The Burke area entered recorded history with the arrival of Indian trader Tom Bradley from San Augustine. After his clerk was killed by an angry Indian named Harry Popher, Tom Bradley and his trading post disappeared from history except to leave the name Bradley Prairie.
In the late 1840s cattlemen, such as James Ashworth, arrived and began raising cattle in the longleaf pine savannah in Pine Valley. They took their cattle to market, first to New Orleans and later Fort Worth and Kansas, via the Opelousas Trail that passed through Pine Valley.
A few farmers such as the Fairchilds and Guinns arrived before the Civil War, but the trickle became a flood afterwards. The arrivals included the Ryans, Weelks, Cragers, McCalls, McCartys, and Arringtons. Because of its rich soil, Burke became a prosperious cotton growing region.
The relative isolation of Bradley Prairie was broken with arrival of the Houston East & West Texas Railway from Houston in 1881. A town initially named Rhodes sprang us and for a brief time was the main commercial center in Southwest Angelina County, attracting families such as the Treadwells, Spiveys and Rushes from other areas of the county. Rhodes became Burke in 1886, named for Edmund Burke, the man who directed the railroad survey.
Burke eventually was overshadowed by the later-founded Lufkin and Diboll. It continued as a minor commercial center with such businesses as the Burke and McCall Store up until about 1920. In the 1920s the automobile came to Burke and garages and service stations such as those run by Paul Kellow, Bob Weisinger, and Jim Spears provided the main business in Burke. Eventually even the service statioins were gone by the 1980s, and Burke is now a bedroom community for people working in Lufkin and Diboll.