The town of Burke: gunfights and silver

Nikola Petrovski
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In 1884, to the joy of a few prospectors, and, as time would prove, to the joy of thousands, silver was discovered on the borders of the city of Wallace in Idaho.

The good news traveled fast, and soon others came to the location. Elevated 3,700 feet above sea level, the unusual placement of this silver vain proved to be no obstacle for the town builders: despite everything, they managed to erect a fully functional town.

A street scene from Burke. Author: Hagerman, Daniel

The success of the area even attracted railroad builders to come to this new town of Burke. A magnificent railway was erected. The centerpiece of the town was the Tiger Hotel. Its size was striking. It had 150 rooms and thousands of people are said to have passed through its halls daily.

The railroad itself passed through the hotel’s lobby. The local creek, dubbed Canyon Creek, also passed through.

Train into the Tiger Hotel. Author: Unknown

Erecting a town on the side of a hill is never easy, and it would have been harder in the 19th century. The streets were so narrow that there was no room to build separate streets for the commuters and for the trains. Every vehicle had to wait each time a train passed through.

Part of the town in 2017. Author: Drown Soda – CC BY-SA 4.0

The town is hidden in the Burke Canyon amid green trees and picturesque surroundings. Its history is as interesting as its everyday life was.

There were happy times and rich finds, but also sad memories and scars caused by fires and avalanches.

An abandoned Burke mine shaft. Author: Alex Kyrios – CC BY-SA 3.0

Natural disasters formed only part of the scratches that Burke bares. It was also the victim of man-made tragedies. One such event that scared Burke for life happened on July 11, 1892.

Just like in the Wild West, guns were drawn and triggers were pulled. And nothing good can come out when bullets fly.

Photo of the so-called Hecla-Mine. Author: Mossbones – CC BY-SA 4.0

The gunfight was between a number of workers in one of the local mines. One bullet failed to hit its target and instead hit a box filled with miners’ best friend: dynamite.

A general overview of the city. Author: Barnard-Stockbridge Collection

A huge explosion followed, and when dynamite goes off in a populated town where space is considered a luxury, the outcome is never good. Six men were killed instantly.

But this incident wasn’t the only one. A number of explosions occurred over the years and the Governor of Idaho had to intervene by sending National Guardsmen to the area.

The town caught the attention of America’s most famous gambler, Wyatt Earp. He, along with a number of friends, decided to open a saloon in the neighboring Eagle City.

Closed-off mine shaft. Author: Kyle kersey – CC BY 2.0

Another destructive event took place in 1899. Dynamite was once again involved and the Bunker Hill Mine was the victim. The extensive use of dynamite took its toll.

An avalanche killed twenty people in February 1910 and completely wiped out Mace, another mining town close to Burke.

The town back in 1890. Author: Northern Pacific Railroad

Thirteen years later, a devastating fire broke out and the Tiger Hotel was lost. Burke was an incredibly rich town and rebuilding it was not a problem.

However, the 20th century was the begging of the end for Burke. The newly-erected Tiger Hotel kept running until 1954 when it was demolished.

Part of the mine buildings. Author: Kyle kersey – CC BY 2.0

The population of Burke was also slowly declining. One by one, people were moving out of Burke and into Wallace. They commuted between the towns until 1991.

That year, the last mine in Burke shut its pits. Of course, there were some who refused to leave this place. The memories of its golden days kept them anchored.

Nowadays, much of Burke is abandoned, but there are still residents who are determined to never leave. Tourists travel from far and wide to witness this time capsule.