Martin Van Buren Bates
The Kentucky River Giant


    Martin Van  Buren Bates was born November 9, 1837 in Letcher County, Kentucky at  the mouth of Boone Fork of the North Fork of the Kentucky River where Kona is now located.  He was the youngest child of John Wallis Bates and Sarah Waltrip and had eleven brothers and sisters.
    Martin, according to all reports, was a normal sized child until about the age of seven.  He grew so rapidly his parents would not permit him to do much work for fear he would die.  By 13, he weighed 300 pounds and he continued to grow until his height was proportionate to his weight.
    As a young man, Martin obtained a teaching certificate and taught school in a small log schoolhouse in a "holler" just above the Bates farm.
    On 1 November 1861 Martin joined the confederate Army at Whitesburg, Kentucky as a Private in Company F. of the 5th Kentucky Infantry for a 12 month term.  He then joined Company A of French's Battalion of Virginia Infantry as 1st Lt.  After being captured in Pike County, Kentucky he was taken to Camp Chase, Ohio and then to Point Lookout, MD and was exchanged on 17 May 1863.  Martin then joined his brother's Robert Bates, Company A of the 7th Battalion Confederate Cavalry as a 1st Lt.  He resigned 19 July 1864.  His resignation was approved on 29 July 1864 by Col. Clarence Prentice who noted his "extraordinary size" and John H. Morgan on 28 August 1864.  Martin did not leave the service after his resignation and is mentioned in official correspondence on 26 March 1865.

Battle of Middle Creek     10 June 1862
Second Battle of Cynthiana    11-12 June 1864
Battle near Cumberland Gap

    After the war Martin returned to his home in Kentucky for a short time.  He told friends and relatives that he could not stay because he wanted no part of the feuding and fighting in the mountains. He and his nephew-, "Bad John" Wright traveled to Cincinnati where he joined the Robinsons Circus.  Martin exhibited himself and read poetry while "Bad John" was billed as a sharpshooter/trick rider.  While Martin was traveling with the circus he met a young woman who was also associated with the show.  She was the young giantess from Nova Scotia, Anna Swan.  Anna and Martin were married in Europe 17 June 1871 at St. Martins-in-The Field, London, England.  They continued to exhibit themselves in Europe.  After the baby girl was born dead 19 May 1872, Martin and Anna returned to the US and bought a farm in Seville, Medina County, Ohio.  Here they built a large home to accommodate their large size and had furniture custom-made to suit them.
    Martin and Anna continued to tour for periods of time appearing with the W. W. Cole Show and with P. J. Barnum.  Members of the shows occasionally visited at the Seville home of the Bates.
    On 19 January 1879 a baby boy was born to Martin and Anna.  He lived 11 hours.  The boy was at birth the size of a 6 months old child and was in all respects normal.  He was 28 inches tall and weighed 22 pounds.  Anna did not fully regain her health and on 5 August 1889 died.  Martin ordered from Europe a monument in her likeness to be placed on her grave.
    Martin later remarried Annette Weatherby and sold the giant home and moved into town.  On 7 January 1919 Martin died of nephritis.
    Buried in the Mound Cemetery at Seville are Martin, Anna, the baby boy and Anna's sister Margaret.
    Martin was reported to be 7" 11 1/2" tall and weighed up to 470 pounds and as much as 525.
    Anna was reported to be 8' 1".
    The Kona Kentucky farm was sold to W. H. Potter, a relative.
    Parents of Martin, John Wallis and Sarah Waltrip Bates are buried in the cemetery on the old Bates farm.
    The giant's house was built in 1876 and stood until 1948.
    Anna and Martin were members of the First Baptist Church in Seville, Ohio.
    Last visited Kentucky about the year 1899.
    Exhibited before Queen Victoria and other heads of Europe.
    Anna Haining Swan was born on August 6, l846 in New Annan, Nova Scotia.
    Pictures of the Capt. and Anna Bates  and many of their possessions can be seen at -
       Medina Historical Society
       Fraser Cultural Centre, Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia
       Sunrise Trail Museum, Tatamagouch, Nova Scotia
       Seville Historical Society, Seville, Medina County, Ohio

Relatives of Martin Van Buren Bates in Letcher County, KY remember their parents and grandparents talking about The Kentucky Giant and referred to him as - "Bud Bates", "Brother Bates", "Uncle Brother", "Baby Bates", and of course the "Kentucky Giant" or "Giant Bates".


Back to Index Page

This page hosted by Get your own Free Home Page