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Gold was initially discovered in the early 1860s in the mountains to the north of the Snake River basin. Silver, copper, and other minerals were subsequently discovered. Idaho experienced boom after boom, and mining towns arose overnight, boomed, and then disappeared as the miners left for the latest rush. Significant amounts of silver, zinc, and lead were discovered by miners in Burke Canyon in 1884 at the Tiger Mine. The Tiger Mine was sold to S.S. Glidden for USD$35,000. The community of Gem, just south of Burke, had already been established in 1886. Both Gem and Burke attracted various miners as well as a large number of Swedish immigrants.
On July 10, 1892, miners called a strike which developed into a shooting war between union miners and company guards. The first shots fired were exchanged at the Frisco mine in Frisco in the early morning hours of July 11. The gunfire ignited a stock of dynamite in the Frisco Mill, causing the four-story mill to explode, killing six people. The violence soon spilled over into the community of Gem. From there, union miners who had successfully shut down both the Frisco and the Gem mines, travelled to the Bunker Hill mining complex near Wardner, to the west, and closed down that facility as well. The Idaho National Guard and federal troops were dispatched to the area. The incident marked the first violent confrontation between the workers of the mines and their owners.
After another fire wreaked further havoc on the canyon in July 1923, the Northern Pacific railroad considered discontinuing railway service through the canyon after damage to the depot; the railroad also cited increased automobile traffic as a reason for discontinuing the line. By 1939, the rail to Burke had been officially closed, and the tracks removed.
Burke Canyon was the site of several natural disasters as well. Two major avalanches struck the canyon in the twentieth century: One on February 4, 1890, which killed three; and another in February 1910, which buried twenty-five people, killing all. In the days after the February 1910 avalanche, snow and rock continued to dislodge from the canyon walls, inflicting additional damage on the towns of Burke and Mace, and causing numerous deaths. In August of that year, the Great Fire of 1910 would cause further damage to the communities in the canyon. Three years later, in May 1913, the communities were stricken by heavy rains that resulted in significant floods.