later. It was the largest ethnic influx the city had ever seen. Thousands came from the Western Pyrenees. Today Boise has the largest concentration of Basque people per capita outside the Pyrenees. More recently it was techies who moved to town. Micron Technology, one of the world’s top 20 semiconductor sales leaders, was founded here in 1978 and today employs just over 5,000 people. Today, Boise remains the largest metropolitan community in Idaho. The city’s population is about 211,000. The metro area is almost 600,000.