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The Oregon Trail

Parma and Fort Boise

Just as US-20/26 does today, the historic Oregon Trail crosses between Idaho and Oregon at the confluence of the Boise and Snake Rivers, southwest of I-84 at the town of Parma. Sugar beets and onions fill the fields around the tiny town, which takes pride in its replica of Fort Boise, one of the first European outposts in the Pacific Northwest. Originally established in 1834 by the Hudson’s Bay Company, Fort Boise was famous for its frontier hospitality, entertaining and supplying travelers and traders until the mid-1850s, when it was closed because of declines in demand and an increase in Native American hostilities. The original Fort Boise stood along the banks of the river and was washed away long ago. The site is marked today by an odd horse-headed stone obelisk festooned with the Hudson’s Bay Company flag, which stands along the Snake River at the end of Old Fort Boise Road, two miles west of US-20/26. The less-than-authentic steel-and-stucco reconstruction of the old fort that stands along US-20 near the center of town is the site of the annual Old Fort Boise Days in early summer.

Caldwell

East of Parma, US-20/26 runs along the north bank of the Boise River for more than a dozen miles before crossing I-84 at the city of Caldwell—home of the mid-August Caldwell Night Rodeo (208/459-2060). A century ago, Caldwell was the site of the 1905 bomb-blast murder of former Idaho governor Frank Steunenberg. Blamed on left-wing Wobbly union activists, including “Big Bill” Haywood, who’d been organizing Idaho’s miners and loggers, the murder was the story behind J. Anthony Lukas’s sprawling book Big Trouble: A Murder in a Small Western Town Sets Off a Struggle for the Soul of America.

From Caldwell, you can follow the freeway into Boise, but it’s more interesting, and depending on traffic possibly even quicker as well, to stay on US-20/26 (a.k.a. Chinden Boulevard), which runs right atop the old Oregon Trail into downtown, past corn and wheat fields that have been rapidly sprouting golf course estates, a Hewlett-Packard factory, car-parts stores, and the usual Asphalt Nation sprawl.