Blue Ridge Country November/December 2020 - 33

Martin Van Buren Bates' life began traditionally enough. The family owned a large farm at Kona, on
the north fork of the Kentucky River.
There John and Sarah Bates raised a
family of seven boys and five girls,
with Martin being the baby. He was
apparently of unremarkable size at
birth.
But beginning at about age seven,
Martin began to grow. And grow.
And grow some more. Soon it was
impossible to deny that he was going to be bigger than his big brothers and sisters, not to mention his
parents. By the time he was 13 he
weighed 300 pounds and was as tall
as a man.
He would continue to grow until
he was 28 years old, ending up at
what he touted to be 7 feet, 11 inches tall, with a well-distributed weight
of 525 pounds. It was said that one
of his boots could hold a half-bushel
of shelled corn, about 28 pounds of
the grain.
HARVARD UNIVERSITY, HOUGHTON LIBRARY
Despite his mammoth size, Bates'
Anna Swan, from Nova Scotia, Canada, was
adult life began in a normal patan accomplished performer before she met her
tern for the time. He traveled across
would-be husband.
the Kentucky line to Washington
County, Virginia, to attend Emory
& Henry College, then becoming
a schoolteacher. Not long after the Civil marksman who performed his "shootist"
War began, he left the profession to enlist show on the back of a galloping horse
as a private in the 5th Kentucky Infantry. while aiming at targets with his pistol.
His huge size soon caught the attention Wright, also known as Devil John Wright
of opposing Union troops, who referred and later known as the most famous U. S.
to the Confederate giant as a man large Marshal in Eastern Kentucky, was also the
enough to make five men, with the fight inspiration for the character of Devil Judd
of 50. He and his unit saw action through- Tolliver in the book "Trail of the Loneout the Appalachian mountains of Virgin- some Pine" by John Fox, Jr.
Martin Van Buren Bates made the ciria, Kentucky and Tennessee, distinguishing himself enough to be made a Captain. cus his home for the next five years, travIt was at one of the numerous battles at the Cumberland Gap that he was
wounded and captured, then sent off to
be imprisoned at Camp Chase in Ohio. He
didn't stay there for long, as he managed
to escape and make his way back to his
unit to fight another day.
When the war ended, Bates made his
way to Cincinnati, where he began to
capitalize on his size. He joined the John
Robinson Circus and its "Cabinet of Curiosities"-the sideshow or "freak show."
Along with Bates came his cousin, John
Wright, who joined the same circus as a

eling throughout North America under the watchful eye of his promoter,
Judge H. P. Ingalls. And it was Ingalls
who brought the Kentucky River Giant the greatest gift of his life.
He and Ingalls were talking about
organizing a tour of Europe, to introduce Bates and his great stature to
the people of that continent. Finally, Bates accepted Ingalls' European
tour plan, and in 1871 Bates traveled
to Elizabeth, New Jersey to finalize
the plan.
While there, Ingalls introduced
his client to the ultimate showman,
P. T. Barnum. With Barnum was one
of his sideshow attractions, Anna
Swan, of Nova Scotia, Canada, reputed to be the tallest woman in the
world and, in fact, a few inches taller than Bates. The two fell in love,
and before the end of the year, Miss
Swan would become Mrs. Bates.
The tour with Anna was a triumph. Here are some entries from
Martin Van Buren Bates' journal referring to his time with Anna on the
tour:
April 22, 1871, couple left New
York on the City of Brussels of the
Inman Line accompanied by Judge
H. P. Ingalls.
May 2, 1871, arrived at Liverpool, and
spent a week at the Washington Hotel.
May 19, 1871, arrived in London and
gave a reception at the Willis Rooms on
Kings Street to editors and medical men
exclusively.
May 29, 1871, gave first public reception at same place.
June 2, 1871, Ordered by royal command to appear before Her Most Gracious
Majesty, Queen Victoria, at Buckingham

By the time he was 13 he
weighed 300 pounds and was as
tall as a man.

NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2020

33



Blue Ridge Country November/December 2020

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Blue Ridge Country November/December 2020 - Cover1
Blue Ridge Country November/December 2020 - Cover2
Blue Ridge Country November/December 2020 - 3
Blue Ridge Country November/December 2020 - 4
Blue Ridge Country November/December 2020 - 5
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Blue Ridge Country November/December 2020 - Cover3
Blue Ridge Country November/December 2020 - Cover4
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