Like any successful community, Burke was founded and became properous because of its resources.
The cattlemen of Pine Valley were the first Anglos to arrive in the area in the late 1840s, and they used the relative open longleaf pine savanahs to graze their cattle and the "highway" it created along the north side of the Neches River to drive them to market, first in Louisiana and then to Fort Worth and Kansas. Then the openness of Bradley Prairie and its rich soil amid the dense pine forests lured farmers to Bradley Prairie shortly after the Civil War. The cotton raised on Bradley Prairie was one of the first first materials shipped on the Houston East & West Texas Railroad after it arrived at Bradley Prairie in 1881.
It was not long, however, until entrepreneurs began to cut and saw the abundant pine timber into lumber and ship it to markets in Houston and beyond. Sawmills at Burke, such as Burke Lumber Company, sprang up to feed the demand, but they were eventually superseded by larger mills in later-founded Lufkin and Diboll.
The first settlers found abundant springs on the edge of the prairie where it sloped toward the streams as the wound their way south and southwest toward the Neches River, and the Neches River provided fish and recreaction for several generations of Burkians. The smaller streams provided opportunities to trap fur-bearing animals such as mink and raccoon and sell them into Eastern markets, and the forests provided a steady suppy of acorns for hogs and game for the dinner table.