Henry Clay Thruston (1830?–1909)
Henry Clay Thruston was a Confederate soldier who fought at the Battle of Pea Ridge and in the Camden Expedition, as well as in General Sterling Price’s Missouri Raid of 1864. Thruston is perhaps best known for reportedly being the tallest Confederate soldier of the Civil War at over seven and a half feet tall. Later in life, he worked for P. T. Barnum’s circus, being advertised as the world’s tallest man.
Information is sketchy about the early life of Henry Clay Thruston. He was born in South Carolina in either 1830 or 1833, with the exact day variously recorded as May 4 or May 5. His father, Street Thruston, served in the American Revolutionary War, and he had four brothers, all of them over 6’5″ tall. Two of his brothers were killed in Confederate service: Joseph A. Thruston at the Battle of Pea Ridge and Fayette Thruston at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek in Missouri. The Thruston family moved to Missouri in 1833. Thruston traveled to California to pan for gold in 1850. He returned to Missouri via the Isthmus of Panama, then Cuba, and then back to Missouri. In 1853, he married a distant cousin, Mary Thruston, and they had two children.
Thruston enlisted in George Butler’s Morgan County Rangers of the Missouri State Guard (MSG), a state militia organized by the Missouri legislature that fought with various Confederate forces. Thruston fought at the Battle of Pea Ridge on March 7–8, 1862. On March 7, he was part of General Sterling Price’s flanking movement toward Elkhorn Tavern. General Price launched three attacks to dislodge Federal troops under the command of Colonel Grenville Dodge. Thruston and his MSG comrades pushed the Union army back a mile. On March 8, Thruston and the MSG were employed along the base of Elkhorn Mountain, south of the tavern. Thruston and the MSG retreated, as Commander Earl Van Dorn did not have ammunition to keep pace with the Federal bombardment.
Later, Thruston joined the Missouri Fourth Cavalry and served under General John Sappington Marmaduke. He participated in the Camden Expedition and was wounded in the side at Poison Spring on April 18, 1864. He was also engaged in fighting at Jenkins’ Ferry. Thruston concluded his Civil War career by fighting in General Sterling Price’s Missouri Raid in 1864. Thruston was paroled at Shreveport, Louisiana, in June 1865 and walked home to Missouri.
After the war, Thruston moved to Texas in 1871. He was a farmer and rancher in Mount Vernon, Texas, from 1874 to 1909. He also became known as “Colonel Thooston.”
Thruston began working for P. T. Barnum’s circus at some point. He traveled the country and the world, billed as the world’s tallest man. He wore a tall beaver hat, built-up heels on his shoes, and all-black clothes to accentuate his height. Thruston dressed as Uncle Sam in parades that advertised the circus. He also carried the Stars and Stripes in northern cities and Stars and Bars in southern cities to add to the pageantry.
Newspapers throughout the country carried articles on him. He could be defensive about his height and had his limits when it came to jokes at his expense. A much shorter man once asked him, “How’s the weather up there?” Thruston let fly a large ball of spit at the man and then said, “It’s raining!”
Thruston attended veterans’ reunions after the war in Dallas, Texas, in 1902 and in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1909. Thruston died on July 2, 1909, at dinner. He had a biscuit in one hand and butter in the other, and while in the process of buttering his biscuit had a massive heart attack. Following his death, an editorial in the Mount Vernon Optic Herald read: “He was our friend and we shall miss his cheering words and hearty handshake. Colonel Thruston was a kind and generous friend, a citizen of strong prejudices, and intense patriotism. His family loses a devoted father and we extend to them heartfelt sympathy in their dark hour of bereavement.” Thruston is buried in Mount Pleasant, Texas.
For additional information:
“Cuts a Great Figure.” The Sentinel (Dubuque, Iowa), January 13, 1888.
“H. C. Thurston Dead.” Morgan County Republican, July 9, 1909.
“H. C. Thurston, War Veteran, Is America’s Tallest Man.” The Republic (St. Louis, Missouri), July 7, 1901.
McGhee, James E. Guide to Missouri Confederate Units, 1861–1865. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2008.
“One of the Tall Ones of the West.” New York Times, December 30, 1877.
Sifakis, Stewart. The Compendium of the Confederate Armies: Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, the Confederate Units and the Indian Units. New York: Fact on File, 1995.
“Tallest Man Dead.” Galveston Daily News, July 4, 1909.
“The Tallest Man in America.” Daily Republican (St. Louis, Missouri), July 28, 1883.
“Tallest Man in America,” Southern Kansas Gazette, July 12, 1877.
“The Tallest Man in Texas Will Be Here for the Fair.” Abilene Semi Weekly Farm Reporter, October 2, 1907.
“The Tallest Man in the County.” Coshocton Age, November 8, 1888.
“Tallest Man in the World.” Palmyra Spectator, August 29, 1907.
“The Tallest Texan.” Colorado Citizen, May 14, 1931.
“Thruston to be Honored in Saturday Ceremonies.” Mount Vernon Optic Herald, April 28, 2018.
“Was 7 Feet 9 Inches Tall.” New York Times, July 4, 1909.
Kerry King Jones
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