The area now encompassing Pioneer Cemetery, the oldest cemetery in continuous use in Boise, north of Warm Springs Avenue, first came into unsanctioned use as a burial ground soon after the area was settled in 1863. The cemetery is located north of Warm Springs Avenue.
Ada County records indicate that in 1868 a local businessman, Michael Keppler, was granted a Federal Land Grant Patent for 120 acres that today includes Pioneer Cemetery. Keppler then sold the land to John Krall, a local business proprietor, in February of 1869. A small section of the property continued to be used as a public burial ground until 1872 when Krall sold a 5-acre plot to two prominent Lodges – the Masons and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows – to be used by members and their families. Following the purchase of these 5 acres, Ada County Surveyor P.W. Bell completed a platt map dated Oct. 1, 1872, designating separate areas of the cemetery to each lodge. This arrangement remained in force for the next 48 years with the two lodges dividing expenses for maintenance.
Increasing expenses and the popularity of the newer Morris Hill Cemetery, established in 1882 to accommodate Boise’s growing population, made the cost of operating the Masonic Cemetery unaffordable. The Odd Fellows deeded their section to the City of Boise officially on June 1, 1920 and has been maintained by Boise Parks and Recreation since.
There are 1,796 marked graves at Pioneer Cemetery, though it is the final resting place of many more than that. Deaths were not recorded in Idaho until after the turn of the 20th century. Often, deaths were not listed in newspapers, leaving only grave markers and mortuary records to determine the earliest burials. The very first interments were likely the task of family or friends, and many markers, particularly those constructed of wood, have disappeared with time.
The earliest recorded burial in Pioneer Cemetery was Carrie Logan, daughter of Thomas and Caroline Logan, who died Aug. 22, 1864 on the Camas Prairie, at age of five years, 11 months and five days. Hers is the oldest legible grave marker in the cemetery.
While the names of many people buried at Pioneer Cemetery have been lost, the existing grave markers read like a who's who of Idaho history. Included are eleven former Boise mayors, eight Ada County sheriffs and five past governors – Edward A. Stevenson, George L. Shoup, Frank W. Hunt, Robert E. Smylie, and Cecil D. Andrus. The stories of these community leaders, as well as those of many others, help us piece together a vibrant narrative of Boise history, and efforts to preserve this historical landmark have increased over time.
For many years, the cemetery was little used and neglected. A fence built by the lodges disappeared, headstones were stolen and many vandalized. A century or more of exposure to the elements has taken its toll on other headstones. As a centennial project in 1990, the Boise Metro Rotary Club and the Parks and Recreation Department worked together to restore the cemetery, install a new fence and create an interpretive park area outside the cemetery.