Boise’s physical setting, next to a tree-bordered river at the foot of mountains, has long been appreciated by its residents and pleased its visitors.
Two items from the Idaho Statesman printed in 1871 are typical: “Grand View from Table Rock; if one wishes to obtain a bird’s eye view of the valley of the Boise and the plains beyond, even to the Malheur in Oregon, let him ride to the top of Table Mountain. There is no other prospect to compare with it in this part of the country, except War Eagle.” War Eagle Mountain in the Owyhees, not far east of Silver City, affords a sweeping view of the valley of Snake River and the mountains to the north.
The paper waxed fanciful later that year by comparing the reaction of the traveler to the view of Boise City and valley from the divide above Black’s Station with the view of Damascus described by Mark Twain in “Innocents Abroad.” Everyone was delighted with the view, but more realistically, “It may be that the natural beauty of our city and the surroundings is enhanced by the contrast, and that some of the illusions are dispelled on a nearer view.”
“A Beautiful City,“ wrote the paper in September 1876. “By the testimony of travelers, familiar with all the cities and towns on the Pacific slope, Boise City is admitted to be the most beautiful locality anywhere north of the California line. This is the utmost that can be expected from Californians. What we claim for the capabilities of the great sage plains which surround us and which seems so incredible to strangers has been verified and made palpable. The desert has been made to blossom as the rose. Less than 15 years ago the site of Boise City was as arid and desert-like in appearance as any portion of the plain. A narrow fringe of cottonwood trees near the stream was all that indicated the possibility of useful vegetation.”
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Boise in 1879 was described by reporter T.F. Miner from the La Grande, Ore., Gazette: “Boise City has been well called ‘Queen City of the Mountains.’ It is making rapid strides in improvements and its streets give one an idea of its importance among the Idahoans. In the stores, at the hotels, among the corrals, and yes, among the distributors of wet goods, all seem busy, and the appearance of the military among the citizens gives a jaunty effect that can be indulged in only by cities favored with a military garrison.
“The private residences have a clean, inviting home-like appearance — most of them being embowered in groves of shade and fruit trees, while small fruits and shrubbery seem to grow spontaneously, undoubtedly, however, aided materially by the irrigating ditches which are met in all directions. The fences and surroundings are kept clean and tidy, and one can almost imagine himself transported to some old New England town, where cleanliness and order are strictly maintained in the city government.
“We visited the home of the new steam fire engine, and it is a piece of workmanship that any city might be proud of. Fortunately there has been no occasion to call it into use since its arrival, but in the light of the recent conflagrations at The Dalles, Portland, Seattle and Kalama, the steamer is paying good interest standing in the house, as in the event of a large fire it would save its entire cost in a very few minutes.”
In January 1884, the Salt Lake City Tribune offered its tribute to Boise and its people: “On what was once a sagebrush plain, apparently almost a desert, such as constitutes so vast an area of Western territory, clear-sighted American grit and enterprise have within 20 years built a town which is the pride of its citizens and the admiration of strangers. From a sanitary point of view, the place has the admiration of everyone except the doctors and undertakers.
“In social attractions Boise is far ahead of much larger towns in the East. The lawlessness supposed to characterize so many frontier towns is unknown here. The culture, refinement and hospitality of the people of Boise are proverbial.”
What stands out in all of these stories is the optimism and energy of the age. Not mentioned in any of them are the crime, poverty and alcoholism that were also part of life in 19th century Boise, Idaho.
Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email email@example.com.