The Boise River did not appear on
maps until the 19th century. Indeed, the geographical area now known as
Idaho was the last of the fifty states to be entered by Euro-Americans.
Lewis and Clark traversed northern Idaho in 1805; it was the fur trade that brought Americans and Canadians to the Boise
River region in southern Idaho, in the persons of traders and trappers for
Hudson's Bay Company, the North West Fur Company, and John
Jacob Astor's Pacific Fur Company. Parties of overland Astorians led by
Wilson Price Hunt and Donald Mackenzie
came through the Boise River region in 1811, followed by
Robert Stuart a year later. In his journal, Stuart described the river as
"well Timbered, contains many Beaver, and is the most renowned Fishing place in
the Country...the resort of the majority of the Snakes [Shoshone Indians], where
immense numbers of Salmon are taken...." John Reed established an ill-fated,
short-lived fur-trading post at the mouth of the river in 1813, and mapmakers
soon after began calling the stream "Reed's River" in his memory.
Some traders and trappers used Native American names for the river; others called it the Wood, or
Wooded River, for the cottonwood trees on its banks that so distinguished it in the otherwise
bleak desert landscape. French Canadian trappers favored the French
translation of Wood River, "Rivière Boisée."
In the crucial years of the early 1840s, when overland traffic to Oregon picked
up, early travelers and emigrants encountered Francois Payette, the
French Canadian who managed Fort Boise, established in 1834 by Hudson's Bay
Company as a fur trading post. Built about a mile away from the site of John Reed's earlier fort, Fort Boise was an important landmark on
the Oregon Trail. Eminent Idaho historian Merle Wells credits Payette with
impressing the French version of the river's name on the minds of all who passed
through. John C. Frémont's
reports of his Western explorations in the 1840s helped establish the name Boise
in the public mind.
Reproduced on this
website are portions of maps showing the Boise River as depicted by
American and British cartographers, 1802-1879. The full maps--either in
original, facsimile reprint, or photostat form--are held by the Special Collections
Consult the Checklist of Maps of Western Exploration
for a fuller list of early Western maps in the Special Collections.
Click on the thumbnails to see the Maps described below
Use your browser's scroll bars to move up and down the maps
||All of Idaho was "Open Country" on British
cartographer Aaron Arrowsmith's "Map exhibiting all the new discoveries
in the interior parts of North America." (1802). The Columbia
River (River Oregan) had been charted as far as Point Vancouver, but
between that point and the Rocky Mountains the interior was unexplored
and unknown, save for the advice of the Indians that it took nine days
(eight nights) to descend the Columbia from the mountains to the sea.
Within a decade, much of the blank space on this map would be filled in.
||Lewis and Clark did not visit southern Idaho, but on
May 29, 1806, on their eastward journey home, a Nez Perce Indian named
Hohastillpelp (Hohots Ilppilp) sketched out for them a remarkable map of
the Columbia-Snake River system. The view is from the west; south is to the right.
Starting at the top right corner, at Salmon Falls on the Snake River, it is
possible to follow the flow of the Snake northwesterly past the Boise
(highlighted in red, with the Owyhee
opposite it), then past the two forks of the Payette (in
the thumbnail at left), the Weiser [Nemo],
and the Salmon, to its juncture with the Clearwater [Kooskooskee] where
it turns due west to meet the Columbia (at the bottom of the map).
Clark, who transferred the map to paper and annotated it, called the Snake "Lewis's River." The dotted lines in the top left quadrant of the map
represent Lewis and Clark's westward path across the Bitterroot
Mountains to the
Clearwater River in 1805. This map remained in possession
of Clark's heirs until the 20th century. It is now part of the Coe
collection in Yale University's Beinecke Library.
Clark incorporated the Nez Perce knowledge of the Snake River into the
map he prepared for Nicholas Biddle's edition of the expedition
This map is oriented in the traditional manner, with north at the top. "Cop-pop-pab-ash" was the name
affixed to the Boise River, highlighted in red
on the digitized map. Like other cartographers in the early
years of the 19th century, Clark
drew an exaggerated Willamette River (Mult-no-mah on his map) extending far
into the Great Basin.
||David Thompson, one of the great explorers of the
West, worked first for Hudson's Bay Company and later the Northwest
Company, building several fur trading posts. In 1811, he became the
first white man to descend the length of the Columbia from Canada to the
sea. He was well aware of the demise of John Reed and his party in
1814 at Reed's fort at the mouth of the Boise River, and incorporated
that information onto a large manuscript map he made about 1818. Now at the
British Museum, it was not published until the 20th century.
Thompson called the Boise "Reid's River." The prominent landmark
is Squaw Butte, near Emmett.
||William Kittson was part of Donald Mackenzie's
successful Snake River trapping expedition for the North West Company,
1819-20, leading a party of men from Fort Nez Perces (Walla Walla) to
meet Mackenzie on the Boise River in the Spring of 1819. He also
was part of Peter Skene Ogden's Snake River expedition of 1824-25 for
Hudson's Bay Company. In 1825 he drew a map based on his travels
with both parties. Familiar names like Wazer (Weiser), Payette,
and Owyhee appear on this portion of the map, though the Boise is still
"Reed's River." Kittson's map rested in the Hudson's Bay Company
archives until its first publication in 1950 in Peter Skene Ogden's
Snake Country Journals, where it can be seen in full.
||Each new edition of the Arrowsmith map of North
America reflected the latest geographical knowledge of the West.
The 1837 map (titled "British North America"), reproduced here in part,
is strikingly different than the 1802 edition, above. Three names
are offered for the Snake River (Saptin, Lewis's, Great Snake),
and further north, Coeur d'Alene is translated "Pointed Hart." The Boise
River, still bearing Reed's name, is highlighted in
red. Mexico's northern border, before
the war with the United States, was not far south of the Snake.
When this map was drawn, the Oregon Country was, by treaty, jointly
occupied by the U.S. and Great Britain. As his legend indicates,
John Arrowsmith, in London, was indebted to Hudson's Bay Company for
much of his information.
||American settlers began pouring into the Oregon
country in great numbers in the early 1840s, and in 1843 Lt. John C. Frémont
of the U.S. Army was assigned to survey the emigrant trail.
Charles Preuss, Frémont's assistant,
compiled the "Topographical map of the road from Missouri to Oregon,"
published in 1846. The Oregon Trail passed through what is the
city of Boise today (Boise Avenue). This is the section of the map
showing the route along the Boise River. The notes are Frémont's
words. Though thousands of emigrants passed through the Boise
River valley in the 1840s and 50s, there was no real settlement here
until gold was discovered in the Boise Basin in 1862, giving
rise to Idaho City and Boise City.
||Platted in 1863, Boise City was a town of fewer than 2,000 souls
when this map, "Territory of Idaho" was published in 1879. Boise
City was not only the territorial capital but the seat of Ada County as
well. The Boise River and the small
irrigation ditches that watered the immediate vicinity were the city's
lifeblood; large-scale irrigation works to water the entire valley would
not come until the federal government built them in the 20th century.
Noticeably absent on this map are the cities of Nampa and Caldwell and Canyon, Gem, and Elmore counties, not
yet established. Rocky Bar was the seat of Alturas County, which
covered most of central Idaho. Also absent from this map is the
north fork of the Payette river and Payette Lake.
For much more on the Boise River, see the website mounted by
the Boise city historian's office: