Old Phil, veteran barber

Part I

Southwest Minnesota has experienced racial diversity over the past few years as food processing plants and other industry provided jobs for new immigrants from Somalia, Mexico, Central America, India and China. Besides Native American Indians that called southwest Minnesota home for centuries before the Caucasians arrived and took over the land, were there any people of color living in this area? It is difficult to find any reference to people of color in our history books — but thanks to newspapers that record day-to-day or week-to-week information about the area, we can research such information.

The following article appeared in the Nov. 23, 1906, issue of the Marshall News Messenger. This article was also printed in the May 1993 issue of The Lyon Tale, a publication of the Lyon County Historical Society. “Nearly a Century Old, O.C. Phillips Passes Away — Was Chief Cook for Zack Taylor in Mexican War — Horse Trainer, Jockey and Barber — Voted at Last Election –How He Became a Catholic.

Old Phil has been a well-known and well-liked character for 28 years in the city of Marshall. He was chiefly noted for being an old man and many reminiscences he was wont to relate as connected to his early life, and boasted association with great men in the capacity of rendering service. When he came to Marshall in 1878 he was nearly 70 years, though seeming a much younger man, and he opened up his barbershop with all the enthusiasm of a man in the prime of life.

There are many incidents he has oft related with recurring accuracy, but which are not chronicled because of a want of verification, but such as we reproduce have been run down by legally interested parties, and without doubt are correct. His age has always been of doubtful question, as from his own statements and reminiscent reveries, he would be anywhere from 100 to many more years old.

But Old Phil has chronologically been run down as follows, which shows his age as above stated: He was born March 1, 1811, on the farm of John Bouden in Chatham County, N.C. He was a free born colored man of mixed parentage, his mother being a white woman of Scotch nationality, named Charity Phillips, and his father was a colored man named Moses Harper, who died when at the age of 50 years. He was a free Negro. The mother died when Oliver was born. The father and mother never were married. John Bouden, at whose home Oliver Phillips was born, had lived with the Harper woman for 20 years prior to [Oliver’s] birth, and he was a white man, or rather, a Portuguese The child Oliver remained with Bouden until 12 years old, when he entered the service of a farmer and horseman named Aaron Lindsley, who raised racing horses in Morgan County, Ind., and the boy drove team for him. He remained two years, thence to Louisville, Ky., Cincinnati, Covington, Ky., Springfield, Ohio and Pittsburgh, Pa. Phillips then accompanied Lindsley to Wisconsin, locating some 30 miles west of Sparta, remaining there three months, then going to Oshkosh, where they remained 16 months, and during this period young Phillips did some work around barbershops and at waiting on tables. After 14 years with Lindlsey young Phillips left him, and was the owner of three racehorses, with which he again went south.

In 1845 during the war with Mexico Phillips, then at New Orleans, got in connection with the army and for a year-and-a-half was chief cook for Gen. Zack Taylor, and was with him in Mexico. After the war he returned north and was for several years conducting barbershops in Richmond, Washington and other cities. It was during this period that it was his boast that he had the honor of shaving and waiting on the table for John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster and other notable men. Soon after this time Phillips returned to Wisconsin, locating at Fond du Lac, and then he had a wandering period as a barber going from Buffalo, where he remained three years, then to Cincinnati, Wheeling and back to Buffalo, where he remained during the period of the Civil War from 1861 to 1865. He then went to Oshkosh, Wis., and was there married to Clorian Doader in the summer of 1865, conducting a barbershop for four years, when he removed to Green Bay, stayed four years, then to St. Paul, was there three years, then at Winona for two years, when he located in Marshall in 1878, where he has since remained. His first wife having died several years previous, he was again married in Marshall, in the spring of 1881 to a woman with whom he lived four years and was then divorced.

(To be continued)