Dennis A. Burke: Early Prescott Mover and Shaker

By Susan Cypert

Prescott hotel owner Dennis A. Burke (third from left) during William Randolph Hearst’s trip through the West, 1903

For Dennis A. Burke, the words “Go West, young man” became the impetus he needed to leave his home and follow his dreams. Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1859, he was the son of Patrick and Mary Ann Burke, immigrants from Galway, Ireland. To get west, Dennis enlisted in the Army in 1878 and was assigned to Company B, 12th Infantry Regiment during the Indian Wars. He first served at Fort Verde, Arizona Territory, and was promoted to Corporal and then to Sergeant. Before his discharge in 1882, he served at Whipple Barracks in Prescott.

Once out of the Army, Dennis continued at Fort Whipple as a civilian clerk/accountant. There he met an Irish girl named Jennie Murphy working as a nanny for a Colonel’s family. They were married at Sacred Heart Church on January 4th, 1883. Dennis and Jennie continued to live at Fort Whipple until about 1890.

In 1890 Dennis and his partner, Michael J. Hickey, purchased two lots on the southwest corner of Montezuma and Gurley Streets and hired a Phoenix architect, Samuel E. Patton, to design a two-story hotel. Hickey, an Irish immigrant, had arrived in Prescott in 1883 and served as a deputy sheriff three separate times under Jacob Henkle, M.J. Mulvenon and finally, Buckey O’Neill.

Prescott businessman and hotel keeper Michael J. Hickey, 1880s

Construction proceeded quickly, and the new Burke Hotel opened with much fanfare on New Year’s Day, 1891. It was designed in a remarkable forward-thinking manner, with bedrooms “single and en suite,” furnished in the latest style. It was billed as the “Finest, Largest, and Best Appointed Hotel in Northern Arizona.”

It immediately became THE place to stay for political and theatrical celebrities. Mine owners and cattlemen held their meetings there and, by 1892, its elegant lobby became a popular venue for weddings. In 1893 Burke and Hickey hired two ladies from California to take charge of the dining room. Later ads reassured hotel customers that the hotel “employs none but white help in the kitchen,” an unfortunate reflection of the Territory’s continuing racism.

Then came July 14, 1900. A roaring fire raged along Whiskey Row and Gurley, consuming not only the hotel which had advertised itself as the only “fireproof” hotel, but also the Palace Saloon, the Bashford-Burmister Company store and many other businesses.

When reconstruction of the hotel began in 1901, the owners installed a large number of fire extinguishers and iron fire escapes at the ends of the hallways. In 1907, Burke sold his interest in the hotel to Hickey, who rechristened it the Hotel St. Michael.

However, Dennis’ professional life had not involved just the hotel. Over the years he invested in a number of mining ventures and served the public interest at the town, county and territorial legislature levels. He served as Mayor of Prescott in 1903 and 1905, two terms as the Yavapai County Treasurer in 1897-1900, and in the Territorial Seventeenth Legislative Assembly in 1893-1895. He was again elected to serve with the Twenty-fourth Territorial Assembly in 1907-1909.

After Dennis sold his share of the hotel, he moved to Bouse in Yuma County (now La Paz County) with several of his children while Jennie remained in Prescott with several of their other children. He opened another Burke Hotel there and, in 1917 while sleeping on a cot at the hotel, was stung by a poisonous insect, believed to be a scorpion. The wound on his hand didn’t heal, so he moved back to Prescott in the summer of 1918. In June of 1918 he was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis and his health rapidly declined. Dennis Burke passed away on November 3, 1918 and was interred in the family plot at Citizen’s Cemetery next to his son Dennis Jr. who died in 1898.

View of Gurley Street, looking west toward Thumb Butte. The Burke Hotel is pictured on the southwest corner of Montezuma Street (left side of photo), c.1891-1895.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at archives.sharlothallmuseum.org/articles/days-past-articles/1. The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles and inquiries to dayspast@sharlothallmuseum.org. Please contact SHM Research Center reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 2, or via email at archivesrequest@sharlothallmuseum.org for information or assistance with photo requests.

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