Brief History of Boise

By Amber Bierle



May 1833 – Captain Bonneville viewed present day Boise
March 3, 1863
– Territory proclamation by Abraham Lincoln
July 5, 1863 – Major Pinkney Lugenbeel founded Fort Boise (military outpost)
July 7, 1863 – City platted by early pioneers
December 7, 1864
– Boise established as the territorial capital
January 11, 1866 – Boise incorporated in a charter by the territorial government.
November 18, 1867
– The first mayor of Boise took office


In May 1833, Captain Benjamin Bonneville’s expedition through the present-day city of Boise left a permanent mark on the city’s history. Legend states the Frenchmen that accompanied Bonneville famously proclaimed, “Les bois, les bois – voyes les bois (The woods, the woods – see the woods)!” Many believe their observation of the Boise River, at the point where present-day Boise rests, cemented the name of the city forever. The area, however, never garnered much attention. It served as little more than a stopping ground for settlers headed west to Oregon. March 4, 1863, marked a turning point in Idaho and Boise history, when the United States Congress established the Territory of Idaho. On July 5, 1863, Major Pinkney Lugenbeel journeyed through Idaho to found and construct a military outpost, Fort Boise. On July 7, 1863, in the confines of Tom Davis and William R. Ritchie’s pioneer cabin, Boise’s earliest residents platted the city. Henry Chiles Riggs drew up the plat that included twenty lots and a grid of streets. The city of Boise was born.

On December 7, 1864, evidence of Boise’s growth and prestige came to fruition. Territorial legislators voted to move the Idaho territorial capital from Lewiston to Boise. Opponents of the shift argued the validity of Boise as a worthy capital. Since the city had no formal incorporation or city government, reasoned some detractors, it did not fully serve the purposes of the territory. A widening sectional division also occurred between southern and northern Idaho. So divisive was the issue of the capital location that northern Idaho wanted to join Washington Territory. While their arguments failed to keep the capital in Lewiston they succeeded at calling attention to Boise’s need for incorporation. On January 11, 1866, the territorial government incorporated Boise in a charter.

The citizens of Boise, however, resisted city government. They believed it to be little more than an excuse to tax the people. They already had a bustling city and felt they had no need to incorporate. Boiseans developed an anti-charter party for the sole purpose of electing a mayoral candidate who never intended to be mayor. In each election, when their candidate won the popular vote he simply refused to take office. The advent of public land survey factored as a turning point for Boiseans decision to develop city government. The General Land Office only gave titles to patented town sites. In order to lobby for a patent the city needed a mayor and council. Finally, on November 18, 1867, Boise’s fist mayor, Henry E. Prickett, took office and substantiated the already existent city.

November 21, 1867, only three days after taking office, the new city government approved two ordinances. The city’s second ordinance declared the “streets and alleys as shown upon the plat of said Boise City…are hereby declared public highways.” The plat dictated policy and laws from its conception in the Davis-Ritchie cabin and through the birth of city government, giving this document credibility and legality.

July 7, 1863, witnessed the birth of Boise. On January 11, 1866, the territorial government initiated the formation of city government in Boise and November 18, 1867 formal city government operations began. The sketched map drawn by Henry Chiles Riggs, in the Davis-Ritchie cabin, provided the birth certificate of a newborn city. The discussion of the move of the capital, city incorporation, legitimacy, and city government resulted because of the unarguable growth of Boise City which began with the city plat.