9 Jun 2011
Biographical Index to History of Whiteside County, IL 1908
By William W. Davis, M. A.
Vol I & II
The Pioneer Publishing Co., 1908
Reprinted by Higginson Book Co., Salem, MA
PETER E. BURKE
The history of Peter E. Burke, now one of the substantial and prosperous agriculturist of Tampico Township, is that of a self-made man, who at the age of seventeen years started out I life for himself and has since been dependent upon his own efforts. Obstacles and difficulties have blocked his path and in the face of disasters which would utterly have disheartened many a man of less resolute spirit he has shown the strongest determination and the most commendable courage. Retrieving the losses caused by tornado and fire and gradually making orderly progress he stands today as one of the men of affluence in Whiteside County, respected and honored by all who know him for what he has accomplished.
He was born in Buckingham, Canada, June 29, 1850, his parents being Michael and Mary (Carden) Burke, both of whom were natives of Ireland. In early life the father crossed the Atlantic to Canada to secure a location and then returned to Ireland, where he organized a colony which he brought with him to the new world in the early ‘30’s. He located at Buckingham in the midst of a very heavily timbered region and there he married and established his home, building a log cabin. He split staves from the timber to cover the roof and had no floor in the little dwelling. A fireplace in one end of the room served to heat the house, while over the wire hung kettles in which were prepared the meals. Mr. Burke began the arduous and difficult tasks of clearing a tract of the land and preparing it for the corps. Much of the timber was burned in order to quickly get rid of it, but the ashes of the hard timber were saved and sold to make potash. This was all the means they had for bringing in a little ready money the first year. For three years Mr. and Mrs. Burke lived in their tine log cabin, which was destitute of many of the comforts of life, but during that time he prospered and was then able to build a two-story house, partly of frame and partly of logs. He also purchased a stove in which could be burned a four-foot stick of wood. It seemed then that this was a great luxury, being in sharp contrast to the methods which they had previously been following for cooking and also for heating the house. Year by year the conditions of pioneer life were replaced by those of modern civilization and the father continuously carried on the farm work until his death in 1853. The following year the mother came to Illinois with her son Peter and one daughter and remained a resident of this state until her demise in 1877. In the family were six children, but four of the number died in infancy, the sister of our subject being Katherine, now the widow of Owen McCabe, and a resident of Tampico, Illinois.
Peter E. Burke was only three years old at the time of his father’s death and was a little lad of four years when brought by his mother to Illinois. Here he was reared and at the age of seventeen he started out in life on his own account, renting a farm a farm which he cultivated for four year. On the expiration of that period he turned his attention to merchandising, opening a grocery and queens ware business in Tampico, in which he was very successful, soon building up a large trade. During the second year, however, a tornado struck the little town of Tampico and demolished his store, upon which he carried no insurance. He made a second start, however, and rebuilt the store. In 1874, however, disaster again overtook him, this time a fire breaking out and destroying his store, which however, rose, Phoenixlike, from the ashes. With undaunted courage and determination he again embarked in business, which he successfully carried on until 1886, in the meantime securing a large and profitable trade. In the year mentioned he disposed of his store and turned his attention to general agricultural pursuits, purchasing eighty acres of land on section 25, Tampico Township, where he now resides. As the years have passed he has added to his realty holdings until he now owns three hundred and thirty-three acres in this county. He is now engaged in general farming and also makes a specialty of raising and feeding stock. Both branches of his business are carefully conducted and from his property he derives a good annual income.
Mr. Burke was married April 4, 1872, to Miss Elizabeth C. Graham, who was born in the state of New York, Mary 31, 1853, a daughter of James and Mary Ann (Sterling) Graham, who were natives of Ireland and came to America in the early ‘50s. Their family numbered three children: Alford J., now living in Bureau County, Illinois; Mrs. Burke; and Caroline, the wife of Frank Adams, of Bureau County. The parents are both now deceased. Unto Mr. and Mrs. Burke were born five children: James S. who received his education in the public schools of county William, who is a graduate of the Tampico high school; Mary V.; Caroline M.; and Katherine, who attended the Lyons Seminary, at Lyons, Iowa. Katherine completed the entire course, graduating not only from the literary department but also from the department of music of that institution. The death of the wife and mother occurred November 29, 1904, and was the occasion of deep regret to many friends as well as to her immediate family.
Mr. Burke and his children are members of the Catholic Church. In politics he has always been a democrat, but never an office-seeker, although he served as drainage commissioner for several years. He has a wide acquaintance in the village of Tampico and throughout this section of the county and is justly respected for what he has accomplished and the honorable, straightforward business methods he has followed.