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Return of the Boise Valley People

Published 15 days ago • 8 min read

Today's story covers the annual Return of the Boise Valley People gathering and the painful history from which the event stems. This story was written by Julie Sarasqueta and you can listen to me read it here.

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Return of the Boise Valley People

By Julie Sarasqueta

Over four days in June, descendants of the indigenous people of the Boise Valley will make their homecoming. From June 13-16, at both Gowen Field and Eagle Rock Park, they’ll gather to tell stories, share cultural presentations, reconnect with relatives, and simply enjoy being in their ancestral lands once again.

Part of what makes the Return of the Original Boise Valley People so special, says Lori Edmo of the Shoshone-Bannock tribe in Fort Hall, is the deep family ties between the people who lived in the area over millennia.

“We look forward to attending to see friends and relatives,” she says. “We also meet new people, so many of us are happy to learn new things about our history.”

A History Forged Over Centuries

The Original Boise Valley People were here long before there was a Boise, an Idaho, or a United States. The term “Original Boise Valley People” refers to the people now known as the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs and the Burns Paiute Tribe, both in Oregon, as well as the Fort McDermitt Paiute and Shoshone Tribe of Nevada, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe of Idaho and Nevada, and the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe of Idaho. They were forcibly displaced from their ancient homelands more than a century ago.

For thousands of years, the original people of this valley lived in a land that is difficult to imagine today. A skyline filled with clouds and the desert horizon rather than houses and electrical wires. No cross atop Table Rock, no artificial light, no airplanes flying overhead. A desert full of food to be hunted and gathered, from rabbit and antelope and groundhog to berries and camas root and pine nuts.

The original people of the valley created migratory routes for hunting and trade, coordinating with other indigenous people from other areas of what would become Idaho to maximize their opportunities for both. In the Boise Valley, the river was especially important — another natural feature that has been so altered it’s difficult to imagine what it must have been like 500 years ago. Back then, there were no dams on the river to hold back their flow and the fish within them, so the Boise was teeming with salmon and trout (compare that to 2023, when stocking 300 salmon was big news).

But it wasn’t just the plentiful resources that made the Boise Valley special. It was also the water and the landscape. Just like today, hot springs were highly valued and sought after — and the valley offered incredible access to them. The natural geothermal springs that gave Warm Springs its name and that heat Downtown Boise have provided warmth and healing for hundreds of years. The marshy wetlands they created attracted birds and wildlife that still use that part of the valley as a migratory path.

The source of this water is close to Eagle Rock (formerly Castle Rock), a rhyolite outcropping that has been sacred to native people for hundreds of years. The slopes of Eagle Rock are a burial ground for the ancestors of the Original Boise Valley People, and one of the main reasons the summer gathering is so invaluable.

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A People Removed for Gold

Despite their history, respect has been in vanishingly short supply for the descendants of the original inhabitants of the valley. The United States — still confined to the original 13 British colonies — inaugurated its first president in 1789. Just 15 years later, its third president dispatched an expedition led by a team that would come to be known simply by their last names: Lewis and Clark. Their westward journey, which extended all the way to the Pacific Ocean, would give American leaders a much more vast idea of what was possible if they expanded west.

Other countries wanted to tap into the abundance of the land, too, with French and Russian and British trappers making more frequent incursions into the region. In the early years of these explorations, white people relied on the navigation and survival skills of the native population — Sacagawea, the famous interpreter and guide for Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, was a Lemhi Shoshone woman from the area near what is now Salmon, Idaho.

But white people did not set eyes on the Boise Valley until 1811, when John Jacob Astor’s Pacific Fur Company sent an expedition led by William Price Hunt. In 1819, when the Scottish-Canadian trader Donald McKenzie arrived in the Boise Valley, he described seeing 10,000 indigenous people stretching for seven miles along the Boise River.

One hundred years later, the native people of the Boise Valley were scarce within their own homeland. The reason, as in so much of the West’s 19th-century history, is gold.

In August 1862, prospectors discovered large placer deposits — a sign of accompanying gold — on Grimes Creek. But there was something standing in the way of extracting this gold: the indigenous inhabitants of the land. The gold rush would continue for 10 years, but its aftershocks are still reverberating today. Boise itself is one of them.

By 1863, Boise had a new military outpost with an old name: Fort Boise, a moniker that had first been applied to a previous fort in a different location in the 1830s. The United States was in the middle of its punishing Civil War, and the land that would soon become Idaho Territory was resource-rich. The new Fort Boise was located at the intersection of several important routes, including the Oregon Trail and the roads up to the Boise Basin and Owyhee mining sites. As more white people moved in, they began forcibly displacing the native population, with white miners demanding their total removal for easier access to mining deposits.

When Territorial Governor Caleb Lyon took charge in 1864, he was tasked with fixing the native “problem.” By all accounts, Lyon was a man of questionable morals and unpopular in his newly adopted region (he would later be investigated for embezzling more than $40,000 from the Nez Perce people). With the Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman’s pages often filled with news about attacks on white settlers throughout the Plains and the Intermountain West, the “solution” to the problem of the valley’s native people was simple — a treaty forcing the ceding of land to the new Idaho Territory.

“Gov. Lyon, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Idaho Territory, held a grand council with the Shoshonee Indians (commonly known as Snakes), at Fort Boise on Monday last … and treated with them for all the land 30 miles each side of the Boise river from its source to its mouth. Two hundred and fifty Indians were present … This treaty is all that could be desired by the settlers in the Territory, and will tend to put a stop to Indian troubles,” the Statesman declared in October 1864.

That treaty was followed by another in 1866, this time for mineral-rich lands in the Snake and Bruneau river valleys. Neither treaty was ever ratified, but the results would be disastrous all the same. Armed with these unratified — and, therefore, non-binding — treaties, white settlers forced the dispersal of the valley’s indigenous people to reservations in Washington and Oregon, as well as Duck Valley Reservation on the border of Idaho and Nevada and the Fort Hall Reservation in Eastern Idaho. Many were imprisoned in Fort Simcoe in Washington and forced into assimilation — stripped of their language, their dress, their customs, their beliefs and their heritage. It’s said that of the 500 indigenous people who were forced to make the trek to Fort Hall, only 350 survived.

Reclaiming History

This deeply painful history of stolen lands and cultural erasement is one that must be remembered, tribal leaders say. And slowly, over the course of generations, the Original Boise Valley People are ensuring they will continue to be known in their native land.

In 1990, a 177-home development threatened the area around Eagle Rock — the initial plans even included a house that would be perched just 70 feet back from the rock, according to Idaho Statesman accounts. The housing development brought together a group of neighborhood residents, historians, and tribes who pushed back against the proposed development. The Boise Valley Shoshone threatened to sue if the development went forward. As Joe Prior, a member of the tribe, told the Statesman, “They took our land, our forest. They took everything, and now they’re taking our grave site.”

Eventually, the housing development was defeated, and the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes partnered with the City of Boise and the East End Neighborhood Association to buy the sacred land, which was then called Castle Rock Reserve. In 2019, the 48.5-acre site became Chief Eagle Eye Reserve, named after an ancestor who — along with about 70 other indigenous people — refused to move onto a reservation. Quarry View Park became Eagle Rock Park. And Foothills trails were rerouted to respect ancient gravesites.

Eventually, Edmo says, the Original Boise Valley People would like to have a more formal presence in their ancestral homeland. “We are planning to build a cultural center to tell our stories,” she says. “That is why we established the Original Boise Valley People LLC — to raise money towards it.”

In the meantime, you can learn more about the Original Boise Valley People at their gathering. The event will include storytelling, fellowship, and cultural presentations, Edmo says, but most of the activity will be closed to the public.

However, the public is invited to join the kickoff at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 13, at City Hall, where the tribes will talk about the importance of the return of the Boise Valley People. Mayor Lauren McLean and Major General Michael Garshak from the Idaho National Guard are scheduled to speak, as well.

On Friday, June 14, the public is invited to Eagle Rock Park to learn more about the Original Boise Valley People’s history and culture. You can find more information about the event on the group’s Facebook page.

Thanks for reading!

With love from Boise,

Marissa

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From Boise

by Marissa Lovell

A weekly newsletter & podcast about what's going on in Boise, Idaho. Every week we share stories about people, places, history, and happenings in Boise.

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