Long before Idaho was inhabited by white settlers and part of the Oregon Trail, the Boise area was home to the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) fur trading post, Fort Boise. Located on the Snake River near the present-day Oregon border, Fort Boise was built in 1834 to provide greater competition in the highly lucrative fur trapping and trading business.
At first, Fort Boise was a private venture, but the HBC took full control in 1836 and maintained this control until the Old Fort Boise ended operations in 1854. The New Fort Boise, built in 1863, was built 50 miles north of the old fort, at a site that would later develop into Boise. The fort remained in operation until the U.S. Army left it in 1912 and the Idaho National Guard left it in 1919. Nowadays, the site of the Old Fort Boise is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (the site is within the Fort Boise Wildlife Management Area), while a replica was built in Parma.
The modern history of Boise (in relation to white Euro-American settlement) begins with the Astor Expedition. Many historians believe the Astor Expedition was the first group of white explorers to travel through and document the region, while looking for a suitable fur trading post around 1811. By 1813, John Reid of the Astor Expedition, along with several members of the Pacific Fur Company, built an outpost on Snake River. This first output proved difficult to maintain, as Native American hostilities led to the fort being abandoned.
In 1834, Thomas McKay of the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) Snake Country brigades selected the site that John Reid chose previously for a new fort to be built. Fort Boise was built by the fall of that year. However, its initial purpose was to serve as a response to the American fur trader post nearby, Fort Hall. The HBC would eventually own both forts, but with the decline of the fur trade, Fort Boise would become a stopping and supply point on the Oregon Trail for the thousands of emigrants heading west. By 1854, with events such as the Ward Massacre as well as other violent confrontations with the Native Americans, Fort Boise was shut down, and by 1860, Boise River floods destroyed all of the remnants of the fort.1
Following the abandonment of the Old Fort Boise in 1854, the only safe way for emigrants to successfully traverse the Oregon Trail was with military escort. Yet, numerous attacks in 1859 and 1860, as well as the infamous Otter massacre, showed the futility of military escort. A permanent Fort was needed, but the onset of the American Civil War pushed back any pressing plans to get Fort Boise built. However, the pressure to build a fort skyrocketed as the 1862 gold rush encouraged thousands of new emigrants to make their way to the Boise area. On January 14, 1863, the Secretary of War authorized Fort Boise, and that year, plans for Fort Boise were put into effect.2