The town of Krebs is located three miles east of McAlester in Pittsburg County on U.S. Highway 270 and State Highway 31. The town name honors a mixed-blood Choctaw, Judge Edmond Folsom Krebs. Krebs began as a small coal-mining camp inhabited by English and Irish miners. Italians, other Europeans, and Mexicans were later recruited to work in the Indian Territory mines. In 1875 the first mine opened, and by 1895 fifteen operated in the area. In 1892 tragedy struck when a mine explosion killed approximately one hundred miners. In 1898 the first local of the United Mine Workers in Indian Territory was founded in the town. The Choctaw Railway and Lighting Company ran an interurban line between McAlester and the outlying coal towns, including Krebs.
Krebs offered typical small-town amenities of the early twentieth century. In 1899 the Eagle became the town's first newspaper. It was succeeded by the Cyclone, the Banner, the Advertiser, and the Oklahoma Miner. In 1882 a tornado destroyed many homes and killed several people. In 1904 the first public school was opened. Before this, a Catholic school had educated many of the miners' children. St. Joseph's Catholic Church, founded in 1885, served many of the foreign-born residents. In 1911 the town boasted a bank, fifteen general stores, ten grocers, three pool halls, a lawyer, a blacksmith, three restaurants, and three drugstores, among other small businesses.
Census figures reveal the community's and the surrounding county's ethnic variety. The 1910 population was 2,884. In that year Italians numbered 1,398 in Pittsburg County, with many living in Krebs, the principal Italian colony in the state. In 1920 the U.S. Census reported 2,078 people in the town. In 1900 the Choctaw Nation census had found only twenty-three Mexican families, but by 1920 there were 343 Mexicans in Pittsburg County alone. Most worked in the local mines. In 1940 the population stood at 1,436. The figure dropped to 1,342 in 1960 before slowly gaining to 1,754 in 1980.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, although mining had long ago ended, there remained many signs of the early immigrants, including historic buildings, traditional foods and activities enjoyed at the nearby McAlester Italian Festival, and a number of long-running businesses, such as Pete's Place and Lovera's Grocery, serving Italian food. The St. Joseph's Catholic Church building (NR 80003296) and Hokey's Drugstore (NR 79002020) have been added to the National Register of Historic Places. The 2000 population was 2,051 residents.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Kenny Brown, "Peaceful Progress: An Account of the Italians of Krebs, Oklahoma," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 53 (Fall 1975). Stanley Clark, "Immigrants in the Choctaw Coal Industry," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 33 (Winter 1955-56). Pittsburg County, Oklahoma: People and Places (McAlester, Okla.: Pittsburg County Historical and Genealogical Society, 1997).
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