Yale, Kansas: A Small Southeast Kansas Mining Town in Life and Death

Southeast Kansas was home to numerous coal, zinc, and lead mines in the late 19th into the 20th centuries. The mines attracted workers to the area to become miners, many from eastern European countries, giving the region the nickname “Little Balkans.” With the opening of the mines, various mining towns, communities, and camps were established. But as mines played out and closed, some of these communities virtually disappeared. However, some survived to become incorporated towns and cities, while others hung on with just a minimum of residents, becoming unincorporated communities. One small mining community in Crawford County, Kansas, was Yale. Yale was located approximately 7 miles northeast of the present town of Pittsburg, Kansas, and close to the Missouri state line. Founded by the Western Coal and Mining Company in the late 1880s, Yale had grown by the early 20th century into a town with a post office, stores, schools, a doctor, and several buildings and homes for the miners and their families. The Missouri-Pacific Railroad even ran through the town. A union strike in 1899 resulted in many non-union African-American miners being brought to the area to work in the mines, and many stayed after the strike had been settled. The mines began closing in the 1930s and 1940s, and miners, along with their families, moved away. The public school in Yale closed in 1947. Several popular chicken restaurants opened in Yale in the 1930s and 1940s, by two sisters, and they are still in business today, and along with these, the only other structures remaining in Yale are some homes and several farms.

An African-American cemetery was established close to Yale, for the African-American miners and their families. It is a short distance from where Yale had been, but just over the state line into Barton County, Missouri. The pictures in this collection show some of the original homes and buildings of Yale, Kansas, as well as the unfortunate neglect and decline of the Yale Cemetery. Attempts in the last decades have been made to restore the cemetery but unfortunately resources and time have come in short supply leaving the cemetery vulnerable to the ravages of time and vandalism. Tombstones have been broken or stolen, and often nature takes over the cemetery leaving it all but invisible under the growth. Debbie Swindle and Dan Knaup have both been involved with the restoration of the Yale Cemetery, and their photographs of the cemetery show the condition and the results of their care. Debbie Swindle has created a list of Yale residents buried in the Yale Cemetery, and also documented news items from the Pittsburg newspapers of the early 20th century, and these transcriptions show the uncertainty and inconsistency of name spellings, disease spellings, and occasional terms for African-Americans which today are not used in proper journalism or common usage.


Browse the Yale African American Cemetery Collection:

Yale African American Cemetery Documents

Yale African American Cemetery Photographs