The final mild days of autumn and a new co-worker from Twin Falls, also a photo enthusiast, are occasion to walk the riparian ravine — a green stripe among beige hills — in Boise’s nearby Military Reserve.
Tiny Cottonwood Creek was once home to a mule-driven sawmill built to support construction of Fort Boise beginning in 1863.¹ We see no mill today, no mules, no sign of the military maneuvers that spanned some eighty years. We point our cameras instead at leaves unsettled by the wind that whispers among dark branches above.
Mike, Robert and I walked here across the old grounds of Fort Boise, now a Department of Veterans Affairs campus. Most of the original fort buildings are still standing, today surrounded by large trees, well manicured lawns and signs warning elderly veterans to watch their step.
It was the Utter Massacre and its cannibalistic conclusion along the Oregon Trail, discussed earlier this year,¹ that inspired construction of a new military fort² at the previously empty intersection of the Trail and busy road connecting the boom towns of Idaho City and Silver City. Boise exists, to some extent, because of what happened to the Utter party in 1860.
The massacre was the subject of dreadful fascination for decades, headlines and popular angst now all but forgotten. Doomsayer hullabaloo about global warming, gun rights and Islamism will also be shortly forgotten except to those wanting to make a quant point about civic impermanence.
“Veterans of the Mexican War, Civil War, Indian Wars, and Spanish American War are interred at the reserve.”¹ It’s easy to imagine their ghosts sitting along the creek, chewing a blade of grass, watching leaves float by.
We descend from the bench and begin retracing our steps, back to the future.
A couple dogs express suspicions about us as we approach the road. “You don’t have any dogs,” their lady owner explains as she calls for them to heel. Dogless humans are sinister. We joke this will have to be a violent wolf attack in the retelling.
We find a simpler, if less scenic, route along the old barracks back to our offices.
I had no idea when I sought out the site of the Utter Massacre this spring¹ that it was connected to Boise’s founding. As I bicycle home at the end of the day, through Municipal Park to cross the river, I think also of the interesting past in this part of Boise.² I am glad to know these bits of history. A longer perspective keeps me from getting too wrapped up in current issues, even those I argue passionately about.