The City of Boise was platted on July 7, 1863. It became the capital of Idaho Territory on December 24, 1864. But there was a little problem. Boise had not formed a city government. The Idaho Territorial Legislature believed strongly that the capital should have a few essential things, such as a mayor. The citizens of Boise liked things just the way they were. That is, there were no city ordinances and above all there were no taxes levied on the citizens of the community.
To prod things along, the Legislature incorporated the city. All citizens had to do was approve the charter and elect some officials. That election took place on March 25, 1865. The charter failed by 24 votes.
Inexplicably many of the opponents of the charter lived outside the boundaries that the charter described. It wasn’t strange that they would be opposed. It was strange that they were allowed to vote.
Nevertheless, the Legislature tried again. This time legislators got around those pesky voters by simply passing the charter without requiring a vote of the citizens (or the non-citizens). That bill passed on January 11, 1866, providing a charter that the city would use for the next 95 years.
But there was still the matter of electing city officials, who would organize under the charter they would ultimately approve. The voters got a chance to select their leaders on May 7, 1866. Which they did. Voters elected a mayor and city council, all of whom had pledged not to serve and not to organize a city government. So there.
The Legislature was adamant about the need for some local elected officials, so they set another election for January 11, 1867. Things were looking up for that one. There were two slates of candidates seeking office. Both slates were comprised of men who actually wanted to be mayor or a city councilor. At the last minute an anti-charter party popped up. The slate of no-government candidates ran away with the election, winning 277 to 133. True to their word, all those elected refused to serve.
Things were getting sticky for property owners by this time. Surveys were underway all over the territory. Defining the boundaries of property was a necessary legal step. Without a government in place there was no way to obtain title to property in Boise without an approved charter. An election was held giving the citizens a chance to approve the charter, since they hadn’t elected anyone to do it for them.
In November of 1867, the citizens of Boise finally approved their charter. The fact that the mayor and councilors they had elected refused to serve was problematic. H.E. Prickett, who would later serve on the territorial supreme court, stepped up to serve as mayor when the elected mayor, L.B. Lindsey kept his promise not to take office. Most of those elected to the council grudgingly agreed to serve and begin organizing the city. Ordinances, taxes, and government services followed in their wake.
Most other cities in the state were organized under general provisions laid out by the legislature. Since Boiseans refused to do so and ended up having a charter thrust upon them, it was uniquely hamstrung. The city couldn’t grow beyond its borders because it didn’t have the authority to annex adjacent property.
It did not go unnoticed by city officials in the late 1950s that the capital of Idaho was soon to be eclipsed in population. The population of Boise in the 1950 census was 34,393. In 1960 it was 34,481. That was a growth rate of .03 percent. The population of Idaho Falls, Idaho’s second largest city at the time, was 33,161 in 1960. It was likely that Idaho Falls or Pocatello—both with the ability to annex—would surpass Idaho’s capital city when the 1970 census was tallied.
The solution to the annexation problem was simple. Dissolve the charter. If the 1866 charter put in place by the legislature were abolished, Boise could operate under the general rules of most cities in Idaho.
In 1961 the Idaho Legislature abolished Boise’s 1866 charter, freeing the city to grow.
The original recalcitrance of the citizens of Boise in the 1860s gave the city some unusual history. It’s first elected mayor was Dr. Ephraim Smith. He refused to serve in that capacity, but his photo hangs in Boise City Hall as the first mayor chosen by the people. His election was completely forgotten by city officials until his son sent them Smith’s certificate of election in 1936.
The first mayor who served, Henry E. Prickett, was appointed rather than elected. Two adamant opponents of the creation of a city charter Peter Sonna and James A. Pinney eventually dropped their opposition, apparently. Both would later serve as mayors of Boise.