From 1900 to 1930 a little over or under a thousand residents crowded into the steep and narrow valley around Burke. The town had dozens of substantial structures including the 150 room Tiger hotel which had been built on top of the valleys' railroad. The Tiger hotel was demolished in 1954-55. Burke was the largest of several towns along Canyon Creek which was lined with silver mines and mining camps in addition to the more substantial towns of Burke, Gem, Woodland Park, Frisco, Web and others. Today the towns on Canyon Creek closest to Wallace and I-90 such as Woodland Park are still populated but Burke near the end of the canyon is almost completely empty. I saw maybe 5 or 6 occupied homes in Burke when I visited in 2014. Most of the turn-of-the-century buildings in Burke have been torn down or were destroyed by the fires, floods and avalanches that plagued Burke during it's existence. There are a few empty stores and scattered homes remaining as well as the massive Star mine and mill owned by the Hecla mining company (pictured below). Most of the structures in the Star Mine were built in the 1920s. The mine closed in 1982. As recently as 2011 the Hecla company was considering restarting operations in Burke.
Burke and surrounding communities played key roles in the Coeur d'Alene mining district labor strife of the 1890s. The struggle between miners and mine owners in the area directly led the the formation of the Western Federation of Miners (WFM). Members of the WFM including Bill Haywood subsequently formed the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in 1905. In 1892 union miners fought a gun battle with guards hired by the mine owners in nearby Frisco and Gem. Several miners and guards were killed during the battle and the governor of Idaho declared martial law. Federal and National Guard troops occupied the district for the following 4 months. In 1899, 250 miners seized a train in Burke. They loaded the train with two tons of dynamite and drove it 20 miles to Wardner, near Kellogg. In Wardner they used the dynamite to demolish the mill at the Bunker Hill mine. Burke resident Albert Horsley assassinated the governor of Idaho with a bomb in 1905 in retaliation for the governors' involvement in the suppression of the WFM during the labor strife of the 1890s.
Mining activity in the area declined drastically after the 1940s and came to a complete halt in the 1980s. In the 1990s and 2000s, local residents opposed the EPA's plans to clean up the toxic waste left by the mines and mills. At one point the EPA proposed to relocate everyone in the valley which they considered one of the most polluted sites in the nation. As a result of the local opposition very little environmental remediation has taken place.
Hecla's Star Mine is unguarded and unused but is fence and secured. While I was walking around a county sheriff slowly drove by but didn't stop. I didn't try to get past the fence but I'm sure it would be easy to do. The few occupied homes in Burke are a little downstream of the mine towards Wallace. Wallace which was the commercial center of the Coeur d'Alene district is about 7 miles southwest of Burke. Frisco, where one of the major battles of the 1892 strife was fought is about a mile southwest of Burke. There is hardly anything left of Frisco.
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