Scott County, Tennessee
FNB Chronicles

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The rest of the story . . . about the Civil War Giant

Compiled by Louise Carson

In the Winter 1995 issue of the FNB Chronicle we relayed a story about the Civil War era giant MARTIN VAN BUREN BATES, who was the great great uncle of BRUCE BATES of Helenwood.

BRUCE BATES has since uncovered "the rest of the story" concerning his great great uncle.

For those of you who may not have read the article about MARTIN VAN BUREN BATES, he was born of normal size parents, he was normal size at birth and his brothers and sisters were all normal size. However, MARTIN VAN BUREN grew to a height of seven feet eleven inches tall and weighed 525 pounds. He was mentally and physically fully developed and in no way a freak.

After the Civil War, he joined a circus and traveled the world. His gregarious personality and genuine liking for humanity endeared him to such notables as President GARFIELD, President McKINLEY and the Queen of England presented him with a gold pocket watch as large as a small alarm clock, and was studded with diamonds.

He married a giantess, ANNA HANNON, and they had two children, a boy who weighed 22 pounds at birth and a girl who weighed 18 pounds at birth. Both died in infancy.  After ANNA died, MARTIN VAN BUREN married a lady five feet two inches tall

MARTIN VAN BUREN made quite a name for himself during the war. He used two colossal 71 caliber horse pistols that had been made especially for him at the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond.  He wore them strapped across his chest in black leather holsters. He had a saber that was 18 inches longer than the standard weapon. He rode a huge Percheron horse that he took from a German farmer in Pennsylvania.  He was severely wounded in a battle around the Cumberland Gap area and was also captured, although he later escaped.

After the Civil War Bates returned to Letcher County, Kentucky, but restlessness was upon him. In our previous article, BATES was quoted as saying: “I don't want any part of the trouble that's coming to these hills. I've seen enough blood shed.  I don't want anymore." BATES sold his Kentucky property and traveled to Cincinnati and joined the circus.

Now, for the "rest of the story". According to information BRUCE BATES uncovered as told years ago by JOHN LUCAS, who was a distant relative of the giant and had seen him on many occasions, MARTIN VAN BUREN BATES returned to his Kentucky home after the war and found that local Unionists had captured one of his brothers and had tormented him with bayonets to a slow and painful death. This enraged the giant and he gathered his men and searched out the murderers. One by one they were captured. Some were roused out of their beds at night. Others were found hiding in hilltop caverns. Some were ambushed on Rock House Creek and locked in it under close guard. Then their wives, parents, grandparents and children were rounded up and driven to the mouth of Big Hollow and kept there around campfires all night. The children ranged from about 12 years old down to babes in their mothers' arms. Some of the wives were pregnant.

Two slender black oaks grew a dozen feet apart.  A pole was lashed to the trees about 10 feet up. A round beech log was cut, stripped of its branches and placed on the ground beneath. Eight nooses hung down from the pole.

At dawn, the Rebels roused the sleepers, who threw fresh wood on the fires. At the sight of the dangling ropes the women began to wail. The giant appeared on his giant horse, his giant sword and pistols gleaming, his black eyes shining with contempt and hatred. His men appeared out of the gloomy mists herding the prisoners before them, each man's hands bound behind his back.

The prisoners were placed on the log, and a noose was dropped around each shrinking neck, the men pleading for their lives. Their relatives begged the  giant to be merciful. The giant sat on his great horse for several minutes while dawn slowly brightened the sky. The fire crackled, adding its gleams to the soft light of the new day. The killers began to hope a little; then the giant raised his hand in a signal. Two men gave the log a shove and it rolled down the hill.  The eight bound figures dropped a few inches and choked slowly to death. With swords and cocked pistols the women and children were kept at bay. None could render aid.

The “Yankees" were a quarter of an hour dying. The giant told the people not to touch the dead or take them down from the gallows. They were to hang there and rot by the road, their corruption warning all passersby of the consequences of killing a BATES. If anyone violated his order, he would die in the same way. Absolutely no mercy would be shown. In addition, his family would be destroyed, his house burned, his stock killed. "Take warning," the giant said. "because no other warning will be given!" Then he and his men rode away, leaving the dead to swing in the wind and their kin to mourn them through a monstrous nightmare.

The bodies turned to skeletons before the giant came back, only rattling bones were left for burial.

JOHN LUCAS said the giant could not stay in Letcher County after that. "When those children got old enough they would have killed him without a doubt. He moved away when the war was over and didn't tell people where he went, either. You know what his vengeance was like. We can't even guess what those children would have done to even the score when they got to be grown men.

The giant died in 1919 when he was around 80 years old. He is buried in the family plot in Seville, Ohio with his first wife and their children who died in infancy, their graves marked simply, "Babe" and "Sister".

FNB Chronicle, Vol. 9, No. 3 – Spring 1998
First National Bank
P.O. Box 4699
Oneida, TN 37841
(1  page)

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