Garden City is located on the Boise River floodplain. Prior to the construction of the three upriver dams–Arrowrock, Anderson Ranch, and Lucky Peak spring floods were common, promoting the growth of black cottonwood and willow tree forests interspersed with fields of bulrushes and grasses. Salmon and steelhead trout filled the river during their annual spawning migrations. Tribes of American Indians frequented the area during their seasonal encampments.Explorers and trappers started coming into the area in the early 1800s. After failed attempts by other trappers to establish a trading post in the area, the British Hudson’s Bay Company successfully opened a post at the confluence of the Snake River and a river flowing from the east in 1834 near what is now Parma. The French manager of the fort, François Payette, named the fort and the river flowing from the east “Boise,” the French word for woods or wooded.In 1841 the first immigrants en route to Oregon’s Willamette Valley passed through the area on what would become known as the Oregon Trail. Fort Boise was a supply station and a landmark on the trail.
The trail ran through the Boise River floodplain, generally following the route of what is now U.S. Highway 20-26 to Fort Boise. The fort continued until 1854 when it was abandoned because of flooding and concern over hostilities with Indians.
In 1862, a group of 11 prospectors found large quantities of placer gold in the mountains of the Boise Basin. The following year, 16,000 prospectors and miners invaded the mountains, creating such boomtowns as Idaho City, Placerville, Centerville, and Pioneerville.
In 1863 the U.S. Army directed Major Pinckney Lugenbeel and a detachment of troops to establish a military post in the Boise River Valley. The post was to provide protection to Oregon Trail immigrants and the rapidly growing population of prospectors, miners, and settlers in the Boise Basin and, a hundred miles southwest, in the Owyhee Mountains. On July 4, 1863, Lugenbeel accepted the advice of settlers and selected a low sagebrush-covered plateau overlooking the river where Cottonwood Creek left the foothills. Fort Boise Park, located two and a half miles east of Garden City, is part of that original site. Lugenbeel named the post Fort Boise, retaining the name of the abandoned trading post landmark on the Oregon Trail 40 miles west. Three days later, area settlers platted a town next to Fort Boise and called it “Boise City.”When the U.S. Army established Boise Barracks in 1863, it established a “hay reserve” at what became known as “Government Island.” From this reserve, the Army harvested food for its horses. Eventually, the military reduced its presence in the region, and in 1884 the Army relinquished the reserve, making it available for private ownership.
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