Valentine Tapley & his 12 ft. beard! (

A Promise Made . . .

by Matthew Easley

Have you ever made a promise? Have you ever gone back on it, never really intending on keeping it? Most of us have done this. But that's one thing that you could never accuse Frankford's Valentine Tapley of doing -- going back on a promise!

Recently, I was discussing the topics chosen by my Missouri History students with BGHS's own assistant principal, Brad Kurz. He related to me the story of Valentine Tapley -- a man who once grew a beard of astounding length for political reasons. Mr. Kurz stated that he has been fascinated with Valentine Tapley's story ever since he heard about it from his grandfather several years ago.

But what could possibly cause a man to grow such a prodigious set of whiskers and inspire others in the art of pogonotrophy (beard-growing)? The answer is quite simple -- he made a promise.

A simple Google search sheds light on the motivation for Mr. Tapley's dedication to facial hair cultivation. According to several websites:

"During Abraham Lincoln's campaign for the presidency, a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat named Valentine Tapley from Pike County, Missouri, swore that he would never shave again if Abe were elected. Tapley kept his word and his chin whiskers went unshorn from November 1860 until he died in 1910,
attaining a length of twelve feet six inches."

In the November 1910 edition of Popular Mechanics, Mr. Tapley is featured in an article for having a "beard that is more than twice as long as its owner is tall". The article goes on to describe how Mr. Tapley transported his beard: "It is exactly 12 ft. long, and has to be wound around the waist or hung about the shoulders to keep it from trailing"("Popular Mechanics" 688).

However, I learned that this isn't the first time we see Mr. Tapley and his beard gaining national notiriety. In researching the topic, not only had Mr. Tapley's beard been discussed before, but it seems that he isn't the only grower of exceptional quantities of facial hair in Pike County Missouri.

Pike County's own Champ Clark once weighed in on what constituted a beard in an interview with the New York Times. In the article, Congressman Clark states that he had recently heard about a man with a seven foot beard. "That's no beard at all" was the reply of Congressman Clark, who goes on to state that Missouri "produces the greatest whiskers in the world." As evidence, Champ Clark submits not only Valentine Tapley and his 12-foot beard but also Judge Elijah Gates, who possessed a beard "nine feet and a half long" (New York Times 7).

Congressman Clark goes even further and speculates that a man's beard could reveal a person's character:

"A curious thing about these fellows, and that makes me think a man's character can be told by his whiskers. Now, Elijah Gates is a pugnacious kind of a fellow, not a scrapper or a brawler, you understand, but of a stubborn type of man. His whiskers are right stiff, like a horse's mane. But Valentine Tapley, his are soft as silk, and Tapley is mild mannered and thoroughly agreeable, one of those unanimous sort of fellows" (New York Times 7).

The story of Valentine Tapley is just one of thousands that make up the unique historical and cultural fabric that is Pike County, Missouri. When looking at it, it's easy to dismiss Mr. Tapley as crazy or eccentric; what other explainations are there for growing a 12-1/2-foot beard? But I like to think that there's more to the story than that. It's easy to make promises or swear oaths; it's an altogether different thing to mean it, follow through and back it up. There is a profound lesson that we can take away from Mr. Tapley. It's core lies in the words of the Greek playwright Aeschylus: β€œIt is not the oath that makes us believe the man, but the man the oath.”

Works Cited

"A WHISKER THEORY BY CHAMP CLARK; Missouri Representative Cites Two Beards, One Nine and the Other Eleven Feet.
INDICES OF CHARACTER Stiff-Whiskered Man, He Concludes, Is Pugnacious, but the Suave Man Has a Silky Beard.."
New York Times 10 November 1907, Sunday: 7. Print.

"Four Yards of Beard." Popular Mechanics November 1910: 688. Print.

"Valentine Tapley." The Better Beards Blog . Web. 8 Apr 2010. <>.