Albert Bates: Fiddle Player, Photographer, and Farmer

Albert BATES was my maternal great grandfather.  I’ve written about him several times.  You can find those posts here:

Looking for Land in All the Wrong Places

I Know What You Did That Day

Dettie Louisa GIBSON BATES and the Sibling Melting Pot (Although this one is about Dettie, you will find a photograph of a young Albert BATES included in the post.)

Not Breaking, But Succeeding- Lum’s Apple Orchard (You can find a photo of Albert as a child here.)

Albert was born 1 February 1881 in Hiwasse, Benton County, Arkansas to George and Mary (SEELY) BATES.  He was the first of four children- 3 boys and a girl.  When Albert was born, the family lived in Hiwasse, Benton County, Arkansas.  He was 6 years old before his little brother Charlie came into the world.  He was 10 when his brother Herman was born and 13 when his sister Vesta was born.  As far as I know, Albert lived in the same area for these first 13 years.  Because the 1890 census was destroyed, the first record I’ve found for Albert is the 1900 census.  The census enumerator came by the BATES’ home on 5 June 1900.  Albert was 19 years old and single.  He was living at home with his parents and siblings.  He was working as a photographer.  This information about his job supports family stories that he worked as an itinerant photographer when he was young.  I would absolutely love to have a photograph he took although I’m not sure how I would identify his photographs.

Family stories say that he would travel around, take photographs and play his fiddle at barn dances.  It was on one of these “fiddle and photograph” trips that he met his future wife, Dettie Louisa GIBSON.  Dettie was living in Dickson Township, Benton County, Arkansas in 1900 so maybe Albert didn’t venture out too far to do his job.  My mom and granny used to tell me that after Albert and Dettie met they wrote letters back and forth to each other until they married.

By 1900, photography had been in existence for about 60-70 years or so.  Even so, in the early 1900’s photographers were still trying to legitimize photography as an art form.   Also in 1900, the Kodak Brownie camera was finally reaching the middle class in America.  Kodak had been a brand name for 13 years and the x-ray was only 5 years old.   Tintypes were still prevalent in those days and along with developing tintypes came the use of extremely hazardous chemicals like mercury chloride.  I don’t know what types of photos Albert took nor do I know if he would have had to use mercury chloride but the possibility was there.

1900 photographer

ca. 1900 photographer (not Albert) with a folding plate camera; photo found at

Now back to that fiddle…I wish I had a picture of it.  Sadly, I don’t.  Like I said before, Albert played at barn dances.  The purpose of a barn dance was to get people together and have fun dancing, of course!  It was a social gathering for people in the community.  A way to spend the evening with friends and meet new people.  Just like dances of today.  The Library of Congress website has a great page where you can listen to old fiddle songs being played.  Here is one from their page:

Arkansas Traveler

I definitely recommend you take some time and visit their site and listen to a few of the songs.  Close your eyes and imagine them there- Albert playing, Dettie dancing.  And then, maybe, let someone else take over the fiddle playing and imagine them dancing together.  Two people, falling in love, before you were ever even a thought in someone’s mind.  I think that’s where I want to leave my great grandparents today.  Dancing the night away in someone’s Arkansas barn, just happy to spend a little time together, long before I was ever a thought in their minds.


Lisa @ Days of Our Lives blog



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