Saturday, December 11, 2010



Mark Cane First Black Barber In Sleepy Eye



Old-Timers used to reminisce about the black slave who became a barber in Sleepy Eye and New Ulm, Mark Cane.

Mark Cane enjoyed telling about the time that Abraham Lincoln visited a slave market in Alabama when he was campaigning for the Presidency.  One of the slaves with whom he spoke  to was a teenage boy  who never forgot him.  It was the high point in young Mark Cane’s life and he always had a picture of Abraham Lincoln in his shop.  When Mark Cane left Sleepy Eye he went west until he reached the coast.

The Sleepy Eye Herald Dispatch wrote an article in their paper around the time Mark Cane left Sleepy Eye, they wrote the following article on him;

Mark Cane, your old reliable barber, has decided to dispose of his property in Sleepy Eye and move to another part of the country more agreeable to the health of his wife.  For a long time his wife has been very near an invalid and by the advice of physicians he will have to go to a warmer climate.  He therefore offers his residence with the lot and his household furniture for sale.  His brother shop and business will also be sold.  Mr. Cane has been a resident of Sleepy Eye for over 20 years, coming here in February 1879, and with the  exception of a few months conducted a barber shop.

Since 1865 he has been a resident of this state, residing at Rochester that year, afterwards moving to New Ulm in 1871.  Up to 1865 Mr. Cane has quite an eventful history.  He was born in Prairie County, South Carolina, on February 10th, 1840.  His master’s name was John D. Williams.  As a young man he was sold to a southern planter and was engaged in making breastworks (barrier for defense) at Mobile, Alabama, in 1865 when the rebels surrendered to the Northern troops.
Among short items one year was the note that Mark Cane had bought a third barber chair because his son was coming here to Sleepy Eye.  The son had a wife and three children.  No further notice was found.

Another story tells of Mark Cane being friendly with Northern soldiers and being brought by them to Minnesota when they returned to Fort Snelling to be mustered (inspected) out.

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The Census of 1880 states that Mark Cane was 37 years old, he was a barber, his wife was Eliza 55, he had a son James age 22 who was also a barber.

Records indicated that Mark Cane was in Sleepy Eye from 1879 - 1892 but how much earlier or later is uncertain unless one takes a great deal of time searching old newspapers.  A church cookbook published in 1892 has his advertisement in it.  A member of the Cane family is buried in Home Cemetery.

When the Zechetzeches owned a bakery on the north side of the rail road tracks, Mrs. Zecketzech needed surgery on her eyes but the family could not afford it at the time.  Mark Cane collected enough money, $45.00, around town to make the operation possible.