Boise, Idaho, a thriving city with a diverse economy, rich culture, and abundant natural beauty, has an intriguing history behind its name and founding. Its moniker, the “City of Trees,” is closely tied to the origin of its name, which dates back to the early 19th century and the adventures of French-Canadian fur trappers.
French-Canadian Fur Trappers and the Boise River
In the early 1800s, French-Canadian fur trappers traversed the wild landscapes of the American West in search of valuable pelts. While exploring the region that is now known as Idaho, these trappers encountered the tree-lined Boise River. The sight of the lush trees provided welcome relief in the middle of the dry and desolate Snake River plain. Struck by the beauty and significance of the wooded area, the trappers referred to the river as “boisé,” the French word for “wooded.”
The Birth of Boise City
Fast forward to the 1860s, when gold was discovered in the Boise River basin. This discovery sparked a gold rush that attracted a wave of prospectors and settlers to the area. To accommodate the growing population and provide services for the nearby mines, Fort Boise was established on July 4, 1863. As the community around the fort continued to grow, Boise City was founded at the foot of the mountains near the river that had once captured the imagination of the French-Canadian fur trappers.
In 1864, Boise was declared the capital of Idaho, further cementing its status as a critical hub in the region. The city’s name, a tribute to the wooded river that had been its initial draw, stuck and eventually evolved from “Boise City” to simply “Boise.” Today, the city proudly carries the nickname “City of Trees” as a nod to its origins and the natural beauty that has been a defining feature throughout its history.
The Legend of Boise’s Name
A popular legend surrounding the naming of Boise involves the French fur trappers’ reaction upon discovering the wooded area along the river. According to the story, the trappers, weary from their journey across the hot and dry plains, were overjoyed when they stumbled upon the oasis of trees in the midst of the high desert. They are said to have exclaimed, “Les bois! Les bois! Voyez, les bois!” (The woods! The woods! Look, the woods!”). Although the authenticity of this tale is uncertain, it captures the essence of how the name “Boise” came to be associated with the city.
In conclusion, the story of Boise’s name and founding is a testament to the city’s deep connection with its natural surroundings and the impact of early explorers on its development. From its beginnings as a haven for French-Canadian fur trappers to its growth spurred by the gold rush and eventual designation as the capital of Idaho, the city’s history is inextricably linked to the wooded river that continues to define its character today. As Boise continues to grow and evolve, the legacy of its name and founding remains an integral part of its identity as the “City of Trees.”
Cover image by Glen Hush Photography