Boise Places Worth Seeing

Lugenbeel Camp Historic Monument - Boise's Bassackwards Monument

Not only is this Boise's bassackwards historical marker, it also could be Boise's most hidden. The funny part is that it's hidden in plain sight.

Unlike every other historical marker, which is placed in a well-traveled place smack dab in front of people's eyes, you'll never see the Lugenbeel Camp Marker unless you're a hawk-eyed Connector traveler or a transient looking to nap under a bridge. The marker's location is on a large, well-maintained chunk of lawn in between the Connector and Fairview Avenue. Your guess is as good as mine as to whether the City, County, or State maintains the grounds around it, but whomever it is they do a darn good job keeping that grass green and weed free.

If you're traveling toward Downtown Boise on the Connector, look off to your left immediately after you pass the Vista Inn (formerly the Econo Lodge). The Idaho-shaped concrete marker is briefly visible at the far end of the big grassy area, near the Fairview Bridge. The chances are really good that in all the years you've been driving the Connector and passing that spot, you've never looked over that way, considering that around that spot is where the downtown buildings come into view and the buildings and the foothills are much more impressive to look at than a big green no-man's land.

The best way to see the monument is to park at the Vista Inn, cross Fairview Avenue to the grass, and then walk up to where it ends by the river bank. When you get there, though, you'll notice that the monument actually faces a fence, some trees, and the Boise River, making it seem totally bassackwards.

If you want to get the scoop on why it's there, you'll have to walk around behind it. Then you can read the inscription that occupies the fat bottom part of Idaho. The panhandle of Idaho used to contain a round seal depicting something, but it is now gone. My guess is that the marker originally contained a gold seal depicting Lugenbeel and his US army soldiers killing Indians and jackrabbits, both of which were a real annoyance in the area in 1863. You'll also notice that, just as in real life, time has not been good to the Panhandle of our beloved state, and it is only being held in place by a metal band. I take that as an indication that we should've given the Panhandle region to Washington a long time ago, which would've spared us from the Ruby Ridge incident and buffered us from the moose-loving Canadians.

It takes a bit of imagination to figure out why the monument is situated like it is. The monument was dedicated in 1933, and back then Fairview Avenue at that spot was better known as US Route 20, the main east and west route through Southern Idaho. It was also half as wide and a two-way road. There was no Connector, no Main Street Bridge, and no Americana Bridge. In short, this was the only way to get across the river for a long ways, so the traffic was high. We also have to assume that the trees and brush on the river banks had been cleared and the fence didn't exist, meaning that folks headed out of town over the Fairview/US 20 Bridge could easily see the monument off to the side of the bridge and marvel at its geographic accuracy and the historical ground it was marking. In short, the area looked nothing like it does today, and modern development has made it so that you can only approach the marker from the back. That it still exists at all is a bit of a miracle.

So what's the marker there for, you ask? What historical event is it commemorating, you wonder? From the name of the marker, you've probably already guessed that it's where a dude named Lugenbeel camped at one time, and that would be correct. The historical significance is much greater than that, however, as it relates to the founding of the city of Boise.

In the 1850s, the US Government decided that they needed to build a fort in the soon-to-be Boise area due to all the Indian attacks on the Oregon Trail. Despite the pressing need for military presence, a little thing call the Civil War slowed the process until 1863, and by that time gold had been discovered in the area, which only increased the need. After taking a vote, the powers-that-be in the army decided that the man with the funniest name should lead an expedition from Fort Vancouver in Washington State to choose the exact location for the fort. The obvious man for the job was Brevet Major Pinckney Lugenbeel, and he and a contingent of soldiers left Fort Vancouver on June 1st, 1863. On June 28th, Lugenbeel and his men arrived at the site of today's bassackwards historical marker. There they established a camp on the south side of the Boise River's main channel, in an area that would later be called Government Island. It takes a historical map to figure out why the spot was called Government Island, since it is not on an island today. Looking at a map from 1917, you can see that the ground on which the monument sits used to be on an island, but later development eliminated the smaller western channel giving us the more restricted river of today and a nice secure location for Joe's Crab Shack. Who says progress doesn't benefit everyone?

Boise in 1917, with Government Island still there

After Lugenbeel established the camp on Government Island, he then started scouting for the perfect place to put the fort. He chose a spot at the foot of the mountains next to Cottonwood Creek on July 4th, 5th, or 6th, depending on which source you trust. Then the soldiers commenced clearing the ground and building stuff. This military presence, consequently, was enough to convince the earliest pioneers and prospectors in the area, such as John O'Farrell (who had started building his cabin a month earlier), Cyrus Jacobs (who opened one of the first breweries in town), C.W. Moore (whose name is everywhere if you look), and Thomas Davis (who had a wife named Julia) to start thinking about creating a proper town close to the fort. Within a month, these men had platted the Boise town site and started planning the first Boise River Festival, hoping to get Bon Jovi as the headlining act.

So there you have your answer. The Lugenbeel Camp historical marker commemorates the origin of Fort Boise and the City of Boise, even if both of them actually sprang up a mile or so to the east. If you're the curious sort, or if you happen to love obscure pieces of history, take fifteen minutes and pay this marker a visit. You'll probably be among the ten or so people in this town who have actually seen the thing close up.

Particulars
Place worth seeing: Lugenbeel Camp Historic Monument
Where: Off the southwest corner of the Fairview Bridge, in a veritable no-man's land

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Hours: Dawn to dusk, 365 days a year
Cost: Free
Website: None
Fun fact: Finding this monument is like finding hidden treasure.