When a people have no written history, it is difficult to establish what happened where. Such is the case of Castle Rock near the Old Idaho Penitentiary in Boise. The Shoshone, Bannock, and Paiute tribes had an oral history about the place, which they called Eagle Rock. They had used the site, which includes a hot spring, for many years before the first white man came to the area. It was a place of healing and a place where they cared for their dead.
A developer in the late 1980s owned the land and thought it would be a great place for some high-end view properties. The tribes sued to stop the project.
The developer paid for an archaeological survey which found no trace of a gravesite. How could the Indians prove it was sacred ground when they didn’t have a written history?
No historian in Idaho at that time commanded more respect than Merle Wells. It was his opinion that the site had been used for many years by the tribes. He also had something written. An 1893 article in the Idaho Statesman described the “grinning skeletons” that had been uncovered near Table Rock and the Sho-Ban beads associated with the graves.
After six years of litigation over the issue all the parties were tired of fighting. The Boise City Council agreed to purchase a key piece of the Castle Rocks property for $500,000 to keep it from development. The developer made some concessions regarding rooflines and setbacks for the remainder of the project.
Today the area is known as Castle Rock Reserve and is managed by Boise City Parks and Recreation. The city has planted some 3000 native plants on the hillside. A hiking trail loops through the area, but well away from the sacred pools.
From the Boise Parks and Recreation website: “Betty Foster approached Boise's Parks & Recreation Department in 2006 with a project to raise the awareness of Castle Rock's historical significance. She raised funds and helped design the Castle Rock Reserve tribute stone near the Bacon Drive entrance. Betty is a dedicated wife, mother, former school librarian, active volunteer, and continues to share her knowledge with our community.
“The Castle Rock Reserve tribute stone is a poignant reminder that the rocks jetting out of the hillside that touch the sky are an important part of Idaho's Native American history. Visitors will appreciate the peaceful surroundings, expanse of open sky, views of the Boise Valley area, and the river that lies below. Let them also be filled with a sense of the past, present and future converging in a moment of time. Listen closely and you may hear a faint whisper on the breeze saying… tread gently for you are on sacred ground.”