Old Fort Boise

Old Fort Boise as seen and sketched by Maj. Osbourne Cross. The drawing was included in Cross’ report to the quarter master general, dated Aug. 29, 1849. The fort sat at the confluence of the Snake and Boise rivers northwest of modern day Parma.

DRAWING BY OSBOURNE CROSS, PUBLIC DOMAIN

Fort Boise, constructed by the Union Army during the Civil War, set the stage for the largest city in Idaho.

The fort was built in 1863 to protect emigrants and miners from Native American attacks. Boise quickly grew up around the fort — and the city incorporated in 1864.

But that Fort Boise was not the first fort in the Boise River Valley. Decades earlier, the original Fort Boise was established at the confluence of the Boise, Owyhee and Snake rivers, northwest of today's Parma in Canyon County.

The location first attracted fur trappers under wealthy businessman John Jacob Astor's employ in late 1811 as they made their way to Fort Astoria on the Oregon coast. Two years later, Astorian John Reid and a small band of Pacific Fur Co. traders built "Reids Fort" on the banks of "Reids River," which later became known as the Boise River.

Soon, the location, used over the ages by many tribes, proved unsafe when natives massacred Reid and his partner, Colin Traver, former Astorian Pierre Dorion and others. Only Dorion's Ioway wife, Marie Dorion, and their two children escaped.

Former Astorian Donald Mackenzie re-established Reids Fort for the North West Co. in 1819, only to abandon it soon after.

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After Nathaniel Wyeth's American Trading Co. established Fort Hall in 1834 some 300 miles to the east, the competing Hudson's Bay Co. re-established the Boise River fort once again. 

As the fur trade dwindled, Fort Boise became an important supply post for emigrants on the Oregon Trail. But after the Shoshone killed more than two dozen men, women and children in what became known as the 1854 Ward Massacre, the old fort was shut down.

The Union Army built the new Fort Boise nine years later, about 50 miles upstream. It was vacated in 1912 and the fort was used for other things.

Buildings from the new fort still remain, but the old fort was destroyed by flood waters. Both sites are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Mychel Matthews reports on rural issues and agriculture for the Times-News. The Hidden History feature runs every Thursday in the Times-News and on Magicvalley.com. If you have a question about something that may have historical significance, email Matthews at mmatthews@magicvalley.com or call her at 208-735-3233.

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