Tweet Follow @PlanetSlade

Giants' wedding: continued

Page: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
View as single page
Secret London
Murder Ballads

"The bride's dress became her well," the Telegraph continued. "And there was something of stateliness and dignity in the skill with which she managed a most imposing train. [...] Captain Bates, the bridegroom, may be pardoned for having looked rather less at ease in a blue coat, white waistcoat and grey or light-tinted trousers." Harper's was unable to resist another snide comment at this point, remarking on the need to excuse Martin's "exceedingly blue tie".
After signing the register, the newlyweds struggled through the crowds outside, making for their carriage and the Craven Street wedding breakfast that awaited them. If the mob blocking their path had known a little more about Martin's bloodthirsty progress through the American Civil War, they might not have been quite so quick to get in his way.

Martin van Buren Bates was born on November 9, 1837, although he seems to have finessed this date a little in later life to extend his career (6). He was the 11th and youngest child of Kentucky farmers John and Sarah Bates.
The rest of the family were all normal size, and there seemed nothing exceptional about Martin until he turned seven. Then he began growing so fast - first fat, then tall - that his parents began fearing for his health and spared him from working on the farm. Instead, Martin concentrated on his education, learning to recite historical dates and events from memory by the time he was eight. Friends who knew the adult Martin credited him with what they called "almost a photographic memory", and this trait seems to have developed early.
We don't have a record of Martin's height at this point, but we do know that he weighed 170lbs (just over 12 stone) at age 11 and 300lbs at 13. He was, as one astonished uncle remarked, "a mighty big boy, by heck".
In his early twenties, Martin travelled to the nearby town of Whitesburg, passed the exams needed for his teaching certificate, and began working in a small log schoolhouse near the Bates' farm. "That 'Big Boy Bates' was a fellow none of us boys ever sassed," a former pupil recalled. "We didn't dare. Why, he was so big, his voice just sort of rumbled like a bull bellowing" (7).

Martin was seven feet tall by this time, and made a truly terrifying sight on the battlefield

The US Civil War started in 1861, and Martin joined up that September, fighting on the Confederate side as a private with the Fifth Kentucky Infantry. His courage quickly won him a string of battlefield promotions culminating - for the moment - in the rank of First Lieutenant. He fought in battles all over the state, including those at Middle Creek and Cumberland Gap, and did so with such ferocity that Unionist troops soon started singling him out. To them, he was "that Confederate giant who's a as big as five men and fights like 50".
Martin was seven feet tall by this time, and must have made a truly terrifying sight on the battlefield. His great great nephew Bruce Bates describes it like this: "He used two colossal 71-calibre horse pistols that had been made specially for him at the Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond. He wore them strapped across his chest in black leather holsters. He had a sabre that was 18 inches longer than the standard weapon. He rode a huge Percheron horse that he took from a German farmer in Pennsylvania" (8).
God knows how they did it, but somehow Unionist troops managed to capture Martin in Pike County, Kentucky, early in 1863. His first taste of life in showbiz came while imprisoned at Camp Chase in Ohio, where Union soldiers nick-named him "The Kentucky Giant" and came to gawp at him in his cell. He was later moved to another Union camp at Point Lookout, Maryland where, depending on whose account you believe, he either escaped or was freed in that May's exchange of prisoners (9).
When the Kentucky Infantry was disbanded in November 1863, Martin joined the Virginia Infantry, only to find his unit there merged with the Seventh Confederate Cavalry, where his brother Robert was already serving. It was during his cavalry service that Martin made captain, a rank he continued to use for the rest of his life.
One of his duties in the Seventh was to help suppress the anarchic guerrilla bands who robbed and murdered Kentucky and Virginia families throughout the Civil War. These men were neither Confederate nor Unionist, but simply out for themselves. When one gang in Crane's Nest, Virginia, became particularly troublesome, Martin took a group of men out there and found the gang's hideout at dead of night.
Burdine Webb takes up the story in her 1941 essay The Giant of Letcher County: "A fire was hurriedly built. The flames spread upward, lighting a considerable distance and the soldiers put themselves in readiness. The guerrillas swept down to see about the conflagration, when hundreds of shots ran out. Twelve of the band fell, rolling down the mountainside. Twelve or 15 more were captured. The ruse worked well" (10).
Martin's most memorable Civil War adventure was yet to come, however. Returning on leave to the family farm near Whitesburg, he found local Unionist sympathisers had kidnapped one of his brothers and tortured him to death with their bayonets. Martin was enraged by this, gathered his men together, and set off to find the killers. One by one, they rounded them up, dragging some from their beds and winkling others out from the hilltop caverns where they'd chosen to hide.
The eight captured men and their families were route-marched to a spot called Big Hollow and held there overnight. Wives, parents, grandparents and children of the condemned were all dragged along. Some of the women were pregnant, and some of the children so young that they had to be carried.
Martin's men found two slim oaks growing about 12 feet apart and lashed a horizontal pole between them, about ten feet above the ground. Then they stripped a long beech log of its branches, laid that on the ground beneath, and strung eight nooses from the pole. At dawn, they awoke their prisoners.

Page: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

Conjoined twins: continued

Pervis sold the girls on to another showman called Brower, who'd borrowed his own funds from Joseph Pearson Smith, a North Carolina merchant (19). Somewhere along the way, their surname switched vowels to become "McKoy".
      Brower took the twins to New Orleans, where a Texas con-man swindled them away from him in a fraudulent land deal and fled with the twins in tow. Without his star attraction, Brower had no way of repaying the loan, so Smith called in his collateral and found himself the girls' new owner - even if he didn't know where they were.
      Smith hired a private detective to track the twins down, who followed a trail through Philadelphia and New York before discovering they were no longer in America. By now, it was 1855, and they were owned by William Millar, who was showing them in England. Millar's former partner, William Thompson, was also chasing the twins, claiming Millar had stolen them from him in Philadelphia.
      Smith knew that an English court would not recognise any claim of ownership to the girls, but hoped it might rule that they should be returned to their mother. With this in mind, he purchased Jacob and Monemia from Jabez McKay and took Monemia to England with him. It's true that Millie and Christine represented a considerable investment for Smith, but he seems mostly to have been motivated by genuine kindness of heart and a desire to reunite their family.
      Smith persuaded the Birmingham police to help him and Monemia grab the twins in a dramatic scene at the city's Exchange Rooms show, and won the following court case arguing they should be returned to Monemia's custody. After a brief period trying to work with the treacherous Millar, he spirited mother and daughters off to Liverpool docks and took them back to North Carolina, arriving there in 1857 or 1858.

continues >>>