Confederate Army Captain


                                          Father of Knott County


                                          First Sheriff of Knott County


                                          Kentucky Hall of Fame


                                          Knott County Hall of Fame









Robert Bates was a son of John Wallis and Sarah (Waltrip) Bates.  He was born 24 August 1825 at the mouth of Boone Fork at present day Kona, Kentucky.  Robert was married two times.  His first marriage was to Sarah Lee on 3 March 1869 in Letcher County, Kentucky.  His second marriage was to Elizabeth Bentley on 19 May 1888 in Letcher County, Kentucky.  He also fathered children by Dorothula Greer and Phoebe Lee.   He fathered at least 18 children by these women.

(Some newspaper articles state that he fathered 24 children.)



From an obituary for Robert “Old Rob" Bates we gather the following information:


            “At his old home on the head of Rockhouse Creek already in his ninety-seventh year, Robt. Bates, one of the best known and oldest of Letcher County citizens, passed quietly. For the last two hears he had rapidly reclining in health and strength and his death comes as no surprise to his many relatives and friends.


            The real story of the life of Robert Bates would read like fiction. No other man in the mountains led such a rugged life. In early manhood he developed into a big brainy muscular man and when Letcher County was formed was one of the leading young men of the mountains. He was among the first men to be elected to the Kentucky Senate and was for years a strong tower in Kentucky’s law making body, often serving in both houses of the law making department. (He was elected to the state legislature for the term 1883-1884.)


            The father of Robert Bates was one of the first men to settle in what is now Letcher County.  He was one of a large family all of whom lived to very advanced ages and established wide reputations.  Many of the best known citizens of Eastern Kentucky are descendents of this pioneer family.  The great giant, Martin VanBuren Bates, who died only a few years ago at his home at Seville, Ohio, was a younger brother of the subject   of this sketch and Joseph A. Craft, a well known Louisville citizen, is a nephew.  Letcher, Pike, Knott and Floyd counties are full of his close relatives.  He leaves a widow and a large number of children, some of whom are not grown behind.


            Capt. Bates long impressed upon the history and development of our mountains and he will long be remembered by the mountain people.               


            When the Civil War broke out he went into the thickest of it, was a leader in the Confederate forces and established a reputation that extended beyond the bounds of his county and State.  When the war was over he settled down peaceful habits and became a successful farmer, merchant, stock dealer and politician.


            For years and years he was a power in the county and swayed its affairs to his own liking.  He was a big clever whole-souled mountaineer and being possessed of much of   this world’s goods was able to be of great assistance to his friends in their hours of need. He had patented and owned thousands of cres of mountain lands being far-sighted enough to know that a time would come when these lands would be highly valuable. He lived to realize this fact and only a few years ago was by far the best-to-do citizens in Letcher of Knott Counties.  In the last few years, however, his wealth very rapidly dwindled and at the time of his death is not known just what his net worth is.”


(This clipping was found in the family Bible of Nancy (Bates) Wright and is in the possession of the writer of this article.  Unfortunately, the name of the newspaper and the date were not on the clipping.)







An article that appeared in a Cleveland paper stated that “Uncle Bob” Bates is ninety-one and the father of 24 children.  The oldest is fifty-four, the youngest three.”


He gives in this article his rules for raising children: 

            “It don’t pay to pamper young-uns.

            “Bring children up to respect you and they’ll respect themselves.

            “Children have to be taught to save.

            “I’m partial to girls.  They stay at home.  Boys get out.  They got to, I reckon.

            “A  good wife is the best of all.  A man can’t get ahead without her.  My wife helps me a heap. That’s th’ way it

             ought to be.”


“Uncle Bob” also gave his rules and ideas about saving money, too:

            “Savin’ money, not spending it, is the best way,” he says.

            “The trouble with most folk is they make money too easy.  It goes easy.

            “I’ve gone hungry to save a quarter many a time.  And I ain’t never been sorry”

            One would expect a man who owns most of the mountains in his section and who is worth “100,000 to live in a

             fine house. But “Uncle Bob” prefers the old house and the bare floors.

            “Ain’t it what I was brought up to? He asks.  “Then, I’m askin’ you, why should I change?

            “I wouldn’t be comfortable walkin’ around on carpets and drinkin’ out of china cups. Folk that live like that die too



(This article was provided to be by Wendell F. Inskeep and appears to be from the Cleveland Press from Whitesburg, May 6.  Unfortunately the year is missing.)


We also learn from this article that “Uncle Bob” was “5 feet 8 inches tall and weighed 180 pounds.  He stood straight and walked with a spring.  He had the shoulders and chest of a perfect build.”







During the Civil War some  troops conducted raids that netted arms, clothing, munitions, and livestock.  Some other members of the Virginia State Line were engaged in similar activities.  General Marshall issued Special Orders 162 at Abington on December 26, 1862.  This order related specifically to Robert Bates, a soldier of the State Line and later a member of the 7th Confederate Cavalry Battalion.  It read:


             Whereas reliable information having been recd at Head Quarters that one Robt. Bates assisted by a squad of marauders has been… stealing horses, negroes, & other property in the State of Kentucky & running the same over the Mountains to Virginia where he sells & appropriates the proceeds to his own Private use—it is therefore ordered that Col. Benj. E. Caudill commdq  Regt.  Ky & Col. C. Slemp commdg Regt. VA Vols in VA & all  other officers of  This command shall use every exertion to arrest said Robt. Bates & any or All of his band & hold them in close confinement reporting their arrest to These Hd Qrs.


(The Virginia State Rangers and State Line by Randall Osborne & Jeffrey C. Weaver,  1944, pgs. 96-97.)


One story which might properly be considered a folk tale was related to James Taylor Adams by Findlay Adams at Big Laurel in Wise County in 1941.  This story concerns Robert Bates, Captain of Company A, 7th Battalion Confederate Cavalry, but it is not placed in time.  Since this company was organized in the summer of 1863, late 1863 or 1864 seems likely.  Findlay Adams related:


             You’ve heard of John Dick Adams, ol Uncle Jess Adams boy, Grandpa  Spencer’s nephew.  He was a dangerous man.  When the Civil War Broke out he got up a company an’ was a captain.  Some sort o’ home Guards.  They raided around.  He owned a fine carbine gun.  One time he was at Grandpa’s an’ told him if he was to be killed that he wanted him to see that his carbine was buried with him.  He was on the rebel side.  [Actually, Federal.]


            One day his company and a company of Yankee home guards got into a fight somewhere on Kentucky River [in Letcher County, just across the Wise County line] I think it was. John Dick, he got shot through one arm.  After while he was shot through one leg.  He couldn’t walk or use but one arm, but he kept shootin’ his carbine rifle.  At last they shot him an’ he said, “Well, well, I’va allus said  I’d never surrender, but I’m helpless now an’ will have to beg for my life.”  One of the Bates’ I think it was, said, “I’ll give you your life!”  An’ just up an’ shot him through the heart.  Then he took his gun.


             Well, they say that that fellow never rested after that.  He would holler out all times of the night—“Take John Dick Adams away from here.  He’s come to kill me.”  He even got so he would see John  Dick in his cup o’ coffee when he set down to the table to eat.  He heard about the request that John Dick had made about his gun bein’ buried with ‘im and’ sent word to Grandpa to come an’ get it.  Grandpa went an’ got the gun, but hit had been several months an’ he didn’t bury the gun with John Dick then, of course. But him getting’ the gun didn’t do any good.  That feller just kept seein’ John Dick wherever he went.  He didn’t live long. Got so he couldn’t eat. Said John Dick Adams was in every bite he tried to swallow.  So he jes’ dwindled away.  Died in about a year after he killed John Dick. Bates survived and became known as the father of Knott County, Kentucky. Robert Bates became a respected member of Kentucky society by those unaware of his war record, and was known as the father of Knott County.



(From the book “The Civil War in Buchanan and Wise Counties  Bushwackers’ Paradise by Jeffrey C. Weaver, 1994, pgs 184-185, 227-228)


Robert Bates died at age 96 on 24 September 1921.


An article in the “Louisville Commercial” for July 8, 1885 gives the following description of Robert, “A plain looking man of 45, of average size, cheaply dressed, slightly bald, and wearing spectacles.



July 30, 2011


Compiled July 2011

The material on this page is copyrighted © 2011 by  Patty May Brashear. 

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