Boise Places Worth Seeing

Fort Boise Military Cemetery - A Quiet Place for Old Bones

Unless you're fond of historical facts or old tombstones, the only time you'll encounter the Fort Boise Military Cemetery is when you hit the trails in the Military Reserve area. Even then you'll probably only see it from afar as you bike or jog on the opposite side of the road. If you're like me, you've been making mental notes about the place for a long time, telling yourself you should really stop and and have a look around sometime. But when it comes down to it, you always seem to have a reason not to stop. And let's face it; the folks who call it home ain't going anywhere.

If you ever do stop, as I finally did recently, here's what you need to know about the place. For starters, it's the second incarnation of the Fort Boise Cemetery. The first site was located a half mile south near the old barracks, but a fantastic Idaho gullywasher down Cottonwood Creek in 1903 eroded everything in its path including the cemetery, creating a whole Night of the Living Dead situation that scarred Boise's youth for decades. As the City of Boise website informs us, the current site was chosen as a replacement because someone thought it was somewhat level. Obviously the meaning of the word 'level' has changed in the last hundred years, because I would only call the current site level if level means on the side of a hill.

After the new site was chosen, the military moved 166 graves, most of whom were Civil War veterans, Indian fighters, or both. These graves occupy the northeastern corner of the cemetery. There are also some civilian markers present, including quite a few infants and children. Remember, no matter how bad the bird flu or the swine flu seem, they'll never come close to killing as many people as scarlet fever and cholera did. Everybody give a high five for vaccinations and penicillin.

As might be expected after a big muddy flood, the military kept finding human remains at the old cemetery over the years, after which they would move them to the new site and give them a proper reburial. This happened as recently as 1998, when three more sets of unknown remains were found.

The cemetery was deeded to the City of Boise in 1948 on the condition that they maintain it so that it looks like it did when it was created in the early 20th century. Despite reports that the cemetery site fell into a forgotten and derelict state in the middle part of the last century, the City currently does a fine job of fulfilling their original commitment. The site is not irrigated, allowing only native vegetation to grow. The metal fence surrounding the cemetery is nicely painted, there is no trash to be found, and the US flag towering over the site is bright and crisp. The headstones are in good condition, and the ones that were formerly in disrepair have been repaired or replaced. It is altogether an honorable site in an unspoiled location just out of the city's grasp.

For those who wish to sit a spell and contemplate history or enjoy the foothills silence, there is a solitary bench in the center of the site that faces the flagpole.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the cemetery is the amount of empty space in it. Perhaps only 1/5 of the ground is being used for plots. It's probably safe to say that, unless more remains are found at the old site, the cemetery will remain as it is forever.

If you'd like to meet the occupants before you go, the City has made it possible to look at the plot assignments online here. Also, for an historical account of how much parenthood sucked in the late 19th century, be sure to read this account of the Collins family, written in 1971.

Place worth seeing: Fort Boise Military Cemetery
Where: 750 Mountain Cove Road, Boise

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Hours: Dawn to dusk, 365 days a year
Cost: Free
Website: City of Boise
Fun fact: It's clean and quiet, unlike most things in life.