Interview with Jess Bates
When we asked Judge Bates where he was born, he told us he was born at Hindman, Kentucky. His father was Robert — “Old Man Bates.” They moved to Rock House when he was two months old below the Deane, Hendrix mines. His grandfather was one of the first settlers in this region. He came in 1912. His father was born in 1825 at the site of the Martha Jane Potter School. He lived to be 96 years old.
Robert Bates was the first sheriff of Knott County. He was a resident in 1882, he served one term. In this time, he introduced the bill that divided Letcher and Knott Counties. Judge Bates recalled when he went barefoot with his father driving a string of cattle from Shelby Gap to Jenkins.
He said he remembers the schools with one room and pot-bellied stoves. We asked him if competition between persons was as keen as it is now. He told us it was, only they tried to have better horses instead of better cars as we do today. He told us that when horses and cars met on the road, the horses had the right-of-way and the car had to come to a complete stop or pull over until the horses passed.
The Judge told us there were many improvements over the years and they will continue. When we asked him if the people carried guns back then, he told us they carried them and they used them, too.
He told us that the carrying out of the laws was not very good back then. He stated that those days were lawless compared to today.
The judge stated that the main way of transportation during his day was walking. He said that often times it was better because you could take short cuts through the mountain.
The judge told us that when he came to Jenkins in 1926, there was a great deal of fighting here then. A lot of this was caused by the company transporting labor in. “Transporters,” they were called, were brought into this country and they would work cheaper. “Papa John” Kristovich was a transporter and worked at Mine 2, 3 and 4.
The Judge’s first job was at Mine #4, the superintendent was Bob Estel. He also worked at Mines 2, 5 and 6. John Daniels and Roy Isom were superintendents of these mines. Roy Isom is still living and resides in Red Jacket, Virginia. He worked at these mines approximately 6 1/2 or 7 years.
There was a railroad that ran from Wise to Pine Mountain on the other side of Jenkins mountain. Lumber was transported from there by wagon to its building site in Jenkins. He remembered that the Pound Mountain road was under construction when Ruby Laffon was Governor in 1934.
In 1934, he served two terms in office. His office was in East Jenkins. His wife, Della Stewart, was raised there. The couple had no children, but they did raise a boy, Tandy.
Judge Bates was in the store business from 1944-1965. His wife and he ran the store with the help of a few clerks. It was located in East Jenkins. He was elected police judge in 1958, and is now serving his fourth term. He has been precinct chairman many times and has been democratic chairman of the county two times.
Judge Bates is a member of the Democratic Party and in his own words, “The Democratic Party is more interested in the common people, but it takes both parties to make a country.”
When asked about the changes since Consol sold the property to individuals, the judge said the people did not even have water or light bills to pay before. It is now a city on its own. He thinks it was a good thing for the people when Jenkins broke away.
When asked about the officials that had visited the City of Jenkins, the judge told us that Governor Ruby Laffon was the first governor to visit here and Governor Wilson was the second.
There have been many different senators, representatives, and several governors, including Weatherbee and Clemens and Ford. Wayne Morse, senator from Oregon, also visited Jenkins at one time.
The judge told us he liked Jenkins because of its nice friendly people, its laws are enforced, order is kept, it is clean and has a good school. Jenkins is growing all the time. In his opinion, it is one of the nicest little cities in Eastern Kentucky. Our crime rate is probably lower than anywhere else in the state. Our biggest number of arrests are for misdemeanors — speeding, reckless driving, driving while drunk, etc. Lots of cases are tried in our court, usually 40 or 50 a month, most of them misdemeanors.
We asked the judge if he thought the future would be bright. He told us he thought the future really looked good. The town is growing. We now have good schools and good roads that with maybe a few factories, the town will grow and prosper more. The revenue-sharing fund is really wonderful for our state, county and city. It will be a great help to our city. Towns will be encouraged to bring in factories and more tourists will probably come into this area.
Judge Bates belongs to the Kiwanis Club. He likes squirrel, deer and bird hunting. Fishing is also one of his hobbies.
We asked him if he recalled any outstanding Police Chiefs in his time. He told us that the ones he felt were outstanding were Pat Bleving, Doc Blevins, Toby Hall, Hibbert Elkins, and Chief Horton.
In our discussion, he described Martin Van Buren Bates. His uncle was born at the site of the Martha Jane Potter School. He was in the circus as the biggest man in the world. He was •seven feet, eleven and one-half inches tall and weighed 550 pounds. Everything had to be special made for him. The doctors could not find anything wrong with Martin, and all the other children in the family were of normal size.
He married the biggest woman in the world. (Anna Haining Swan Bates) She was •eight feet tall and weighed 240 pounds. They met in Nova Scotia. The Queen of England gave him a gift of a watch which weighed •4 1/2 pounds. They (Martin and his wife) had two children. One died at birth and the other died at sea. The first baby was the biggest baby in the world, weighing •21 pounds and 10 ounces. Martin was strong enough to lift a barrel of flour in each arm with each barrel weighing something like •196 pounds.
After his first wife died, he married a small woman and they were married for twenty years. Martin had a farm in Scoville, Ohio, and he died there at the age of 85.
This article first appeared in “History of Jenkins Kentucky” Compiled In Honor Of The Sixtieth Anniversary Homecoming Celebration 1912‑1973 by the Jenkins Area Jaycees.
The authors and publishers of the 1973 printing failed to include a copyright notice and according to our understanding of copyright law it is now in the public domain.
For information on the copyright laws click here.
I have attended the University of Kentucky. I have an Associates Degree from Hazard Community College and Technical School. I have also attended the University of Pikeville. I have taken several classes in Journalism as well as in the Appalachian History, Literature, and Sociology during my time at those schools.
I was born in Florida and grew up in Burdine, Kentucky. I have been married to David W. Sergent since May 4, 2013. I have two children and four grandchildren from a previous marriage. I currently live in Tennessee but my hope is to one day come back home to live in the beautiful mountains once more.