Mahaska County Histories

The Negro Cemeteries

[History of Evans Cemetery]

[Unsigned letter dated September 8, 1979, author inferred to be Pearl Morgan, b. 9 July 1897 – d. 17 May 1983.]

The real history of the Negro Cemeteries in this locality should be written to prevent mistakes in their historical facts. The Oskaloosa Daily Herald recently published a story that a high school student had found at Given an old Negro cemetery [Muchakinock Cemetery] where the black families of Muchakinock buried their dead many years ago. This cemetery is not as old as the one on my land west of Oskaloosa which my family has owned since 1866.

My grandparents (Mr. and Mrs. Thomas S. Jones) and family came to Oskaloosa in 1864 from Pennsylvania. The stopped at the home of a former friend who lived then in Oskaloosa. His name was John G. Jones. My grandfather, grandmother (with their small baby in arms and their three small children running at her side) and Mr John G. Jones, walked to Beacon one Sunday morning. In Beacon they remained for some time and opened a coal mine and built two houses. Then my grandfather’s family returned to Pennsylvania where they remained for two years. In 1866 just after the Civil War they returned to Mahaska County and purchased a 40-acre farm for $400 on a piece of land north of what now is Highway 163. Later they bought three more 40-acres which faced south along a little used road north of 163. Grandfather soon found coal on his farm and began selling coal.

In Frostburg, Maryland, two young men grew from childhood to manhood, William Phillips (Betty Phillips Clark’s father) and Richard Benjamin Morgan (my father). These two young men were well acquainted with W.A. McNeil and his brother H.A., although they were many years younger than the McNeil’s.

The McNeil’s came out to Iowa about the year 1872. They bought my grandfather’s mining business and began selling coal on a large scale. A branch line of the CRI&P Railroad was built from Oskaloosa to Knoxville. The McNeils leased about 1,600 of underground farm land and began shipping coal to Knoxville.

The McNeils started business in the little town of Alide in Mahaska County. Its name was changed to Knoxville Junction and later to Evans. Today Evans is an abandoned mining town of about 55 inhabitants. Once it had a thriving business and a population of about 3,000 people. A business section and a bandstand lay north of the railroad tracks. There was a band of about 25 or 30 persons. There was two while [sic] churches and one Negro church in Evans. My uncle (Rufus Fansher) owned a home in Evans and was Sheriff there. Many times, day or night, it was necessary for him to drive to Oskaloosa jail with a handcuffed criminal. The large old Head residence, Mrs. Head’s Boarding House, still stands, a faded and neglected building.

Alide was settled by miners from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, with a few persons from other European countries. These were the first miners in Evans. A mine strike broke out there. The McNeils built a number of crudely constructed and furnished houses, down by the railroad tracks. They knew of some very poor Negro families living in Virginia and had some of these families brought to Evans in coal cars, and they established them in these houses. The men and boys were employed in the mines and the women were employed in household tasks.

The first winter after the colored folks were brought to Evans, pneumonia caused many deaths among the colored people. The white people refused to permit them to bury in the while [sic] cemeteries. The McNeils secured an acre of my grandfather’s farm that lay just south of the railroad tracks and gave it to the Negros for a place to bury their dead. This ground was later returned to grandfathers [sic] farm and now I am soul owner of this cemetery.

Will Phillips’ uncle became a partner of the McNeils and so as a young man Will Phillips came out to work for the coal company in the office. My father who was about Will’s age came out to Evans at the age of 21 and was given office work under his friend’s supervision.

At a party in the home of the Marks’ who were very dear friends of the T.S. Jones family and who lived just across the road, my father met (Cambria Jones) my grandparents’ daughter and fell in love with this pretty girl at first sight. Because Mother was only sixteen years old at the request of her parents they did not marry until her 18th birthday on January 15, 1889. They had almost sixty-four years of happy life and 16 happy years living in a part of the old house on the firm [sic].

At the age of three, Mother saw them build the branch railroad and from then on she saw many persons buried in the Negro cemetery and saw many things that happen in Evans. I have told you these things so you can realize how I know so much about the establishment of the Negro cemetery.

My parents believed that children should have a good school education, so in 1905 my parents moved to Oskaloosa so they could place their little girls in a City school system. However, our life on the old farm gave us an opportunity to see and know many of those who later found a resting place in the Negro cemetery and to see many buried there. This cemetery is a real veteran cemetery as there are a number of slaves who were Civil War veterans. The white children grew up in school with the Negro children as friends. One grave in the cemetery on a marble marker is the name of a little colored girl who my Mother said the white dearly loved.

My father had lived in Virginia for a short time, so had a kindly feeling toward the colored race. The old slave that came to live in Evans called my Father, “Master Dick.” One of Father’s duties at the mines was to carry the miner’s payroll down to the Evans store. One evening as he walked down the railroad tracks he met one of these old slaves. He asked, “How are you, Elic?” The old man replied, “No very well, Masser Dick. I am going to be turning my toes up one of these day.” “Oh no,” my Father exclaimed, “you are going to live a long time yet.” Father had not been long in the store when someone rushed in and announced that old Elic had been run over with a switch engine and was killed. Father was shocked to think he had to be the last person to speak with the poor old man. Two little girls, my sister Sarah and I stood on a hill at our grandmother’s farm and watched them bury the old Negro. I can tell many stories of many buried there.

Recently a friend and I walked over the old cemetery looking for the few stones that remain there with names I could remember. Among them I found the monument of the little girl my Mother knew that the white children loved so much. However, weather has destroyed some of the stones and other stones, especially the marble ones have been carried off by vandals who have gone there without permission.

Transcriptionist’s note:
"Elic", the man killed by the train, is most likelyAlexander Dickerson
Transcribed by Susie Keller-McCain, October 2023