The area was originally settled by ranchers as early as 1856, it was known by some locals as Nesterville. By 1880, the town had a small store with a population of 132. From 1882 until 1903, a post office operated there under the designation Gilbert, named after the north Texas pioneer Mabel Gilbert.
In 1906, a nearby wealthy rancher named Samuel Burk Burnett sold more than 16,000 acres (65 km²) of his land in northern Wichita County to a group of investors who were seeking to extend into the wheat-growing area of Western Oklahoma the Wichita Falls and Northwestern Railway, one of the Frank Kell/Joseph A. Kemp properties based in Wichita Falls.
Within Burnett’s former land near the railroad, lots were auctioned off the following year and a post office was established. The town was named Burkburnett by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, who visited the area for a wolf hunt that was hosted by the wealthy rancher Burnett.
In 1912, oil was discovered west of the town attracting thousands to the area and by 1918, an approximate twenty-thousand people had settled around the oilfield. This part of the town’s history was chronicled in the film, Boom Town with Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy. The Great Depression would have a negative impact on the town’s population, which would be boosted again in 1941 as Sheppard Air Force Base would be established nearby.