|Major Lugenbeel, ca 1880.|
U. S. Army Archives.
A West Point graduate and Regular Army officer, Lugenbeel had been assigned to train Volunteer recruits in the Pacific Northwest at the start of the Civil War. These partially-trained western Volunteer troops quickly replaced Regular Army units that were transferred east.
Undermanned Army garrisons had done their best to protect pioneers on the Oregon Trail from Indian attacks, with spotty results. The situation became critical when the Regulars transferred out and Volunteer replacements were slow to arrive. Then, in 1862, Boise Basin discoveries added thousands of gold miners to the mix. Additional finds around what became Silver City, in May 1863, exacerbated conflicts with the Indians.
Miners in the brand-new Idaho Territory [blog, March 4] demanded better protection, as did emigrants on the Trail. Federal officials finally ordered Major Lugenbeel to lead a mixed force of Volunteers – Oregon Cavalry and California Infantry – into Idaho and establish a base there.
He selected a spot with good prospects for water and forage, but back from the main channel of the Boise River. Pioneers reported that the river had run a mile wide over the flood plain during the previous season. Not knowing how often this happened, Lugenbeel took no chances. (Nothing like it has happened since.)
The location also had potential as a crossroads between the Oregon Trail and the developing tracks that connected the various mining districts. The day after Lugenbeel chose his location, a correspondent in Placerville sent a letter to The Oregonian (published on July 18, 1863), in Portland. It said, “Maj. Lugenbeel has located the new Fort Boise at a point twenty-five miles from the mouth of Boise, on that stream. The distance from Placerville is thirty miles.”
The writer had the distance to Placerville about right, but his other guess missed badly: The mouth of the Boise River is more like fifty miles from Fort Boise. Long before troops completed the Camp and its support facilities, Boise City sprang into being close by. Less than three months later, the first Territorial Census recorded 725 people in the Boise district. It became the Territorial capital near the end of 1864.
Fort Boise (it’s not entirely clear when the name changed) became the Army’s main base of operations in southern and central Idaho during the Indian wars of 1877-1880. During that period, reports began to refer to the site as Boise Barracks. Major Marshall Wood served as Post Surgeon at the Barracks, starting in 1894. Two years later, he prepared the first systematic reports about Rock Mountain Spotted Fever [blog, June 3].
|Commanding Officer’s Quarters, Fort Boise. Library of Congress.|
The Barracks served as the Idaho National Guard mustering point for their deployment to the Philippines in 1898. In 1912, the Army left the site and the Idaho National Guard took up occupancy.
Guard units gathered at the Barracks and deployed to the Mexican border in 1916, and assembled for duty in World War I a year later. The Guard moved elsewhere in 1919. Over the years since, various state and federal offices have used parts of the old Fort and some land has gone into private ownership.
In 1972, the Park Service added several of the remaining structures, collectively known as “Fort Boise,” to the National Register of Historic Places.
|Carolyn Thomas Foreman, “Colonel Pinkney Lugenbeel,” Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol. 24, No. 4, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City (1946).|
|“Fort Boise,” National Register of Historic Places, National Park Service (1972).|
|“Location of Fort Boise and Boise City,” Reference Series No. 1119, Idaho State Historical Society (June 1996).|
|John D. Unruh, Jr, The Plains Across, University of Illinois Press, Urbana (1979).|