Honoring Jesus Urquides 

Boise Mexican American pioneer is recognized with new memorial

Pioneering Boise businessman Jesus Urquides.

Idaho State Historical Society

Pioneering Boise businessman Jesus Urquides.

The intersection of Main and Second streets in downtown Boise is lined with trees and stately, two-story homes. But it didn't always look like that. For nearly 100 years, it was home to a village built by Jesus Urquides, "Idaho's premier muleteer."

Urquides played an integral role in shaping Boise into the community it is today. Now, local artist and architect Dwaine Carver and the Boise City Department of Arts and History are celebrating the contributions Urquides and other Mexican American pioneers have made to Boise with a memorial near where his home once stood.

"For part of the Boise 150 celebration, we wanted to look at who we haven't acknowledged or honored, and what parts of history we haven't really told through public art," said Karen Bubb, city public arts manager. "This is a story that we've been thinking about for a long time."

When Urquides arrived in Boise in the mid-1860s, he was already a successful Mexican businessman. At that time, Boise was only a small village surrounded by farms that provided food for Southern and Central Idaho mining camps. A decade later, Urquides inherited land from an acquaintance at what is now 115 Main St., and settled in the Treasure Valley permanently.

Other Mexican Americans and mule packers also settled onto Urquides' land, where he built 30 cabins, stables and corrals. Known as the "Spanish Village" or "Urquides Village," Urquides often referred to it as his "little world."

According to biographer Max Delgado, Urquides was a generous and understanding landlord, housing packers in the cabins on his property until his death, after which his daughter maintained the property's many homes. But following her death in 1965, a fire damaged several of the buildings. A city inspector condemned the structures, and the village was destroyed.

Until recently, little remained of Urquides' legacy in Boise beyond newspaper clippings and a few items housed at the Idaho Historical Museum. Urquides is buried at Pioneer Cemetery on Warm Springs Avenue, where his granite headstone is emblazoned with the word "Papa," a Spanish term of endearment. His gravesite is maintained by the Hispanic Cultural Center of Idaho, which hosts a yearly Dia de los Muertos celebration at the cemetery to honor Urquides as a pioneer in Idaho's Mexican American community.

Now, the city of Boise has erected a new memorial to Urquides. A bronze camera containing an image of Urquides is pointed as if taking the photo where his "little world" once stood. A pedestal with text on four sides tells a small part of Urquides' life story and features a model of the buildings that once stood in the village. The memorial is small but poignant, with potential to grow, according to Bubb.

"At the site, there's very little room to memorialize and there's private property where the land once was, so [Carver] ended up coming up with a two-part proposal," Bubb said. "The first part is what is already built there. The second part is a larger plan that would create a performance space that would be part of the land in front of the Pioneer Cemetery. The piece is very modest, but it's accessible to pedestrians and it's at the site, which is very important in terms of marking the location."

Carver, who also designed a downtown public art piece commemorating Boise's long-gone Chinatown, was drawn to the history of Boise's Mexican American pioneers, especially since their contributions to the city's early growth are often overlooked.

"I'm interested in invisible histories," Carver said. "I liked very much the idea of trying to imagine or re-materialize something that's been lost, especially things that are generally understood to be marginalized histories."

To Carver, the Urquides memorial is particularly relevant, given the ongoing national controversy surrounding immigration and immigration reform.

"I think that a standout perception of the piece is the absolutely integrated nature of immigrants as pioneer citizens," Carver said. "The southern part of Idaho was the northern border of Mexican territory prior to 1848. For a prominent, longtime pioneer citizen of the city to be an obvious and apparent part of that history, I think is an interesting thing to hold in one's mind. I think the participation of so many different people from so many different ethnicities relating to the central foundation of the city is really one of the central points of the piece."

The memorial will be dedicated at a ceremony Saturday, April 27, which will celebrate the oft-forgotten history of Boise's Hispanic pioneers. From 4:30-5:30 p.m., Carver will speak about his piece to attendees, and a Mexican ballad poem, or corrido, will be performed. A committee of advisers from Boise's Mexican American community will also be in attendance at the dedication.

Ana Maria Schachtell, a member of the Hispanic Cultural Center of Idaho board of directors, will also be in attendance. Schachtell has long been a proponent of Idaho's Hispanic history.

"Mexican Americans provided a critical contribution to the development of the economy of the state of Idaho in the 19th century, so this is very appropriate that a public art piece celebrating Jesus Urquides and the people who lived there be established there at this time," Schachtell said. "When you read things like that, you wonder why this information was left out of the history books. Why would they have omitted such an important part of our history? It's almost been my quest, per se, to highlight the history of these mule packers and make people aware that this population is not new arrivals. We've been here since the beginning."

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