The story took place back in 1916, when there wasn’t yet a zoo and when people would have called it the Boise Zoo if they had one, rather than Zoo Boise, not knowing how foolish they would sound. Probably.
I found several references to the story, some saying that the monkey had escaped a circus in Mountain Home, some saying the circus was in Boise. The earliest one was in a 1928 Idaho Statesman story. One would assume the older the better in something like this, but it turned out to be a story in the April 1, 1960 Idaho Statesman that confirmed the tale. It was an interview with the man who found the monkey.
Norris Fritchman had been mentioned in earlier stories about the monkey, so this was good. In Fritchman’s memory the incident took place in 1917. “I was on the road for Idaho Candy company with another salesman, and we had stayed overnight in Mountain Home. The next day, about Hammett, this fellow happened to look over to the railroad right-of-way and he yelled, ‘my gosh, that looks like a monkey sitting on a fence post.’
They stopped the Maxwell they were riding in and gave chase to the monkey, which turned out to be a chimpanzee. They put on driving gloves and grabbed a piece of twine. The chimp must have been a young one, since they lived to tell the tale. A full-grown chimp would have made quick work of the candy salesmen.
At the risk of appearing trite in a story told a hundred years later, they gave the chimp a banana which made it much more amenable.
Fritchman gave the chimpanzee to the city to put on display in Julia Davis Park. That was fine for the summer. When winter came the city moved the animal to a “reading room” in city hall where Industrial Workers of the World (union agitators often called Wobblies) were incarcerated. They found the chimp, named “Chris,” a companion to keep him company. There was reportedly bad blood between the Wobblies and the chimps. One day the latter were found dead in their cell, apparently having been poisoned.
That first, ill-fated chimp stirred the desire for a zoo in the citizenry. They acquired some monkeys, then an alligator who had outgrown his home in the window of a Nampa drugstore. In 1919 the park board purchased a couple of tigers and the zoo was off and running.
Today Zoo Boise is on the leading edge of zoo conservation and even raises money to help protect creatures in the wild. In 2007 it became the first zoo in the country to create a conservation fee.