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The Way We Were

The image above was taken from the September 22, 1949 edition of The Mountain Eagle. It is a headline of a story concerning an effort to preserve the Seville, Ohio home of Captain Martin Van Buren Bates, a Letcher County native who became world famous for being a “giant” who married Anna Swain, a Nova Scotia woman who was even taller. Shown below is a photo of the couple and a reprint of that 1949 article.

The image above was taken from the September 22, 1949 edition of The Mountain Eagle. It is a headline of a story concerning an effort to preserve the Seville, Ohio home of Captain Martin Van Buren Bates, a Letcher County native who became world famous for being a “giant” who married Anna Swain, a Nova Scotia woman who was even taller. Shown below is a photo of the couple and a reprint of that 1949 article.

Reprinted from the September 22, 1949 edition of The Mountain Eagle.

The Kentucky Giant’s house just west of Seville, Ohio, will be preserved for future generations when an agreement on the purchase price has been arrived as the present owner reported, recently.

The “giant” was Martin Van Buren Bates, born in Letcher County near what is now Kona in 1836. At maturity he stood seven feet, 8 inches tall, and weighed approximately 450 pounds. It is said that his boots took the hide of a steer and each boot held one-half bushel of corn or grain. His hat had a capacity of one peck.

His wife was taller than be was, being 7 feet, 11-1/2 inches. Captain Bates, as he was known, married Anna Swann of Nova Scotia and the marriage was sponsored by Queen Victoria of England who gave the giant a gold watch, set with diamonds, and which rang the hours. The watch is reported to have been as large as a saucer.

Letcher County native Martin Van Buren Bates, second from left, posed with his wife, Anna Swann of Nova Scotia. The couple, whose June 1871 marriage was sponsored by Queen Victoria of England, met on the carnival circuit in New Jersey. Bates stood at 7 feet, 8 inches tall, about 3-1/2 inches shorter than his wife.

Letcher County native Martin Van Buren Bates, second from left, posed with his wife, Anna Swann of Nova Scotia. The couple, whose June 1871 marriage was sponsored by Queen Victoria of England, met on the carnival circuit in New Jersey. Bates stood at 7 feet, 8 inches tall, about 3-1/2 inches shorter than his wife.

Bates was born on what is now known as the Henry Potter farm, located at the mouth of Boone Creek. The old log cabin in which he was born is no longer standing but many of the older citizens of Letcher County remember it. He fought in the Union Army during the Civil War, later leaving Letcher County to travel with Robinson Shows. He was the brother of Mrs. Quiller Bentley, mother of Drs. D.V. and C.M. Bentley of Neon and a brother of the late Rob Bates, father of Jess, Sam and Joe Bates. Many can recall having seen Captain Bates.

Captain Bates’s father was John W. Bates and his mother was Sarah Walters Bates, both normal size children. There were 13 children in the family except Captain Bates and his brother Rob. Rob Bates also a Captain in the Civil War and lived to be 97 years old, the last survivor of the immediate family.

When Captain Bates went into show business Sam Skaggs, an uncle of Dr. E.G. Skaggs, of Fleming, was in the same show and was the next largest man who could be obtained. During his service in the Civil War Captain Bates was given the largest horse that could be found. It is said the horse was snow white and the Captain astride it made quite a picture.

Captain Bates was married twice, the first time to Anna Swan who was bigger than he was. They had one child which weighed 19 pounds at birth but the infant died in early life. Bates’s second wife weighed only 98 pounds.

After selling his property in Letcher County, the giant stayed in show business for a time and then settled in Seville, Ohio, where he built a mansion with ceilings 14 feet high. Captain Bates died in 1919 at the age of 82. Contrary to the usual rule that all abnormally large persons are lacking in intelligence, Captain Bates was a man of rare wit and a keen mind. He was large but well proportioned and of normal intellect. People who knew him held him in high regard.

The Bates mansion at Seville, near Cleveland, has been a burden to the present owner and a collector of circus memos and other items has offered to buy it to house his collection. The transfer will be made, it is reported, as soon as a purchase price is agreed upon.

Clips from available Mountain Eagle pages since our founding in 1907

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 1909

The Kentucky Court of Appeals has ordered that an attorney be appointed to represent convicted murderer Floyd Frazier during his appeal of the death sentence handed down to him in the murder of Mrs. Ellen Flannery at Pert Creek.

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The Mountain Eagle now has 800 mail subscribers in Letcher County. As the paper notes, “not a bad showing for a local newspaper in a county the size and population of Letcher County.”

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“The breath of fall is felt in the land, and soon the melancholy days will be here,” The Eagle observes.

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A young Eolia child was badly burned after falling into a kettle of boiling apple butter. The child, whose father is Tackitt Mullins, suffered burns on one arm from fingertips to shoulder.

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 19, 1929

A 35-year-old Jenkins man was shot to death Sunday at Indian Ridge, this side of Wise, Virginia. The alleged shooter is Worley Shoop, 40, of Millstone. According to reports, the two men were drinking and riding in cars with others, who were also drinking, when they met on the public highway and exchanged words. The car in which Shoop was riding is said to have “passed a little distance” and then stopped. Shoop got out of the car and approached Fields, who apparently got out of the other car, and spoke something to him before shooting him. Shoop then returned to the car driven by Henry Frazier, after which Shoop, Frazier and another man drove rapidly into Kentucky. The car was stopped at Kona and Shoop, Frazier and the other man were arrested and taken to jail in Jenkins. The three men have since been returned to Wise to stand examining trials.

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The Hemphill School is now open with an enrollment of 185 students.

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A 16-year-old Letcher County youth who was injured last week after jumping from a running truck has died. William Brown was pronounced dead this week at the Seco hospital, where he was being treated.

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In a front-page commentary entitled “Must It Continue?”, The Mountain Eagle asks, “Will the state of Kentucky and the counties permit drunken drivers to continue to drive along its highways to endanger and injure other sober and decent people?”

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Sandlick Coal Company’s commissary at Bellcraft, located between Whitesburg and Sandlick, was destroyed by a fire discovered around 2 a.m. Sunday. The coal company carried only $4,000 worth of insurance on the building and its contents, which are now being valued at $10,000 or more.

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Classes began at the Neon School on Monday, where an enrollment of 230 pupils is reported. Leonard Morgan is the principal.

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 1949

Letcher County’s coal miners joined the rest of the nation’s coal workers this week in an “unofficial” strike over the suspension of welfare and pension fund benefits. Nearly all of the nation’s 484,000 coal miners are taking part in the current walkout, which was called after United Mine Workers President John L. Lewis halted payments from the welfare fund last Saturday because its reserve was being rapidly depleted. In Kentucky, 46,000 miners are now off the job. President Harry Truman is calling on both sides to reach “an early settlement.”

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The Fleming-Neon Pirates defeated visiting Belfry last Friday, 13 to 0. Jack Hall and Jerry Tucker scored touchdowns for the Pirates, while Bobby Burns kicked an extra point.

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Four Seam Coal Company’s new mining plant on Leatherwood Creek, near the Perry County line, has been sold to Blue Diamond Coal Company. Included with the plant, which just recently started operations, is 6,000 acres of coal land described as containing “three or four workable seams of good-quality coal.”

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Governor Earle C. Clements’s three day tour of eastern Kentucky next week will include a Wednesday morning stop in Letcher County. Clements has agreed to tour the region in an effort to determine “the need and practicality of a state park on Pine Mountain.”

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Delmas Pigman of Whitesburg is calling himself a very lucky person after he became entangled with 6,900 volts of electricity last Friday and lived to tell about it. Pigman was fixing a radio aerial and tossed a wire over a high tension line. The wire became twisted around the index finger of his left hand, leaving the finger so badly injured it had to be removed. Local electricians say this is the only incident they know of where a man has come in contact with that amount of voltage and lived to tell about it.

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The Seville, Ohio home of Martin Van Buren Bates, the Letcher County-born “giant,” is being preserved for future generations. Bates was born in 1836 near what is now Kona. At maturity he stood seven feet, 11 inches tall and weighed about 450 pounds. It is said that his boots took the hide of a steer to make and that each boot held one-half bushel of corn or grain. His hat had a capacity of one peck. The Bates mansion in Seville has been a burden to the present owner and a collector of circus memorabilia and other items has offered to buy it to house his collection. A purchase price still must be agreed on.

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Funeral services were held Saturday for Prova Roark, 19, who was killed by a train at Blackey on September 15. A son of Mr. and Mrs. Kelly Roark of Blackey, he was employed by Hill Coal Company of Ulvah.

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The Whitesburg Veterans of Foreign Wars post has announced the rental of a permanent building for post meetings. The building is located at Ermine and is known as the Stephen Caudill Building. The Whitesburg VFW post is six weeks old and already has approximately 75 members.

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Porky Polly scored a touchdown and James Gose kicked an extra point as the visiting Whitesburg Yellowjackets defeated Paintsville last Friday night, 7 to 0.

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The 11 Skinnerville houses at Letcher are now being painted. “It will help the looks of our community when they are finished,” writes Letcher correspondent Betty Jo Asher.

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 24, 1959

The Game Division of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife has announced the release of 500 Reeve’s pheasants on Black Mountain in Letcher and Harlan counties. Fish and Wildlife officials urge people of the area to use extreme caution while hunting Ruffed Grouse so as not to confuse them with the new pheasants, as there is no open season on pheasants in Kentucky.

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A record crowd of more than 200 persons attended the annual Lions Club Fish Fry at the South-East Coal Company cabin on Pine Mountain.

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Kentucky Power Company this week was granted permission to charge higher rates for electricity that are expected to yield $100,000 in added revenue each year. The monthly minimum charge for customers will increase from $1 a month to $2 a month. This week’s decision marks the first time Kentucky Power’s rates have increased since 1946.

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Johnny Little hauled in a 50-yard touchdown pass with only two minutes remaining in the game to help the Fleming-Neon Pirates to an 18 to 14 win over rival Jenkins.

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The Jenkins Kiwanis Club is sponsoring its annual “Kids Day” on Saturday, with events including a parade, a free movie, ice cream and various contests.

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Mr. and Mrs. R.C. Day of Whitesburg announce the birth of a son, Scott Alan, at the Sharon Heights Hospital in Jenkins on September 19.

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Former Whitesburg High School football star Lloyd Hodge is now one of the most outstanding players on the University of Kentucky football team. He wears No. 52. At least 40 Whitesburg residents made the trip to Lexington last Saturday to watch Hodge and the Wildcats play Georgia Tech at Stoll Field.

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 1969

U.S. Sen. Vance Harke told an audience in Fleming that he fears the Nixon administration is turning its back on the problems of the nation’s elderly citizens. Harke lashed out at a 7 percent boost in Social Security as something that wouldn’t even keep up with inflation. He also charged that the Nixon administration is downgrading services to the elderly through a reorganization of the Office of Economic Opportunity, abolishing the post of assistant director appointed to concern himself with the problems of the elderly.

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“It is molasses making time, oh boy,” writes correspondent Siller Brown. “What fun to feed the old gin mill and watch the mule go around and around with that green juice pouring out through a little spout into the tub.”

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Jean Ritchie, dulcimer maker, songwriter, author, director of the Newport Foundation and performer, will present a folk concert at Alice Lloyd College. The concert is open to the public. Miss Ritchie is descended from one of the original settlers of Carrs Fork of Troublesome Creek.

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Technical Sgt. Jesse M. Dale Jr., son of retired Master Sgt. and Mrs. Jesse M. Dale Sr., is a member of the 1st Mobile Communications Group, headquartered at Clark AB, Philippines, that has earned the U.S. Air Force Outstanding Unit Award. Sgt. Dale, an air traffic controller, is a graduate of Fort Knox High School. His wife, Martha, is the daughter of retired U.S. Master Sgt. Arthur M. Hunter of Neon.

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 1979

Several residents of the Jenkins Independent School District are challenging the legality of a recently enacted utility tax of three percent. Residents say the tax is illegal since the school board’s intent to tax and a public hearing on the tax were not advertised according to law.

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Letcher Fiscal Court members have agreed to borrow more than $30,000 to pay off the Kentucky River Garbage and Refuse Disposal District in an attempt to eventually take over the district’s landfill near Millstone. County Attorney Forrest Cook said the county had reached a tentative agreement with the district to pay if the district would turn the site over for the county’s use.

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Plans were announced this week for the first Mountain Coal Festival to be held October 6 at the Fleming-Neon football field. Festivities will include a coal truck parade, with a trophy given to the prettiest truck.

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“Beyond the Poseidon Adventure” and “The Brinks Job” are showing this weekend at the Alene Theatre in Whitesburg.

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 20, 1989

Miners at Big Elk Creek Coal Co. on Monday overwhelmingly rejected a bid for representation by the United Mine Workers of America by a 58 to 31 margin. A field examiner for the National Labor Relations Board announced the results of the union vote, which capped a six-month drive to unionize Big Elk’s 97 coal miners and equipment operators.

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A Russell County, Va., judge fined the United Mine Workers $13.5 million Monday for illegal strike activities, which could be a crippling blow to future civil disobedience tactics, an industry observer said. UMW members continue to occupy the control room of Pittston Coal Group’s main coal preparation plant, where they locked themselves in with padlocks and steel cables. Union leaders say the demonstration is designed to persuade the Pittston Company Chairman to come to the bargaining table.

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Country music star Patty Loveless will appear in concert in Whitesburg on Thursday. The performance is part of the Letcher County Mountain Heritage Festival.

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The Payne Gap Freewill Baptist Church will hold revival services at 7 p.m. from Sept. 24 through Sept. 30. Jeff Reynolds will be the guest speaker.

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 1999

Miners refused to work at Golden Oak Mining Co. on Monday, a week after the company notified them their pay would be cut beginning this week. One miner said pay will fall to as little as $10 per hour for some underground miners. Miners’ wages will be cut by up to $1.60 an hour but the salary cuts also affect office workers at the company’s Isom headquarters. A letter to employees says, “We are sure you are aware that Golden Oak Mining Co. has been experiencing some low production and poor profitability for the last year. This is the result of poor mining conditions at Premium due to geological conditions and at Sandlick due to low recovery.”

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Premier Elkhorn Coal Co. has donated a water truck to the Jenkins Fire Department. The truck, which holds 4,000 gallons of water, will bring needed water to a fire where a water source is not readily available.

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Gov. Paul Patton has declared a water emergency in Letcher and 52 other counties in the Kentucky River Valley and the Licking Creek Valley. The order gives the state Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Cabinet broad powers to regulate water from the Kentucky River and Licking River and their tributaries.

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 16, 2009

Administrative Law Judge Gary Melick ruled last week that North Fork Coal Co. must reinstate roof bolter Mark Gray to his job at the company’s No. 4 mine at Partridge. Melick determined that Gray was not acting “frivolously when he charged that he was fired from his job on a double-headed Fletcher roof bolting machine because he refused to work in unsafe conditions.” North Fork Coal is a subsidiary of Black Mountain Resources.

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The City of Jenkins may be the next eastern Kentucky community to explore a wet/dry option vote in order to improve its economy. Jenkins City Council member Terry Braddock made a motion at the September meeting for the city to adopt a “liquor by the drink” option, which would allow restaurants seating over 100 people to sell alcoholic beverages.

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PRIDE has set aside $9,250 to dispose of the litter picked up by volunteers in Letcher County during Roadside PRIDE Month in October.

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Stacy Isaac, a kindergarten teacher at Martha Jane Potter Elementary School, is a recipient of a 2010 Ashland Inc. Teacher Achievement Award. Statewide there are 24 recipients who will compete for the 2010 Kentucky Teacher of the Year award to be announced next month.

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