When a squad of young braves attacked and massacred pioneers with the Alexander Ward wagon train near Middleton in August 1854, an era of danger was introduced in the Boise Valley, sometimes called “peaceful valley” by the Indians. The valley with its handsome tree-lined river became a place of death for travelers as Indians battled what they feared could become an invasion.
Boise Valley had been a prize among Indians for centuries, and the fierce Snake tribe of the Shoshone-Bannock people had permanent camps at the future sites of Boise, Middleton and Parma. The Boise camp had an estimated 6,000 inhabitants in 1853. Translation of the Indians’ name for the area is “The much cottonwood feast valley.” Salmon, which swam thick in the Boise River, provided the feast. Supplemented with game, camas bulbs and berries from the mountains, the Snake Indians’ diet was the envy of most of their kin.
It was no surprise that the Indians were immediately suspicious when white men visited the area in 1811. The whites were fur trappers in search of beaver pelts and had no plan to take the Indians’ land, but they had to tell their story many times before they were believed by the native inhabitants. Numerous trappers were slaughtered before Alexander Ross convinced the Indians in 1819 that the fur trade was beneficial to both whites and Indians. The natives had little use for the beaver anyway, but southern Idaho was a trophy for the Hudson’s Bay Company and produced a rich harvest of pelts.
Though the beaver were mostly trapped out by 1830, there were enough Indians and free-lance trappers bringing out beaver hides that Hudson’s Bay Company built a trading post, Fort Boise, near the future site of Parma in 1834. Hudson’s Bay men found it wise to stay on good terms with both Indians and Americans in the area, and the  fort was a stabilizing influence in the “peaceful valley.”
Fort Boise was a welcome stop for the early travelers on the Oregon Trail and each year their numbers increased. Thus a third group, Oregon Trail emigrants, joined the natives and the trappers in Boise Valley. With large villages of Indians and constant summertime traffic in a narrow valley, friction was bound to occur. Indians resented the whites’ trampling of the landscape and the travelers were infuriated by the Indians’ habit of stealing horses and livestock. Stealing horses was not considered much of a crime by the Indians; it was a way for young men to practice raiding and to show high spirits. If an Indian had his horse stolen, he just made plans to steal it back. But stealing from the wagon trains could bring sudden death by rifle fire, and the Indians believed that was downright unfriendly.
So renegades attacked the Alexander Ward party in a horrible frenzy of torture and murder. The response of the U.S. Army was deficient in two ways. The first cavalry unit sent from The Dalles engaged in battle and shot five Indians who had nothing to do with the massacre. Then the Army made its second mistake: it went away. The Army returned in July of 1855 and located some of the real culprits. Three Indians were hanged and one was shot. None of this was taken in good humor by the Snake Indians, and the atmosphere became so foreboding that the Hudson’s Bay Company abandoned its fort that year. Though a military fort for the Boise Valley had been proposed by the Army, it was not a high priority. By the autumn of 1855, the danger to whites in the valley was worse than at any time since 1819. In a history of the area, Boise Junior College’s Eugene Chaffee wrote, “For a period of seven years after the abandonment of Fort Boise, whites gave the Boise country, together with all of southern Idaho, back to its original inhabitants, the Indians. . . . The country had changed little since 1811. The only differences were two dusty ruts, deepened yearly by the Oregon-bound emigrants and the virtual non-existence of any beaver.”
Sporadic visits to the valley by the Army only encouraged the Indians to hope that they could retain their hold on the area for years to come, since they could easily withdraw into the mountains until the Army left. Nothing could have changed the situation except a permanent occupation of the area by whites. In August 1862, prospectors relying on directions from an Indian entered the Boise Basin. Menacing natives watched their every move. The miners had just enough time to realize that the area held gold in abundance before the Indians attacked. George Grimes was shot dead on a hill above the stream that bears his name, Grimes Creek. His companions left the basin in haste—with every intention of returning with a bigger force. And they did, starting a fort that was called “Hog ’em” on October 7, 1862 near the site of Centerville. Envious newcomers gave it the name because the early arrivals had “hogged” all the good claims.
Some miners took time away from their diggings that winter to kill or run off as many Indians as possible. The following summer, Uncle Sam took up residence in the form of an Army post, the new Fort Boise, opened July 4, 1863. The hunger for gold to fill the government’s vaults had spurred Washington D.C. to swift action. Farmers and businessmen followed miners, and in no time the grasp of the Snake Indians on their beautiful valley was broken.

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