Many western mining camps resembled cut flowers with blossoms that soon faded. But the Boise Basin diggings and Boise City were like seedlings that took root and quickly grew into sustainable communities. Perhaps one reason was that there were a few white settlers here before the gold-seekers arrived. Some methods of farming and ranching had already been tested in the local area and proven to work. This naturally saved trouble for the new arrivals and inspired them to think of Idaho as having the potential of becoming a permanent home. The original settlers consisted of Francois Payette, former master of Old Fort Boise, his descendants, and a herd of cows. Payette’s two sons worked with cattle for years in the Payette Valley and by the 1850s at the latest had settled into ranch houses as opposed to a herdsman’s life always on the move. The cows became so numerous by the time of the gold rush that writer Nellie Ireton Mills believed the Payettes probably trailed some over the mountains to Bannack City, Montana.
Francois Payette was a French Canadian who came to New York City in 1810 with fellow voyageurs (boatmen) from Quebec to work for John Jacob Astor’s Pacific Fur Company. He sailed on the second ship sent to the Oregon Country by Astor’s firm. The Astor enterprise had to sell out to the British- Canadian North West Company, which was later absorbed by the Hudson’s Bay Company. Monsieur Payette had become well-regarded as a trapper and trader in furs on yearly expeditions into the inland Pacific Northwest. He was also appreciated for his skill as a hunter who provided many meals for his fellow trappers that they might otherwise have missed. Payette was one of the trusted men sent to build what we call Old Fort Boise. He was in charge of the fort and served there until 1844.
Old Fort Boise was established near present-day Parma in 1834 by the Hudson’s Bay Company. The exact location is hard to describe precisely because there were actually three versions of the fort, the first of which, called Snake Fort, was on the Boise River and the latter two were on the Snake. And the flood-swollen Snake first turned the newer fort sites into an island and in later years consumed them entirely. For about the last 100 years Old Fort Boise has occupied real estate in the bed of the Snake River.
Some travelers through Idaho in the days of the Oregon Trail had disparaging comments about Old Fort Boise. Its appearance was not the best, since a high water table undermined the adobe walls of the fort, causing them to crumble. Indians congregated around the fort, catching salmon, trading with the emigrants and sometimes helping themselves to goods in the wagons. All the same, the fort was a welcome sight, the first patch of civilization since Fort Hall. Indian women made moccasins, which they sold for twenty-five cents a pair. Many emigrants’ shoes were going to pieces or had gone, so the ladies did a fair business. Francois Payette was a genial host to travelers. Payette, wrote a visitor in 1839, “is a merry, fat old gentleman of fifty, who although in the wilderness all the best years of his life, has retained that manner of benevolence in trifles, in his mode of address, of seating you and serving you at table, of directing your attention continually to some little matter of interest, of making you speak the French language ‘parfaitment’ whether you are able to do so or not. . . . The 14th and 15th [of September] were spent very pleasantly with this gentleman. During that time he feasted us with excellent bread, butter made from an American cow. . .; with baked, boiled, fried and broiled salmon. . . .”
The Payette River of course owes its name to the proprietor of Old Fort Boise. The Boise or “Riviere Boissie” also might have borne another name if Payette’s insistence on respect for all things French had not prevailed. Contending names of “Wooded River” and “Reed’s River” faded in light of Payette’s persistence.
The French Canadian trapper and his descendants created a bit of civilization that awakened newcomers’ dreams of an enduring home in southwest Idaho.

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