A Tale of Eight Cities 

A creative history of the Treasure Valley

Once upon a time, in a land where the high desert meets the mountains, there grew a great center of population—a place where farmers, ranchers, hipsters, students, computer engineers, artists, small business owners, outdoor adventurers, foodies, politicians and even people from California existed side by sometimes uncomfortable side with each other.

But it wasn't always so.

Long, long, long ago, dinosaurs and mammoths wandered the landscape, but they didn't do much other than leave their bones, so let's skip ahead a few millennia.

Long, long ago only small bands of people lived and traveled through the area, pausing from time to time to take advantage of the plenitude of game and fish that were drawn to the rivers cutting through the valley.

They built no castles (those are recent additions) but they left their marks in stone all the same, in the form of petroglyphs on the rocky canyons that linger long after their makers.

Long ago, fur trappers arrived in the valley and, according to legend, some French fur trappers were so excited by the sight of something green after so much time in the wind-swept desert that they proclaimed "Les bois, les bois voyez les bois" or "the trees, the trees, look the trees," not to be confused with the opportunity to place monetary bets on the outcome of horse races.

Others followed. First the explorers, then the miners and settlers who became farmers, ranchers and business owners—all of them fairly smelly since regular bathing and plumbing was still a ways off. But those advancements did come, and the population continued to grow as more of the high desert succumbed to the plow. People spread across the valley that had been carved out by a massive flood when the natural dam of an Ice Age lake burst, sending water and debris across the region in a torrent of ... never mind, that gets all sorts of complicated.

Anyway, as people spread across the valley—later to be known as the Treasure Valley because, apparently some pirates got way, way off course, then buried a chest somewhere, although we're not too sure on the authenticity of that tale—they started clustering together and forming fledgling towns.

Along the river sprung Boise, Eagle and Star, while further out, the once and future burbs of Meridian, Kuna, Nampa and Caldwell emerged from the desert, thanks in no small part to wondrous man-made waterways referred to as "canals."

With its riverside location, Boise was filled with orchards and farms, and an industry grew out of the need to outfit and supply miners working the mines near Silver City. The early residents of Boise eventually did away with their simple cabins and built glorious Victorian, Tudor and Queen Anne homes—architectural treasures that would largely be exuberantly torn down in the glorious name of urban renewal.

Still, more came. There were the Basques who came to herd sheep and over the generations taught all the non-Basques about the hangover dangers of the kalimotxo, the glories of the croquette, the gravitational force of their festivals and how to incorporate the letter "X" in far more words than allowed in English.

The Chinese came, too, arriving as the railroads expanded. And while those main lines largely bypassed Boise, many of the workers stayed, building Boise's own Chinatown, which like the Victorians, was done away with for that urban renewal thing. Many Chinese immigrants created lush gardens in the low-lying river floodplain, but we'll get to that later.

Boise grew and grew, becoming a busting metropolis and getting all sorts of full of itself. In fact, in 1865, some people liked Boise so much that they decided to make it the state capital—at any cost. In the middle of the night, the then-Acting Territorial Gov. Clinton DeWitt Smith loaded up the state seal and all sorts of important legal stuff and took off, literally stealing the capital city designation from Lewiston in the north.

As Boise grew, it built a grand Capitol, a landmark train depot, a cool Egyptian Revival theater and became the unofficial capital of the modern strip mall. Boise Junior College eventually became Boise State and the magical blue turf enchanted millions, turning them into rabid fans who plaster their bodies and possessions with anything blue and orange.

Whatever was in that magic grass filtered into the plethora of parks, art galleries, museums, shops, restaurants and coffee houses, all of which have combined into a heady brew drawing people to the city that straddles the river.

Now, Boiseans have transformed into people who have a love affair with microfleece. They can be readily found wandering trails in the Foothills, playing along the river, looking for organic veggies at farmers markets or swigging a microbrew.

Boiseans are also frequent visitors to Garden City—a place where all of the capital city's vices have been hidden in plain sight for decades. From its humble beginnings as the home of the area's Chinese gardens (we told you we'd get back to that), the area has been fertile ground for diverse groups of people. It's an area where gambling was legal until the 1940s and hotels once advertised rooms by the hour. While you can still gamble at the horse racing track in the middle of town, it's also home to high-end neighborhoods along the river and the occasional private golf course.

While it's downright respectable these days, Garden City's reputation as a home for vices hasn't gone anywhere: wineries and breweries are claiming spaces next to art galleries and climbing gyms, a baseball diamonds lives next to the home of the Western Idaho Fair and there's bingo and line dancing down the street from the archery shop and jewelers.

Never ones to miss an opportunity, Garden City bars have thrown their doors wide open, unleashing rolling torrents of smoke puffed by Boise smokers who have been displaced by Boise's recent ban on lighting up in public places.

Eagle has not been as true to its agricultural roots. The small town where life once revolved around the five-and-dime and feed store has become the kingdom of the McMansion, where ladies' lunch and acrylic nails are issued at the city limits.

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