Martin Van Buren Bates, the Kentucky River Giant

donna

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
May 12, 2010
Location
Now Florida but always a Kentuckian
I first read about Martin Van Buren Bates in book, "Clowns and Cannons". After the war Mr. Bates was part of several circuses and toured, all of U.S., Europe and Canada.

Martin Van Buren Bates was born on Nov. 9, 1837 or as Mr. Bates claims 1845, in Letcher County, Ky. He was born of normal sized parents. However, he began to grow rapidly. By the time he was full grown it is said he was seven feet eleven inches tall and weighted about 500 pounds. Because of his size he was known as the "Kentucky River Giant", "Giant of the South", and "Baby". The nickname "Baby" was given to him when he was eleven years old and weighted 170 pounds. The others he got later.

Bates enlisted in the Confederate Army as a private. He won a battlefield promotion and became a Captain before the end of the war. He joined the 5th Kentucky Infantry in 1861. He was transferred to the cavalry . In the fall and winter of 1862-63 his unit was instrumental in breaking up lawless guerrilla bands that were a menace to the mountain regions. Later under Humphrey Marshall's command, he was captured in a raid at Pound Gap. "When as a prisoner of war being taken through the town of Louisa, Ky., en route to Camp Chase, Ohio, he was observed astride a small mule, his feet sweeping the ground as he rode."



It was said that his fame spread through the Yankee units. They talked about "that Confederate Giant who was as big as five men and fights like fifty". After the war he returned to Kentucky. Soon after, he left Kentucky and went to Cincinnati were he joined a circus. He became the star of the show. He traveled throughout the eastern part of U.S and parts of Canada. There he met his future wife, Anna Hannon Swan, known as "Giantess of Nova Scotia" who was eight feet tall, She also became part of the circus.

Martin and Anna were married in London, England. Their wedding was watched by many. They were received by Queen Victoria. She gave them both watches the size of saucers. They were gold, studded with diamonds, and worth $1000 a piece, a fabulous sum for the time.

The Bates returned to U.S in 1874. They settled in Ohio. He wanted to farm. However, he again joined the circus, the leading attraction of the W.W. Cole Circus during the seasons 1878, 1879, and 1880. They had had two children, both who died as infants. They were very large too and didn't survive.

Anna Bates died in 1888. He again married. His second wife, Annette LaVonne Weatherby was a normal sized lady. Martin Bates died on Jan. 7, 1919 in Medina County, Ohio. He is buried in Mound Hill Cemetery in Medina County, Ohio.

Information from:

"Clowns and Cannons The American Circus During the Civil War", by William L. Stout.

"The Giant of the Hills: Martin Van Buren Bates" at http://www.tngenweb.org/scott/fnb_v7n2_martin_van_buren_bates.htm


He also has memorial on Find A Grave at:
http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=6194083
 

CSA Today

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Joined
Dec 3, 2011
Location
Laurinburg NC
I first read about Martin Van Buren Bates in book, "Clowns and Cannons". After the war Mr. Bates was part of several circuses and toured, all of U.S., Europe and Canada.

Martin Van Buren Bates was born on Nov. 9, 1837 or as Mr. Bates claims 1845, in Letcher County, Ky. He was born of normal sized parents. However, he began to grow rapidly. By the time he was full grown it is said he was seven feet eleven inches tall and weighted about 500 pounds. Because of his size he was known as the "Kentucky River Giant", "Giant of the South", and "Baby". The nickname "Baby" was given to him when he was eleven years old and weighted 170 pounds. The others he got later.

Bates enlisted in the Confederate Army as a private. He won a battlefield promotion and became a Captain before the end of the war. He joined the 5th Kentucky Infantry in 1861. He was transferred to the cavalry . In the fall and winter of 1862-63 his unit was instrumental in breaking up lawless guerrilla bands that were a menace to the mountain regions. Later under Humphrey Marshall's command, he was captured in a raid at Pound Gap. "When as a prisoner of war being taken through the town of Louisa, Ky., en route to Camp Chase, Ohio, he was observed astride a small mule, his feet sweeping the ground as he rode."



It was said that his fame spread through the Yankee units. They talked about "that Confederate Giant who was as big as five men and fights like fifty". After the war he returned to Kentucky. Soon after, he left Kentucky and went to Cincinnati were he joined a circus. He became the star of the show. He traveled throughout the eastern part of U.S and parts of Canada. There he met his future wife, Anna Hannon Swan, known as "Giantess of Nova Scotia" who was eight feet tall, She also became part of the circus.

Martin and Anna were married in London, England. Their wedding was watched by many. They were received by Queen Victoria. She gave them both watches the size of saucers. They were gold, studded with diamonds, and worth $1000 a piece, a fabulous sum for the time.

The Bates returned to U.S in 1874. They settled in Ohio. He wanted to farm. However, he again joined the circus, the leading attraction of the W.W. Cole Circus during the seasons 1878, 1879, and 1880. They had had two children, both who died as infants. They were very large too and didn't survive.

Anna Bates died in 1888. He again married. His second wife, Annette LaVonne Weatherby was a normal sized lady. Martin Bates died on Jan. 7, 1919 in Medina County, Ohio. He is buried in Mound Hill Cemetery in Medina County, Ohio.

Information from:

"Clowns and Cannons The American Circus During the Civil War", by William L. Stout.

"The Giant of the Hills: Martin Van Buren Bates" at http://www.tngenweb.org/scott/fnb_v7n2_martin_van_buren_bates.htm


He also has memorial on Find A Grave at:
http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=6194083

At 500 pounds I pity his poor horse after he joined the cavalry – it must have been something like a Clydesdale.
 

brass napoleon

Colonel
Retired Moderator
Member of the Year
Honored Fallen Comrade
Joined
Feb 6, 2010
Location
Ohio
He's buried about 25 miles away from me in the quaint little town of Seville, Ohio. In fact I just did a bike ride past his grave a few days ago. Had I known there would have been a thread on him, I would have taken a picture (although I swear I have a picture around somewhere already). It's a very impressive monument. Always well-tended, with a CBF tactfully displayed. There's a historical marker to him and his wife in the town also.
 

luinrina

2nd Lieutenant
Silver Patron
Joined
Jul 30, 2018
Location
Germany
I remember we had a trivia question about him.

Here's a picture of him and his wife Anna:
Martin Van Buren Bates and wife.jpg

Source: http://yeahpot.com/bates/giant.php which contains more pictures of Martin Van Buren Bates
 

Mike Serpa

Major
Joined
Jan 24, 2013
She gave birth to largest baby ever recorded. Her Wikipedia entry: "The baby was born on January 18, 1879, and survived only 11 hours.[6] He was the largest newborn ever recorded, at 23 pounds 9 ounces (10.7 kg) and nearly 30 inches tall (ca. 75 cm); each of his feet was six inches (152 mm) long.[7]For this he was posthumously awarded a Guinness World Record.[8]"
(She also has the the record for the largest something else that goes along with giving birth to the world's largest baby.)
 

JonnyReb_In_MI

Corporal
Joined
Nov 16, 2016
Location
Southeast Michigan
Martin Van Buren Bates was born on Nov. 9, 1837 or as Mr. Bates claims 1845, in Letcher County, Ky.
...
He also has memorial on Find A Grave at:
http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=6194083

Thanks for keeping his memory alive with this post, Donna. The place where he was born & where his family lived is in the area of Kentucky where I have property that I vacation at every summer. His sister Margaret is the oldest marked grave in my Mom's family cemetery (where my Dad is buried, and where Mom & I will both eventually be buried). While I share no blood relation to him, my gg-granduncle was married to his niece.
 

TnFed

First Sergeant
Joined
Jun 18, 2018
Thanks for keeping his memory alive with this post, Donna. The place where he was born & where his family lived is in the area of Kentucky where I have property that I vacation at every summer. His sister Margaret is the oldest marked grave in my Mom's family cemetery (where my Dad is buried, and where Mom & I will both eventually be buried). While I share no blood relation to him, my gg-granduncle was married to his niece.
His nephew "Devil John Wright" a famous lawman in Letcher County was portrayed in the movie...Trail of the Lonesome Pine..
Under another name.

Wright was also in the Carnival with Martin Bates. He was a trick shot artist.
 
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