Legacy of a Civil War Veteran Will Be Kept Alive by Historians in Moorhead

Before his death in 1907, a man known as "The Pioneer Barber of the Red River Valley" lived a historical life that went beyond haircuts.

MOORHEAD, Minn. — More than a century after his death, the legacy of Civil War veteran Felix Battles is being kept alive by historians in Moorhead.

KVRR’s Tim Scott tells us how many people are excited for a statue that honors one of the first African-American settlers in the metro.

Before his death in 1907, a man known as “The Pioneer Barber of the Red River Valley” lived a historical life that went beyond haircuts.

“During this time, it is very probable that very few knew he was a veteran of the Civil War, but such is a fact,” said Markus Krueger, with the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County.

Born on a cotton plantation outside of Memphis, Felix Battles escaped from slavery and served for two years in the Civil War as a member of the United States Colored Infantry, rising to the rank of corporal.

He eventually made his way to Moorhead while working for the Northern Pacific Railway, where he became a barber until his death.

“To know that we have a member of the United States Colored Troops in Moorhead who lived three blocks from my house is just interesting to me,” Krueger said.

For the last thirty years, historians, including Markus Krueger for nearly the last decade, have been fascinated with the life of Felix Battles.

For Krueger, the connection is personal.

“Felix is my friend. He’s never met me, but when I go on a walk by his house most every day, and I just almost say hi to him, sometimes I actually say ‘Hi Felix.,” Krueger said.

This connection, as well as the nationwide debate on how to properly commemorate the Civil War, inspired Krueger to think of ways to honor Moorhead’s Civil War hero.

“I got to thinking the only one who deserves a statue more than Robert E. Lee is Felix Battles and I was like, well, why don’t we make a statue of Felix Battles?” Krueger said.

But without any pictures of Battles to craft the statue around, Krueger, an artist in his spare time, had to get creative.

He used a photo of an unnamed African-American soldier during the Civil War, and used that as a model to bring Battles to life.

After raising more than $1,000 for the statue in two days, the only hurdle for Krueger to jump is to find Battles a perfect home.

“Where do you put a permanent sculpture in downtown Moorhead? I love the revitalization and I’m excited for it, but in the beginning, there’s a lot of things up in the air,” Krueger said.

It was in this parking lot on the campus of MSUM where Felix Battles’s house once stood. Krueger and the Historical Society are looking at places across Moorhead to put the statue, including a place on the campus of MSUM just yards from where Felix Battles used to call home.

As a barber just blocks from where Battles’s old barber shop used to stand, Tina Troje loves the idea of keeping Felix’s legacy alive with a statue.

“My older clientele that come in and say ‘I remember back in the day this and back in the day that’, and now the Felix Battles statue will be another great conversation here to barbers and to Moorhead,” said Tina Troje, a barber at Deluxe Barber Shop.

Once this statue is ultimately installed, Krueger thinks it will be a piece of history that everyone can appreciate.

“There are so many people rooting for Felix, and it’s going to be Moorhead’s statue,” Krueger said.

Krueger is talking with officials with the city and MSUM about possible locations for the statue.

He is hoping the hole where the statue will be mounted is dug before winter.

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